Hilary Benn being Foreign Secretary is a Mockery

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We are briefed by the media that Jeremy Corbyn will reshuffle the Shadow Cabinet this week.  Of course, they don’t call it that.  Even the BBC calls it a ‘Revenge Reshuffle’.  Just as Ed Miliband was consistently smeared as a brother-back-stabber, so the right wing of the LP and the corporate controlled press are wanting to associate Jeremy Corbyn with vindictiveness and spite.  This is a classic advertising ploy which trades on human psychology … in fact, mammalian psychology… which is primed towards fairness.  Their aim is to induce ‘disgust’ at Corbyn’s unfairness.

If this were not so detrimental to democracy, it would be hugely funny!  Of all people, who would think it likely that Jeremy was spiteful?  However, it is clear that it, and the rest of the media rubbish, worked to a great extent in undermining the character of a thoroughly decent man like Ed Miliband.

However, to return to my main point that Hilary Benn remaining as Foreign Secretary is a mockery. What on earth (or who on earth) made him think that he didn’t have to resign?

Yes.  It was a free vote but being Foreign Secretary is rather special.  We now have the lunacy of a Foreign Secretary who voted in favour of bombing Syria, opposing 75%… the vast majority…  of the Parliamentary LP, the membership and the leadership (who was elected only 3m ago with an overwhelming mandate of 59%).

Hilary Benn should have resigned, just as Robin Cook did over Blair’s invasion of Iraq.  He has created a totally untenable position for the LP.  His decision was not some trivial matter of foreign diplomacy.  He voted knowing that it meant innocent people, children and the elderly, would die as collateral damage.  And he did so, knowing that the overwhelming majority of the membership, the PLP and the leadership, did not support his position.

To add salt to the wound (although I’m very glad of it), it is perfectly obvious that this was a trap set by Cameron to split the Labour Party… the British bombers have seen very little action because they were not needed, and there was none of the faux-urgency that Cameron pretended.

To be clear, Hilary Benn may have been honestly persuaded by the arguments (however weak) and obviously he should follow his conscience … but that same conscience should have told him to offer his resignation as Foreign Secretary before, or at least, after the vote.  He has compounded the error, either accidentally or on purpose, by allowing the profoundly serious matter of bombing Syria to be turned into another opportunity for Corbyn-bashing.

 

Britain in Syria: a gift to ISIS

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Britain in Syria: a gift to ISIS

Paul Rogers 3 December 2015 openDemocracy

 

The lower house of the British parliament voted late on 2 December to extend the country’s air war to Syria.  The United Kingdom will thus become the fourth western state to be involved along with France and Australia, though the United States remains the dominant force in the whole operation.  British aircraft will bring a little bit extra to the raids but the political significance of their deployment is much greater than the military one.  Now that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE have all stopped their own airstrikes on Syria, the anti-ISIS campaign has become almost entirely a western war.

Overall, this is an element largely missed by the western media.  But it will be used relentlessly by ISIS propagandists as they portray this as a “crusader war” against Islam.

That depiction includes Russia’s increasing role.  Until recently, Russian forces were operating airstrikes from a single airbase near Latakia on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, together with two smaller forward operating bases (FOBs) dependent partly on helicopter supply.  Russia is now in the process of a rapid expansion that will come close to doubling its involvement, including an enlarged airbase at Shayrat airport near Homs, and two more FOBs.

Moscow also seeks to ensure protection for its planes in light of Turkey’s destruction of one of its jets.  It has begun to install the long-range S-400 ground-launched anti-aircraft missile in Latakia, and there may well be deployments to Shayrat as well.  Most of this military activity is directed at supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and its planes and helicopters hardly face any threat from what remains of the Syria airforce.  Thus the new missile placement must be seen as a signal to states such as Turkey and Israel not to threaten Russian forces.  The risk of miscalculation on all sides is a recipe for increased tension.

This is the complex and disorganised theatre of war that the UK is now moving into.  But it is also a war that is accelerating in other directions.  All the indications from Washington are that the administration is intent on expanding the air war in both Syria and Iraq.  Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the United States military, says the US “will adjust its tactics and risk more civilian casualties when launching air strikes against high-value targets in Syria and Iraq as part of an effort to increase pressure on Islamic State militants.”  More civilians will be killed but, as the chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, put it so plainly this week:  “Our threshold for collateral damage increases with the value of the target”.

