Let’s Go To War

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The above image is by the great Rick Geary.

Tomorrow sees the House of Commons debate possible UK bombing in Syria for over ten hours in an amazing display of democracy apart from the fact that all the people wanting to go and bomb people caught in a war between ISIS,  Assad’s forces and the 70k ‘moderates’ David Cameron said would be the UK’s ground forces aren’t too keen in getting the UK involved when US involvement hasn’t exactly turned out well for the innocent people of Syria.

It is however the fact that all sides in Syria are targeting civilians that’s especially repugnant. Only today Assad’s forces bombed a hospital in Homs causing the loss of life of medical staff trying to patch people up in a war that’s displaced millions across the planet and sees no real end. The truth is the cities of Syria are rubble and a Google image search reveals the horrors of ISIS. Streets running with blood, severed heads lined up in a row in display, women being tortured, men having their brains blown out and on and on. The internet is full of the atrocities of ISIS and I recommend you look at those images too as you’ll realise that they need to be stopped yet the UK joining that bombing campaign isn’t going to help.

Our handful of planes are militarily useless and our super, duper Brimstone missiles ‘minimises collateral damage’  which is a fancy way of saying we won’t kill as many as we might.

What is the point of saving innocent people from the barbarity of ISIS, or the savagery of Assad if we’re going to blow them to pieces? I also suggest doing a Google search on Syrian collateral damage, it’s not comfortable to look at but again that’s the reality of dropping bombs on human beings and that’s what we’re going to do in Syria.

But what about David Cameron’s claim we have 70k ‘moderate’ troops that can take ISIS on and follow up our bombing missions? Well, Craig Murray lays that claim to rest on his blog.

Meantime we can ourselves deconstruct the 70,000 figure and work out the various civil service sleights of hand that produced it. We have Cameron’s written response to the Foreign Affairs Committee in which he sets out his case for war. This document is of course extremely carefully written.

The 70,000 figure is at page 18. It does then give the breakdown of who these 70,000 are.

The very first group listed are the Kurds, and they are indeed the best organised and most numerous group. But there is a trick here – the paper includes them in the 70,000, despite going on to accept that they are not available to fight in Isil territory because it is Arab not Kurdish land. So that already knocks the largest and best contingent out of the 70,000.

Why were the Kurds included in the total when the paper itself acknowledges they are not available?

After that, Cameron is really struggling and the paper becomes vague. The paper talks (p.19) of rebel forces who defended the Syrian-Turkish border near Aleppo from ISIL attack.

This is perfectly true, but their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, an open al-Qaida affiliate. They cannot conceivably be described as moderate, and are armed and equipped by Saudi Arabia. Their principle martial activity is looting and raping in Shia villages. There are in fact about two dozen rebel groups around Aleppo – here is a good snapshot – who often fight each other and for the last few months have been losing ground to Assad forces. They are also a primary target of the Russians. It is simply nonsense that they could march on ISIS in Raqqa.

Cameron’s paper then goes on to reference the southern front of the Free Syrian Army, and paints a rather rose-coloured picture of its military prowess. The Free Syrian army can legitimately be painted as less extremist than other groups, with some important reservations, but nobody has ever assessed the strength of its southern branch at over 10,000 fighters. It is completely pre-occupied with fighting Assad and Hezbollah.

After that, the paper is seriously stuck, and goes on to enumerate policemen, “white helmet” humanitarian workers and even local authority engineering workforces as part of the evidence of the existence of moderate forces. Whether any of these groups is included in that amazing 70,000 total is unclear.

What is clear is that the 70,000 figure does not stand up to thirty seconds scrutiny, and there is no coherent plan whatsoever for ground forces to follow up air attack.

This has been at the heart of the SNP, Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru and the Jeremy Corbyn (who cuts an increasingly isolated figure in his party) side as to just where Cameron is pulling this figure from. Today it’s been announced it’s a secret.

Messenger told the committee: “I can’t get into detail because of the level of classification of this briefing. What I can say is there is a spectrum of extremism.”

Lewis interrupted Messenger, saying: “I’m sorry, General, I don’t accept that at all. These groups are known to exist and the prime minister has come forward with a figure of 70,000 and he has obviously got a basis for that figure. There is nothing of a sensitive or classified nature about which of these known groups he is including in his total and which he isn’t.

“As the prime minister is asking us to make a decision based in part on this idea that there is some democratic third force between the devil and the deep blue sea, as the government sees it of [President Bashar al-]Assad and Isil/Daesh, I think the public and indeed parliamentarians, before we vote, are entitled to know how are these 70,000 made up.

“There can’t be anything possibly sensitive about which of the forces out there which are known to exist, such as the ones that make up the Islamic Front, whether they are included in the total or not.”

On the eve of the UK entering a war that involves the world’s two largest superpowers, and a week after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter, David Cameron is leading the UK on a imperialistic charge into Syria using the sort of language that an elected leader should never use about people holding an opposing position.

