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Syrian intervention, Yemeni airstrikes and David Cameron's contempt for democracy

The UK government gives diplomatic and military support to tyrants worldwide and places imperial agendas above democratic decisions.


DESPITE the 2013 parliamentary vote against military intervention in Syria, it was revealed on Friday after a freedom of information request by the campaign group Reprieve that around 20 British military personnel have been embedded within coalition forces in the country combating Isis.

A number of these have also been carrying out airstrikes, something which David Cameron’s spokeswoman has confirmed he was aware of. The prime minister told an American audience on Sunday that Britain should ‘step up and do more’ in Syria, the most explicit statement he has made to undermine democratic parliamentary objections to such a move.

At a Stop the War Coalition meeting on Saturday at the Bloomsbury Baptist Church, Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, claimed that Syria has consequently ‘turned out to be David Cameron’s secret war’.

Stop the War officer Chris Nineham reiterated these concerns, and condemned ‘the historical instinct to dominate the Middle East’ which Cameron, Michael Fallon and others plainly demonstrate.

Nineham added that a common excuse being peddled by the establishment is that UK forces have become so embedded within foreign forces that their role in Syria is therefore legitimate. But this claim does not stand up to any serious legal scrutiny – any UK forces will end up becoming ‘embedded’ one way or another within other allied organisations.

Britain, along with the US, also scuppered the Geneva negotiations in 2012 and 2014, making it clear that their priority is regime change, the removal of Assad.

A common myth, regurgitated in much of the mainstream media, is that Britain supposedly became isolationist after the 2013 vote on Syrian intervention. Yet it still participated in diplomatic and military support of tyrants worldwide, and as Friday’s revelations indicate, it places imperial agendas above democratic decisions.

The myths of neo-colonialism are also given impetus by much academic work. Alex J. Bellamy’s recent Responsibility to Protect: A Defense, published by Oxford University Press, argues that the R2P principle should more forcefully be applied to Syria, ‘moving this principle from words into deeds’ as the jacket cover poetically phrases it – ideas formulated more concretely in another of Oxford’s ongoing series of treatises, Nigel Biggar’s 2014 In Defence of War, which dismisses those foolish enough to ‘hold that war is unnecessary’.

Kim Sharif from Human Rights for Yemen also addressed the Baptist Church audience, noting how Britain (along with the US and the United Arab Emirates) is additionally supporting Saudi Arabia’s ongoing illegal and savage attacks on Yemen in an effort to re-instate the government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who initially came to power in February 2012 in a one-man ‘election’.

Sharif added that there is no UN mandate for the Saudi airstrikes, no approval from the Arab League. By supporting such actions, Britain is explicitly undermining the legitimacy of these organisations, and of international law, diplomacy and peace efforts more generally. It is no small thing to endorse the illegal bombing of a devastated nation by the hands of an autocracy.

The bombing has been ongoing for 115 days and has so far led to over 3500 deaths, including the total destruction of heritage sites.

Ticking a few others major boxes for standard British-backed terrorism, this period has also seen the indiscriminate targeting of civilian structures such as electricity grids and, in June, Oxfam sites, along with an illegal blockage, despite Yemen’s reliance on exports for 90% of its consumables. UN resolution 2216 does not authorise either airstrikes or a blockade.

The three core features contributing to the massacres – the arming of Saudi Arabia, the blockage, and the airstrikes – are all supported and encouraged by the British government. The Ministry of Defence has already admitted that is has been selling guided weapons to the Saudis during the ongoing Yemeni war.

Part of the solution to the chaos, long called for by Stop the War Coalition, is to stop arming and supporting dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. The anti-war movement can also contribute to combating Islamophobia, while a successful Labour leadership campaign for Jeremy Corbyn will be extremely effective in giving impetus and support to such causes.

Stop the War plans to organise a major protest before the predicted parliamentary vote on Syrian intervention in the autumn.

In the meantime, the usual strategies of education, organisation and peaceful civil disobedience must be our priorities if the carnage welcomed by significant forces in the establishment is to have any chance of resolution.

Source: Stop the War Coalition