Targets should be to tackle homelessness, food banks, joblessness, withdrawal of social care, climate change not GDP which just measures how much wealth has moved to the top.
Targets should be to tackle homelessness, food banks, joblessness, withdrawal of social care, climate change not GDP which just measures how much wealth has moved to the top.
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.
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.
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.
by Martin Odoni First posted 3rd September 2015
There are numerous aspects of the varied British reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis deserving of castigation, from the latest example of UK Independence Party foaming-mouth stupidity and intolerance, blaming the death-by-drowning of a child on the parents (how easily people of a right-leaning disposition find a case for saying that when people are in terrible trouble, it must be their own fault), to Philip Davies crassly labelling compassion for the victims of the war as being ‘trendy‘, to George Osborne rather redundantly pointing out that, in a sense, the forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant are what caused the death of Aylan Kurdi (great point, Gideon! So obviously we should insist ISIL take in the refugees while we launch rockets at al-Qaryatayn. Right? Is that what Gideon is saying? Actually, I really have no idea what he is saying).
The truth is, though, that plenty of others up and down the country have offered their thoughts on this ignorant mixture of excuses for sitting-on-hands, and there is little I can say that will not already have been said.
Instead, I want to focus more narrowly on the words of our ‘wannabe-Tony-Blair-clone‘ Prime Minister, David Cameron, and put them into a wider context of his conduct in office. Yesterday, Cameron said that he did not want Britain to take in any more Syrian refugees. Now his stance has softened somewhat since then, in a way that suggests rather maddeningly that he is simply following the crowd, and one that has been worded somewhat ambiguously; the declaration “we will fulfil our moral responsibilities” is hardly specific.
My concern here is that Cameron’s stance on Syria seems disturbingly volatile at times, and what is most disturbing is perhaps which proposed action in Syria most piques his enthusiasm; it always seems to be violence, rather than rescue, that he finds appealing. I hope he does not imagine the people of this country are so stupid that they might forget that almost exactly two years ago, he took a motion to Parliament requesting military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. His enthusiasm for war as he spoke in that debate seemed almost fervent. By contrast, this week he has argued that taking in refugees is not a solution to the crisis, and that only stabilising and bringing peace to Syria and the wider region can offer that.
This is both a strawman argument – no one is suggesting that taking in refugees is a solution to the crisis as a whole, it is just a way of keeping Syrian people alive until such a solution can be found – and the diametric opposite of his stance two years ago; unless you genuinely believe that you can bomb a country into peace and stability, that is. His enthusiasm for a military ‘solution’ was such that, despite being voted down in the House of Commons, he ended up secretly authorising it anyway (a corrupt move that has seriously jeopardised Parliament’s credibility and should have made his position untenable). But this week, his reluctance to get involved in the actual ‘rescuing-the-Syrian-people’ part of rescuing Syrian people smacks of the mindset of a casual thrill-seeker i.e. he only wants action that causes lots of exciting bright flashes of light and loud banging noises.
Admittedly, the target two years ago was the Assad regime, whereas this time the ‘enemy’, to use a simplistic shorthand, would be ISIL. But does that really make a difference? Either way, Cameron needed to see a picture of a dead child in order to grasp the true horror of what is happening to the fleeing Syrians, and so to find the same enthusiasm for mercy as he had previously shown for malevolence.
Rather than saving some people, he would like to kill others. It does not look like he has the right priorities.
On a related note: –
Last night, I decided to put several photos of the tragic Aylan Kurdi up on social media. This was not a decision I made lightly, because I knew the proliferation of the picture, which had already gone viral across Twitter and Facebook, was bound to have an intrusive, even voyeuristic, overtone at a time of grief.
But in the end, despite having little taste for doing so, I went ahead, because I felt that there was a point that simply had to be driven home to a lot of very selfish people in Britain, and only by having the pictures as widely available as possible can that point get across; –
Quite simply, the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean has become a humanitarian disaster in its own right, rather than just an offshoot of the Syrian Civil War, and yet wide numbers of people around the UK are still buying into the preposterous ‘they’re-lazy-foreigners-here-to-live-off-our-Welfare-State’ narrative (as though people would ship their families hundreds of miles in cramped, top-heavy fishing boats just to get about a hundred pounds per fortnight). The greedy, self-satisfied people who cling to this ridiculous view – arrived at largely by projecting their own sociopathic tendencies onto the rest of the human race – need to understand precisely the terrible risks the refugees are having to take, and the scale of the horror they are trying to escape from in doing so. The photos of little Aylan, one of twelve victims to drown off the coast of Turkey when their boat sank, are perhaps the only evidence strong enough to break through this stubborn thick-headedness. While I – and I am sure most others who have shared the pictures – would not wish to exploit the death of a young child, the widened awareness of the crisis could equally be seen as a way of sifting some good from what happened to him. Given the photos appear to have swayed Cameron’s attitude somewhat, their proliferation does appear to have had a positive effect.