A clear element of “mission creep” is revealed by the fact that US special forces will operate in greater numbers and at higher levels both in Syria and Iraq, engaging particularly in search-and-destroy operations against ISIS leadership elements.  Almost certainly, this reflects the Pentagon’s determination that – in the absence of progress elsewhere – it is time to relearnthe lessons of the JSOC’s activities in Iraq a decade ago, when Task Force 145 took the war to Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).  The group was then directed by its Jordanian leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

This history is worth remembering, since so many of the paramilitary survivors of that bitter, brutal and largely unreported war have gone on to make up significant parts of the hard-core, middle-ranking ISIS paramilitaries that are ensuring the survival of the movement.

A growing network

There are two further developments to consider in a war that, it is often said, is going badly for ISIS.  The first is that ISIS in Syria, let alone Iraq, is proving far more robust and able to organise the towns and cities it now controls.  It is aided by an apparently unending supply of technocrats from the Iraqi Ba’athist era who are able to handle the details.

The ISIS-run areas are responsible for managing all routine matters such as water supplies, policing, sewage disposal, transport, schools, taxation, control of roads, street cleaning and commercial permits.  This is little reported in the west, yet though the ultimate rule may be brutal, routine living conditions can actually be safer in and around Raqqa than in chaotic and violent districts nearby that ISIS does not control.  So much so that there are actually some refugee flows into ISIS-controlled area since they are seen as safer than much of the rest of Syria.

The second, and again almost entirely missed, feature of ISIS behaviour is the considerable attention it is now paying to establishing a second proto-caliphate in the Libyan port city of Sirte.  There, it has a city and many miles of coast under its control, and is reported to be gaining access to oil resources as well.   A new United Nations report says that ISIS has moved 2,000-3,000 paramilitary fighters to join the existing ISIS-linked elements in Sirte.  This opens the possibility of direct links to the north across the Mediterranean towards Italy, and south across the Sahara towards countries in the Sahel such as Mali and Niger.

In short, ISIS may be under serious pressure, but it shows no signs of facing defeat in Syria and Iraq and is actually expanding in Libya.  The UK parliament’s decision to join the bombing of ISIS in Syria may have considerable political meaning in Britain, but in the wider scheme of things it is not much more than a sideshow.

A new front

Even so, it is likely to become progressively more controversial within the UK, an element that may well be highlighted by the nature of the very first attacks carried out within hours of the end of the parliamentary debate.  Four RAF Tornados flew from Akrotiri in Cyprus and attacked six targets in an oilfield in eastern Syria with Paveway IV bombs, an attack that was intended to damage ISIS oil production.

Yet it is highly unlikely that the people actually operating that oilfield would have been dedicated ISIS paramilitaries and far more likely that they would have been ordinary workers.  Two days ago the Pentagon announced that US warplanes had destroyed over a hundred oil tankers, but who was driving them?  Most likely they were ordinary contract drivers for transport companies, albeit under ISIS control.

In short, trying to destroy ISIS from the air will inevitably mean many civilian casualties, but the UK, French, US and other governments will hardly want to focus on that: as General Tommy Franks of the US army said early in the Iraq war, “we don’t do body counts”.

No indeed, “we” don’t, but “they” do.  Indeed it is certain that ISIS propagandists will already be at work publicising the backgrounds of people who got killed by the RAF attacks, probably with photos of their families and plenty of other personal details.  That is the nature of the war that the House of Commons has approved.

 

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Doesn’t anyone remember ‘The Power of Nightmares’?

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The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, written and produced by Adam Curtis, was a BBC documentary film series broadcast in 2004.

The films compare the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed charts the similar processes operating in the current instalment of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – the threat of ISIS.  His article (16.11.15), posted on openDemocracy, is an extremely important read given the UK Government’s determination to get involved in the bombing.   As Nafeez warns of the intention behind the latest spate of atrocities which culminated in Paris:

The goal, of course, is to inflict trauma, fear, paranoia, suspicion, panic and terror – but there is a particularly twisted logic as part of this continuum of violence, which is to draw the western world into an apocalyptic civilizational Armageddon with ‘Islam.’

Below, I copy and paste Nafeez’ conclusion to ‘ISIS want to destroy the ‘grey zone’.  Here’s how we defend it’, but I recommend that you read the piece in its entirety:

All this calls for a complete re-think of our approach to terrorism. We require, urgently, an international public inquiry into the colossal failure of the strategies deployed in the ‘war on terror.’

How has over $5 trillion succeeded only in permitting an extremist terror-state, to conquer a third of Iraq and Syria, while carrying out a series of assaults on cities across the region and in the heart of Europe?

