US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria, September 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria, September 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Politicians and commentators supporting more military action in Syria say inaction has consequences, but the West haven’t been inactive in Syria argues Shabbir Lakha

“Inaction has consequences.” It’s a line that’s been used over and over again every time the question of military intervention in Syria comes up. It was used and reused by everyone supporting more war from David Cameron to Hilary Benn to Tony Blair. But when has there been inaction?

Since 2011, the US, UK and their allies have been intervening in Syria. The US has been supplying weapons and military aid to rebel groups in Syria for years – as have their allies in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia. Shortly after Trump assumed Presidency last year, the US Congress approved another military aid package to rebel groups while acknowledging the likelihood of the weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS as previous weapons had. The US and UK have been providing training for rebels from military bases in Turkey and Jordan and special forces from both countries have been running covert operations and drone strikes in Syria from at least 2013.

Since the US-led coalition began its operations against ISIS in 2014, they have conducted 15,000 airstrikes on Syria. Between Syria and Iraq, the US-led coalition has dropped over 100,000 bombs and missiles which AirWars estimates have killed up to 25,000 civilians.

So the idea that the West have been “inactive” and that that is somehow the reason why there is so much bloodshed in Syria is completely untrue. The actions of all foreign intervention in Syria, including by the Russians and the Iranians supporting the Assad regime, has been to prolong the conflict and destroy huge swathes of the country.

Commentators and pro-war MPs have said that we can’t let the mistakes made in Iraq stop us from taking action in Syria. Well, seeing as the “mistakes” made in Iraq, and Libya for that matter, have played such a big role in making the Syrian conflict what it is, that is a ridiculous thing to say. It was in the US/UK-run prisons in destabilised Iraq that ISIS was formed; it’s the lawlessness of Libya after NATO’s intervention in 2011 that has allowed weaponry (potentially including chemical weapons) and extremist militants to travel to Syria and bolster ISIS, and the tonnes of weapons pumped in and constant aerial bombardment that has fuelled and refuelled the war in Syria.

So the best thing the US, UK and France can do for Syria is to stop intervening and commit to meaningful peace negotiations pushing for a political settlement that isn’t predicated on Western interests but on those of the Syrian people.

But the goal isn’t to save Syrian lives and never has been. It is absolutely right to compare the reaction to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma with the response to the shooting of unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza by Israeli snipers or the response to bombings of civilians in Yemen and the humanitarian catastrophe they face. Both the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman remain good friends of Western governments and continue receiving weapons and diplomatic support, the latter having just finished a tour of the UK, US and France.

And specifically with Syria, apart from the above mentioned role Western governments have played in prolonging the conflict, the reality is that if Bashar Al Assad was an ally of the West and not Iran and Russia, then British and American weapons would right now be in use against the Syrian people. The way they are in Yemen and Bahrain.

It’s a special kind of hypocrisy when Theresa May, who as Home Secretary justified letting Syrian refugees drown in the Mediterranean Sea and ended UK funding for EU search and rescue operations, claims she had to bomb Syria to “alleviate the humanitarian suffering” of Syrian people. It is unsurprising that the same Tory MPs who voted against the Dubs Amendment that would have seen the resettlement of 3,000 child refugees in Calais, are in support of military action in Syria because they are so concerned.

And this isn’t about chemical weapons either. British companies were selling chemicals to Syria that the government admitted were “likely to have been used” in the production of nerve agents as recently as 2012. And just last year the US was exposed for using white phosphorous-loaded munitions – chemical weapons that burn flesh at 3000 degrees – in Raqqa and Mosul. Similarly white phosphorous was used in Fallujah by US forces during the occupation of Iraq, and in Gaza by Israel in 2008/9. Similarly, the Bahraini regime was found to be adding toxic chemical agents to tear gas and firing it directly at protestors and into people’s homes and cars, resulting in permanent injuries, miscarriages, and even fatalities.

So let’s have no misgivings about the intentions of this Tory government or Donald “Muslim Ban” Trump either. The rush to drop bombs on Syria without any strategy, parliamentary or UN approval, or evidence (the strike happened hours before OPCW team were due to begin their fact-finding mission in Syria), is reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq War. Theresa May’s actions on the weekend show that nothing has been learned from Iraq; that the same pro-war MPs will support the same disastrous foreign policy decisions that have devastated the Middle East and made the world a much more unsafe place – and they think they can do it with impunity.

Despite Trump’s declaration of “mission accomplished”, the strike will have done very little to damage Assad. With the internal schism in the Trump administration on foreign policy and the escalating tensions between the US/UK and Russia, there is every likelihood that further military intervention will be pursued. With the same excuses of humanitarian reasons and with increased dangers of war between nuclear-armed states.

This must be opposed by the anti-war movement and the majority of the public who are against further airstrikes on Syria. Opposing escalating the war in Syria does not mean supporting or even excusing Assad, and not bombing Syria is not doing nothing. The US and UK are not innocent bystanders in the Syrian conflict, so only withdrawal will actually be doing something towards deescalating the situation and helping to bring the Syrian conflict to an end.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.