By Tom Roberts
The summer is well known as the ‘silly season’ in the British media, with Parliament in recess leading to an absence of serious political stories to report. Yet, the holidays this year were awash with articles on Ed Miliband’s ‘summer of silence’, as leading figures from Labour and elsewhere lined up to condemn the Opposition leader for his lack of direction.
But perhaps more startling was the quiet from the junior Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. While the Tories basked in the news of an emerging recovery and Labour battled with its own problems, the Lib Dems were squeezed out of the picture over summer. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking we were no longer under a Coalition government and had returned to the old Red-Blue duopoly.
But as the Lib Dems return to the front pages of our newspapers, their party conference being the first of the three major parties, the reason for their own ‘summer of silence’ becomes obvious. They are deeply divided.
For many on the Left of the party – most of their activist base – Tory-led austerity policies were a disaster that would inevitably lead to recession and the experience in Coalition would reconfirm their place as a left-wing party. Yet with the recovery appearing to be gaining ground and Labour’s lead over the Conservatives shallow, many Lib Dems who had hoped the next government would be a coalition with Labour are being forced to reconsider their position.
But Lib Dems on the Right of their party face their own problems. Firstly, they are very much the minority. During the party conference, ‘Orange Book’ Lib Dems, which includes most of the party leadership, are most likely to be defeated on issues such as reintroducing the 50p top tax rate and welfare reforms.
Secondly, they need to reclaim recent economic growth as their own. While Conservative polling figures have witnessed something of a recovery, the Lib Dems continue to hover around 10% or so and in some polls still finish lower than UKIP. However, if they claim too much success, they risk becoming associated too closely with the Tories and risk further alienating the party rank-and-file.
The deep divisions that afflict the Lib Dems, Right vs Left, classical liberal vs social liberal, leadership vs party activists, will prevent them form forming a strong, independent identity for the next election and the current policy for ‘equidistance’ between the Conservatives and Labour will be doomed to fail.
It is difficult to see where the party will be able to carve out their new identity. Their flagship policy, the abolition of tuition fees, was sunk very early in Coalition negotiations. Changing current drug policy is no longer as radical as it used to be. And, unlike in 2003 when they took a stand against the invasion of Iraq, they have supported every military misadventure in the Middle East so far.
Even deciding what the ‘Liberal’ in Liberal Democrats stands for, whether it be Gladstonian classical liberalism, or Guardian-style social liberalism, will not fix the party’s quandary.
Emulating the laissez-faire German Free Democrats will not gain new votes on the Right, who now have a choice between the Conservatives and UKIP. Besides, as the vote on gay marriage demonstrated, the Conservative party, albeit begrudgingly, is beginning to accept social as well as economic liberalism.
Tacking to the Left is unlikely to garner support from left-wing voters either, co-operation with the hated Tories and acceptance of austerity leaving black marks against the Lib Dems.
So with the future of the party in doubt, with the party currently on course to loose over half its seats and deeply divided over ideological issues, I ask you, what is the point of the Li bDems?
By Jamie Brooke
On August 29 the British Parliament narrowly voted against a military intervention in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron rightly allowed MPs a free vote, saying as the debate drew to a close; “I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is clear to me the British Parliament does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”
President Barrack Obama’s administration has pushed forward with the process of seeking congressional approval for a military intervention in the war ravaged nation and, in the wake of the British decision, has sought further international support from the G20 nations.
The French government, which has historic colonial relations with Syria, has taken a pro-interventionist stance. Mr Obama has spoken of a ‘limited’ strike, which has received the preliminary backing of ex-serviceman Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, and Senator Lindsey Graham.
The two Republicans have stated that a no vote on military action would be ‘catastrophic‘ for the US’s reputation abroad. In the UK, though, it appears to have been the correct move politically as military intervention has such minimal public support. A humanitarian response has been suggested in its stead.
The 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol, referred to extensively in the Parliamentary debate, is a prohibition on the usage of dangerous gas. It is one of the most engrained international agreements in regards to weaponry there is, although the United States did not accede to it until 1975. Syria is, significantly, not a party to it.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking on August 23, stated that “Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law. Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”
As Parliament affirmed, the importance of discovering the truth in this area should not be underplayed, but will be something of a drawn out process. The Prime Minister encouraged MPs to review the footage of the devastation – which appears more by the day to have come from Syria – a judgment call Mr Obama may wish to replicate.