The re-assessment must accompany concrete measures, now.

First and foremost, our alliances with terror-sponsoring dictatorships across the Muslim world must end. All the talk of making difficult decisions is meaningless if we would rather sacrifice civil liberties instead of sacrificing profit-oriented investments in brutal autocracies like Saudi Arabia, which have exploited western dependence on its oil resources to export Islamist extremism around the world.

Addressing those alliances means taking decisive action to enforce punitive measures in terms of the financing of Islamist militants, the facilitation of black-market ISIS oil sales, and the export of narrow extremist ideologies. Without this, military experts can give as much lip-service to ‘draining the swamp’ as they like – it means nothing if we think draining it means using a few buckets to fling out the mud while our allies pour gallons back in.

Secondly, in Syria, efforts to find a political resolution to the conflict must ramp up. So far, neither the US nor Russia, driven by their own narrow geopolitical concerns, have done very much to destroy ISIS strongholds. The gung-ho entry of Russia into the conflict has only served to unify the most extreme jihadists and vindicate ISIS’s victim-bating claim to be a ‘David’ fighting the ‘Goliath’ of a homogenous “kafir” (infidel) crusader-axis.

Every military escalation has been followed by a further escalation, because ISIS itself was incubated in the militarized nightmare of occupied Iraq and Assad-bombed Syria.

Thirdly, and relatedly, all military support to all actors in the Syria conflict must end. Western powers can pressurise their Gulf and Turkish state allies to end support to rebel groups, which is now so out of control that there is no longer any prospect of preventing such support from being diverted to ISIS; while Russia and Iran can withdraw their aid to Assad’s bankrupt regime. If Russia and France genuinely wish to avoid further blowback against their own citizens, they would throw their weight behind such measures with a view to force regional actors to come to the negotiating table.

Fourthly, it must be recognized that contrary to the exhortations of fanatics like Douglas Murray, talk of ‘solidarity’ is not merely empty sloganeering. The imperative now is for citizens around the world to work together to safeguard what ISIS calls the “grey zone” – the arena of co-existence where people of all faith and none remain unified on the simple principles of our common humanity. Despite the protestations of extremists, the reality is that the vast majority of secular humanists and religious believers accept and embrace this heritage of mutual acceptance.

But safeguarding the “grey zone” means more than bandying about the word ‘solidarity’ – it means enacting citizen-solidarity by firmly rejecting efforts by both ISIS and the far-right to exploit terrorism as a way to transform our societies into militarized police-states where dissent is demonized, the Other is feared, and mutual paranoia is the name of the game. That, in turn, means working together to advance and innovate the institutions, checks and balances, and accountability necessary to maintain and improve the framework of free, open and diverse societies.

It is not just ISIS that would benefit from a dangerous shift to the contrary.

Incumbent political elites keen to avoid accountability for a decade and a half of failure will use heightened public anxiety to push through more of the same. They will seek to avoid hard questions about past failures, while casting suspicion everywhere except the state itself, with a view to continue business-as-usual. And in similar vein, the military-industrial complex, whose profits have come to depend symbiotically on perpetual war, wants to avoid awkward questions about lack of transparency and corrupt relationships with governments. They would much rather keep the trillion-dollar gravy train flowing out of the public purse.

Milan Kundera — ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’

Let’s not forget that we were swept into the invasion of Iraq on false pretences, with disastrous results for the peoples of the region.  Let’s fight even harder to stop the political elites in their gung-ho desire to bomb.  Let’s argue for the alternatives suggested by Nafeez Ahmed.  Jeremy Corbyn is certainly on board… but it seems that some of the Parliamentary Labour Party, like Mike Gapes and John Woodcock, are minded to vote with David Cameron and the Conservatives.  It is up to the LP membership and all right-minded people to challenge their decision, and so block Cameron’s futile plan to bomb a solution on the Middle East.

 

Further recommended:

Welcome to the 21st century – The Crisis of Civilisation Nafeez Ahmed’s 2011 “Crisis of civilization” film  (80 minutes)

The Power of Nightmares  Adam Curtice’s three part BBC documentary

 

Terrorism, Globalization and Conspiracy – Michael Parenti

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Michael Parenti speaking in 2002 but he might as well be speaking now…. and he is well worth hearing now!  An hour of your life to understand the links between Capitalism, Poverty, the Trade Deals, Globalisation, Debt, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and finally, Terrorism.

 

Terrorism, Globalization and Conspiracy – Michael Parenti