A primed anti-war movement finds the new warmongers much the same as the old warmongers, writes Lindsey German
The air strikes on Friday night have unleashed a wave of anger across the country, in a way that I haven’t seen for some years. Opinion polls, both before and after the strikes, show clear majorities against military intervention in Syria. Theresa May thought this was her chance to look strong and stable but instead she has created a backlash which is likely only to add to her woes.
There is widespread political opposition to what she is doing. The anti-war movement is mobilising again, with protests planned across the country in the next few days. These stretch from Orkney to the Isle of Wight, and are bringing together different generations of campaigners, including young people who have grown up against a background of endless war and intervention. They are sceptical about government reasons of humanitarian aid when they see Syrian refugees denied entry to Britain and other European countries and when they see the very different attitudes towards others suffering in the same way - whether the Yemenis bombed by Saudi Arabia or the Palestinians shot by Israeli troops in Gaza.
They are also deeply sceptical about what governments and intelligence services tell them. The decision by Tony Blair and Tory and Labour MPs in parliament to vote for war in Iraq in 2003 has created a political climate where politicians and intelligence agencies are simply not trusted to tell the truth. The failure by the media to hold any of them to account, let alone the brazen media appearances of Blair and his partner in crime Alastair Campbell, has led to a completely justified feeling that public opinion is manipulated to support these wars.
A number of issues are coming together to create this backlash. One being May ’s refusal to go to parliament for a vote on whether to take part in the action, which was carried out with the US and France. While there is legally still precedent for her to take such action unilaterally, since 2003 there has always been a vote in parliament. It is particularly dangerous for May, who has no parliamentary majority, to go down this route, especially when she is so obviously dancing to the tune of Donald Trump.
It is clear that May wanted a strike before Monday because she did not want any such scrutiny and was determined to go to Parliament with a fait accompli. She may well find that this is not such a clever option. Some cite the element of surprise necessary with such strikes - ludicrous in light of the fact that Russia was fully informed about the operation. Even more ludicrous is Trump's claim of mission accomplished - an echo of George Bush’s triumphalism in May 2003.
There is also the question of the war's legality, which is dubious, since military action is only legally justified in self-defence or as a result of a UN resolution.
But while it is absolutely right to raise the question of a parliamentary vote, and to insist that elected representatives have the right to reject government warmongering, and to discuss the legal implications, there are more fundamental issues which should lead us to oppose this intervention.
The truth is that the history of interventions from Britain and its allies in the war on terror has been disastrous. Iraq is a country divided and destroyed, Libya is in ruins, the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, and Syria is the centre of a proxy war involving Russia and Iran on Assad’s side, and Britain, the US, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey intervening against him.
The strikes carried out by the US Britain and France this weekend have achieved nothing in terms of stopping the suffering of the Syrian people or of making the world a safer place. They are purely a gesture to show that western imperialism can ‘punish’ Russia and Syria, and to help determine the outcome of the war in Syria.
This proxy war in which dozens of countries have intervened is drawing to a close, even though the agonies of the people of Douma, suffering bombing as well as the alleged chemical attack, have continued. Everyone now agrees that it will do so with Assad still in power and with the Russians and Iranians in a strong position. It is this which explains the intensified rivalry between the different powers and the fear of western imperialism that it will have to now settle scores with Iran in particular.
Western imperialism has no clear strategy except more lashing out with little purpose - which is the net effect of this latest attack. The unintended consequence of the war in Iraq has been the strengthening of Iran. The failed strategy of regime change in Syria has also strengthened Iran. So now Iran will move to centre stage.
Donald Trump has appointed advisers, especially Secretary of State John Bolton, who are neocon hawks determined to overthrow the Iranian government. Next month Trump wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and to tear up the Iran nuclear deal - both likely to prove major flash points in the Middle East.
And Russia? Politicians and commentators are sighing with relief that they have managed to pull off a strike that was weak enough to avoid direct conflict with Russia. But the tensions between the powers are worse than at any time since the Cold War, and we have nuclear powers involved in clashes in a cockpit of war.
We live in dangerous times and this strike just made them more dangerous.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- May Day, May Day: this ship is sinking – weekly briefing
- Trump’s Nato ultimatums: red letter or red herring?
- The human rights abuses that couldn't be closer to home – weekly briefing
- All roads lead to the Trump protest on 13 July – weekly briefing
- The collapse of everything, and what to do about it - weekly briefing
- The far right can be defeated, and mass organisation is the key – weekly briefing
- Europe: time to look reality in the face - weekly briefing