It is important that decision makers on either side of the Atlantic, and around the world, do not let the disturbing nature of the footage cloud their judgment. The one grey area is lachrymose gas (tear gas), which may have a role to play in prisoner of war camps to ensure crowd control, an area which may develop in significance in the event of the crisis escalating.
This premise was established during the first Gulf War, during which the US Defence Department authorised its usage against Iraqi soldiers as part of search and rescue missions.
The establishment of no fly zones and the targeting of non-civilian infrastructure by the Americans, or any other party to the conflict, may again be a developing feature if – on balance – it is decided that military action is necessary.
Airfields serve both military and humanitarian needs. As such, deciding their status is essential if ‘hearts and minds’ support is to be maintained in the event of an intervention. It is the support of the citizenry that will decide whether or not any action will lead to further eruptions or to a settlement arrangement.
Mr Obama should bear in mind that it is not legal to launch aerial attacks against objects indispensable to the civilian population e.g. food stores, livestock, water installations or crops. Whilst the use of unarmed drones to allow the delivery of aid to remote locations is an option were landing strips to be destroyed, there is a suggestion that their usage is in part to blame for radicalisation in some parts of the Middle East, notably Yemen, a point touched on by Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee during the Parliamentary debate.
The American mood for an intervention is exceptionally limited, however, there is some support for targeted strikes on facilities storing or manufacturing chemical weapons, in keeping with the Obama administration’s ‘red line’ policy.
The question is one of interventionism versus isolationism, though with the changing nature of terrorism, when human flight is taken into account, this historic dynamic may no longer hold water. America, which is now somewhat bound to honour the commitment to its involvement, is disunited. Provisions are set out appertaining to the extent to which an occupying power can apply sanctions or coercion in the occupied state.
Acceptable targets in the event of an airstrike include military bases, lines of communication, fuel storage etc. What would otherwise be civilian buildings can become legitimate targets if they are used by enemy combatants – this does pre-necessitate a clarification as to who the enemy is. Collateral civilian damage must of course be avoided at all costs.
Mr Cameron previously considered arming the Syrian rebels, an idea which was initially dismissed in the UK. Democratic US Senator, Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee has maintained this stance arguing in favour of “providing lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.” This is to debase the word aid and should be acknowledged as such, however, there is growing justification in taking this particular course of action as combat continues.
A nation’s right to self-determination in genuine circumstances of national liberation should be respected. The relationship between an occupying power and the population are set out in the Civilians Convention. It is of course possible to instead enter into a Declaration of Friendly Relations. The motivation of those fighting in Syria is multifaceted and the groups dispersed.
At the very least, all parties should be able to agree that the bodies of the dead should be treated with dignity. There are provisions in international law relating to graves and burials, as well as some Islamic doctrines of note. Maintenance of graves and identifying the dead leads to a sense of closure, so past grievances may begin to be laid to rest, diminishing the residual hostility towards the Western world.
It may still be possible to make diplomatic progress with the Assad regime, as well as the country’s neighbours. President Vladimir Putin is opposed to US military action, saying any military strikes without UN approval would be ‘an aggression’. Mr Putin said that Russia would not rule out supporting a UN Security Council resolution authorising force if it was proved ‘beyond doubt’ that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.
Progress may yet be made in regards to the protection of clearly demarcated medical aircraft, for non-surveillance purposes. It is possible to become a party to the conflict rather than an occupying power. In the event of a humanitarian intervention, the only armaments legally permitted on medical aircraft are those taken from patients or light arms for the protection of the aircraft’s personnel for self-defence when the aircraft is on the ground.
The protection of children ought to be of particular concern both in the short and long term future. Every attempt should be made to limit their exposure to the conflict. Many children, as well as adults, will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
If the local organisations are not adequately prepared to handle the number of orphans or children who have been separated from their families, there is obviously room for a co-ordinated international humanitarian response, especially considering the number of countries to which people have fled. Occupying powers are responsible for preserving local customs, education, religion and language.
Amnesty International wrote on August 22; “The international community has been given one last chance to turn the corner on its ineffectual response to the long litany of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Syria – which have left more than 100,000 dead, millions displaced and forced almost 2 million refugees to flee.”
The decision to wage war is, though, a monumental act for any nation. The tragedy of war and the standard of the British Parliamentary debate have prompted members of Congress to sign a letter rejecting military action without the explicit permission of Congress.
The sectarian element of both the Syrian conflict and the region as a whole, when considered alongside the long history of instability as well as a lack of signatories to commonly accepted treaties, makes diplomacy difficult.