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Cameron and most of his Tory MP’s are going to vote to involve the UK in a bloody civil war in a country that’s being turned to rubble. Backed by those right wing Labour MP’s that probably think Tony Blair was right about Iraq and 12 years on are totally unapologetic about what their party did, the UK will go to war not knowing an exit strategy, and more dangerously, not knowing that if something goes wrong, like say, a British fighter accidentally shooting down a Russian fighter plane where that may lead us.

I dare say Cameron doesn’t care. He’s getting his war. This is what he’s dreamed of to lead the UK into a big war so he feels important, but like most people that send men and women to war and that doom innocents to their death he doesn’t care.

Now I’m not saying ISIS shouldn’t be stopped. They should. But bombing hasn’t stopped ISIS committing terrorist atrocities since bombing intensified in 2014.

I have no idea what the solution is. I do know that when you’ve got voices like Peter Hitchens, Alex Salmond, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Nicola Sturgeon, Ken Livingstone, David Davis, Leanne Wood and dozens more from the left, the right and the nominal centre of British politics all saying ‘back off, think and work something better out’ then rushing to war using the Paris attacks as justification is wrong.

But it’s too late. Cameron’s got his numbers and we’re going to war. I only hope something extraordinary happens to either stop this, or to solve the Gordian knot that is Syria because there’s no fucking way anymore bombs are going to help.

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”If it takes photographs of dead children to make people realize children are dying, so be it.”

By now we’ve all seen the picture the of the drowned Syrian child Aylan Kurdi who washed up on a beach in Turkey, and that image should be seared into our brains. To the majority that’s a picture showing how desperate people must be but for many more they looked at that picture and instead of sympathy or compassion they dismissed it as ‘mawkish’, or blamed the parents, or called it ‘propaganda’.

It’s easy to dismiss these people as  fascists, UKIPpers, Tories, or just simply arseholes and indeed many are, but in the year 2015 the truth is that people are short on compassion, as after all, thanks to a succession of governments and media organisations preaching the language of envy, jealousy and hatred it’s tough to push basic common decency in this day and age but it’s there as we’ve seen in the glorious reaction after the picture of Aylan was spread round the world.

But it was a tough decision to publish, and indeed for many, Tweet and disseminate this picture. In fact this Washington Post article sums up perfectly my feeling at the time, and this paragraph in particular rings true.

Some people, however, criticized me — and those retweeting me — for sharing the picture at all. One said: “It is also a little boy. For f—’s sake allow him some dignity.”

This response puzzled me. What, exactly, in this context, is “dignity”? How many photos of dead Syrian children show up on social media every day? Don’t people know what has been happening in Syria?

And then it occurred to me — perhaps they don’t.

Indeed, people don’t realise that Syria has been torn apart by not just war, but revolution, ISIS, climate change and geopolitics from Western countries. Its infrastructure has been leveled, and frankly, it’s going to take a planet coming together to repair Syria so it can be a home to people again. Til then it’s only going to produce corpses and refugees. The truth of the power of that image can again be summed up as so:

Yet it has seemed that no one really paid much attention — at least, not in terms of seriously trying to solve the problem, seriously trying to help.

If it takes photographs of dead children to make people realize children are dying, so be it.

It took the image of one dead child for people to turn against the swarm of far-right filth coming from not just people like Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins, but the so-called elected government of the UK that’s supposed to represent us all, not just less than a quarter of the population. It’s a horrendous image, but it’s not gruesome, gory or sensational. It’s the mundane nature of seeing a child at the beach juxtaposed with realising that he’s face down in the water that really strikes home. It challenges us to face death, and face it in one so young which is what people mean by ‘dignity’, not for the child but for them. They don’t want to be confronted by death, nobody does, but it’s something that happens to us all but to see the wasted potential of a human being lying face down on a beach drives mortality home. It makes us finally realise that this has a human cost.

As child growing up the media were more open about showing us death in all it’s horror. I remember this picture from the Vietnam War and even today how it drove home that shooting guns in the real world isn’t playing.

It’s only in the late 80’s and 90’s that the media became more sanitised, less likely to confront people with images of mortality and horror but the effect of that was that it became easier to distance oneself from the reality of what was happening to the point where today people are forcing this faux outrage at the ‘dignity’ of a dead child’s picture being spread, but can’t or won’t consider the reasons that Aylan Kurdi found himself, and his brother and mother, found themselves being washed up dead on a beach in Turkey in the dying days of summer 2015.

The way forward now is to help. Even individuals can, though ultimately this is the work of governments to solve the bigger problems, we can help not just refugees, but just maybe this outpouring of humanity means we can look at the most vulnerable in the UK and help them too. There’s a phrase used in Scotland and it’s politics. ‘All of us together’. That’s never been as true as it is now.