War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.
For the past weeks I’ve been delivering British Legion letters to the people of Whitstable.
You will have seen them. The envelope shows a picture of a bunch of First World War British Tommies, kitted out ready for war, with their helmets and their rifles, smiling and carefree, on their way to the front. It’s obvious that none of them have seen any action as yet or they wouldn’t be smiling. By the end of the war most of them will be dead, wounded or severely traumatised.
Above the picture are the words “Over one million men fell”, and below it, “Not one shall be forgotten.”
How disingenuous this sentiment is. It is obvious that we’ve forgotten them or we wouldn’t still be sending our troops to foreign parts in order for them to kill and be killed.
How many more of the dead must we remember before we realise that war is always the problem, never the solution, and almost invariably based on lies?
One of its great achievements was in characterising the Germans as barbarians. It called them “the Hun” and, in one famous case, accused them of having bayoneted babies during the invasion of Belgium in 1914. That was a lie.
Later the lie was repeated. In 1990 an anonymous female calling herself Nayirah told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the USA that she had seen Iraqi soldiers throw Kuwaiti babies out of incubators, where they would be left on the floor to die. The testimony was used by the President of the United States to justify American involvement in the First Gulf War.
That too turned out to be a lie.
We all remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Apologists for the Second Gulf War now characterise that as a mistake, saying that everyone agreed that Saddam was hiding weapons. This is another lie. I remember seeing reports at the time clearly debunking the evidence, while Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons, resigned saying he did not believe there were any weapons. Later David Kelly came out with talk of the evidence being “sexed-up”.
Both Robin Cook and David Kelly died in mysterious circumstances.
Lies, lies and yet more lies.
Now here is the truth. War is profitable. War makes money, for the arms industry, for the weapons manufacturers, for the security services, for the sub-contractors employed to rebuild the country. War is essential for the capitalist economy. It is through war that public money is funnelled into private hands. Without war, all the research and development into the high tech industries couldn’t take place. We’d have no computers, no internet, no digital revolution. War is the means by which public finances can be put at the service of the private economy. It is Military Keynesianism.
Keynesianism argues that a constant injection of public money into the economy is necessary for economic stability. In post-war states, that meant money for infrastructure projects, for hospitals and housing, for the welfare state. Military Keynesianism has no need of such wasteful expenditure. Why put money in the hands of the people? It uses the state machine to siphon the money directly into private hands using security issues as its means. Hence the need to keep us constantly on the alert. Hence the need for lies.
It’s the same people who argue for deregulation and privatisation of our public services who also drum up the hysteria about foreign threats and the need to combat terrorism. You want to know how to stop the threats against us? Stop threatening them. You want to know how to stop terrorism? Stop participating in it.
The latest war in Syria is just another in a long line of manufactured threats, and there’s already been a number of notable lies.
One of them was the massacre at Houla. The first time we heard about it was when the media reported that 108 civilians in the village had been killed by shell fire. To illustrate the atrocity the BBC showed a photograph of several rows of dead children wrapped up ready for burial. Except that it quickly emerged that these photographs weren’t from Houla at all, but had been taken in Iraq almost a decade earlier.
‘Somebody is using my images as a propaganda against the Syrian government to prove the massacre’, said photographer Marco Di Lauro, whose photo it was.
Nevertheless the propaganda onslaught continued, for several weeks, suggesting that the Syrian government had been involved in the murder of civilians. It was only later that the truth emerged, in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that actually the victims had been pro-government Alawites murdered by the rebels and then used as anti-government propaganda. Needless to say, while the initial reports were front page stories, the later retractions were buried in the small print or not mentioned at all.
So next time you hear of a supposed threat from an embattled, weakened and severely impoverished third world nation, remember: War is the mechanism by which our masters control us. It is the means by which we are enslaved.
Harry Patch, Britain’s last fighting Tommy, said of War that it is legalised mass murder.
And while it is legitimate to think of the dead of the two World Wars at this sombre time ofremembrance, it is also right to temper our reflections with the knowledge that the justification for most of these wars has been based upon fabrications, and that our soldiers did not die for freedom, or democracy, or any of the other platitudes, but to serve the interests of the few.