The decision to bomb Syria was a pathetic display of supposed strength by declining imperial powers, argues Chris Nineham
Theresa May's cynicism is so deep it's hard for us comprehend. There was quite simply no possible good outcome from this bombing in the Middle East, even from our rulers' warped perspective. People will surely have died, the war will be prolonged, it will have done nothing to control chemical weapons and tensions with Iran and Russia will have risen. International law is unambiguous that these strikes were illegal too.
But no matter, Trump has been obeyed and May thinks she looks tough on the world stage. Not really though. It’s too obvious she is frightened of parliament, which is reconvening on Monday and that she is taking orders from Washington. It is also clear that the US's position in the world is weakening.
This action has been shaped by the failure of Western policy in the Middle East. It is not true that the West has been doing nothing in Syria over the last few years. Britain was involved in covert ops before 2015 and regular bombing raids since the vote in 2015. According to Airwars, the West has been involved in more than 50,000 bombing raids in Syria in the last four years, killing thousands of civilians. But their basic plan, to use the Syrian opposition to secure regime change by arming them and providing them with military back up, has been unsuccessful. The project of getting rid of Assad has been abandoned for the time being.
The bombing of Libya in 2011– an intervention most strongly promoted by Britain and France – was clearly a catastrophe. Sold as a humanitarian operation, it ended with 50,000 dead, brutal regime change and complete state failure. Even Barak Obama has said later he regretted sanctioning it. Before that there was Iraq. The invasion and occupation did untold damage to the country and the wider region. That intervention more than anything is the root cause of the current chaos in the Middle East. But it was also a failure from the point of its main protagonists in Washington and Whitehall.
The West’s failure to pacify and secure the country allowed the US’s main enemy in the region, Iran, to strongly increase its reach and influence. Its demonstration of the limits of US power has encouraged other powers to flex their muscles in the region. The resulting interventions in Syria by Russia, Turkey Saudi Arabia and others have of course only increased the death and destruction.
So, angry but more and more impotent, the Western powers this time have settled for gesture bombing, and gestures don’t impress anyone. But periods of imperial decline are inherently dangerous. There is no way the US is going to passively accept reduced influence in the Middle East. In so far as there is a Western strategy, it is the attempt to roll back Iranian influence through support of the emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus to reassert control over the region. Assad’s consolidation is only going to encourage a vigorous pursuit of this project. Next time Trump and his most loyal ally are likely to get more serious.
Back home this irresponsible and pointless attack will further undermine what is laughingly referred to as May's authority. What is so heartening - and something that has limited her options from the start - is that the vast majority of people have complete contempt for this kind of calculated killing. All the opinion polls published so far show big opposition to these strikes despite almost blanket support for them in the mainstream media.
The crucial thing is that we continue to build on and to mobilise this opinion. Once again people have shown their willingness to stand up against war. Many thousands have lobbied their MPs, in Stop the War we were notified of 30 protests around the country on Friday - there were no doubt many many, more. A crowd of hundreds closed Whitehall in London. This Monday night in London from 5.30pm we will be back on the streets outside Parliament the day it reconvenes. There will be other protests around the country. Tell your friends, neighbours and workmates protests matter. No to war - yes to democracy.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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