Overlap with Islamic customs such as those set out in the Khadduri would be preferable, where appropriate and where human rights are ensured, and may help prevent the persecution of religious minorities – specifically, but not limited to, foreign aid workers.
America has, since 1863, had its own customs relating to warfare – some of which appear to have deteriorated over the years. The growing crisis in Syria is one of the largest humanitarian tragedies of our times. That the Western world would therefore wish to intervene is far from incomprehensible.
The Coalition government has, so far, been singing roughly from the same hymn sheet on Syria. Ed Miliband has, whilst not going overboard electioneering, at least been attuned towards debate. Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said before the Parliament reached its decision; “We are not prepared to issue a blank cheque to the Prime Minister.” This is again something of a change of tune from the Labour Party.
Whilst only a small amount felt like it was resolved – and won’t be until a more coherent American response is given – the session was, on the whole, a laudable triumph of democracy in the face of tyranny. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, made a worthy contribution to proceedings, as did some of the minority parties – including regional representatives.
That a debate primarily focussing on humanitarian considerations was non-confrontational is meritorious – and it can only be hoped the American debate goes down just as smoothly. Neutrality is an option still open to Britain regardless of the route America takes, and is in keeping with the Prime Minister’s commitment to diplomacy and peace talks.
There are circumstances in which a neutral party may offer a minimal level of assistance on the basis of benevolent neutrality ascribed by the Treaty on the Renunciation of War 1928, and mutual assistance may also be contemplated.
It is possible for an occupying power to stop the circulation of the local currency, the Syrian pound, and to issue its own currency. This may, from a diplomatic standpoint, best be that of another more stable Middle Eastern state. It is important that, if this route is taken, the local currency is not debased or that the occupying power does not confer gain from the changing economic climate.
Diplomacy goes hand in hand with economic stability, but it is possible fighting will erupt again if any economic intervention is perceived as rigging the local market. Any financial institution that engages in the area will of course have a fiduciary duty to its clients, whilst micro-financing and philanthropy remain viable options.
The standard still before Parliament is for a legal humanitarian intervention under the developing concept within international law of the Responsibility to Protect. If the use of chemical weapons, conventional weapons and the dispersal of humanitarian aid can be separated the response is likely to be better understood by the public, whose safety is ultimately at stake.
It was refreshing to hear Mr Cameron, who has lost some political capital over his steps towards censorship, acknowledge the correlation between the actions of government abroad and the potential for domestic repercussions.
The Syria debate has blurred party lines, facilitated in part by the high quality discourse and proper utilisation of parliamentary privilege. It has also gone some way to atone for past mishandling of other conflicts. The use of chemical weapons is indeed disturbing, but as is the usage of any unnecessary force.
It is essential the floods of refugees and asylum seekers in the area are offered whatever protection Britain can reasonably muster. The use of chemical weapons, if proven, is clearly a grave breach of international law, however, whether military action from any party is genuinely the best avenue for redress or not in this instance, remains to be seen.
From a diplomatic standpoint, it may still be possible to establish an agreement between the respective parties for the recognition of hospital zones to protect the wounded and sick as well as ensuring aid channels remain open.
Relief workers have objected to a gung-ho performance of the responsibility to protect, which ought to cause power brokers to question the reason that is so. President Obama confirmed that he ‘fully respected’ the approach the Prime Minister has taken over Syria, and his commitment to preserving the long established friendship between the two nations, though it is possible something of a diplomatic rift may occur.
It is easy for the public to panic somewhat when they are not given proper knowledge of a situation. However, patience and foresight are great British characteristics that are worth sharing, where possible. Mr Cameron did a good job at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions after what was, to be fair, a surprise result in Parliament. The public mood remains largely upbeat as discussion continues, feeling like the situation may be closer to being resolved and that the facts are starting to come to light.
By Jan Żeber
Social networking sites are a bit like cheap lager. They are an integral part of the western world. Most people use them, some overdo them. Occasionally they become a medium of an unpleasant situation, and sometimes of a tragedy – my deepest condolences go out to the parents of Hannah Smith.
What used to be confined to the darkest circles of cyberspace, or at least to adolescent slang, ‘trolling’ is now at the forefront of the national debate.
Twitter is under heavy fire following abuse of several prominent women, including Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist campaigner, and Stella Creasy, a Labour and Co-operative MP for Walthamstow – the pressure is mounting for increased abuse reporting tools, which culminated on August 4 with a daylong boycott of the website.
But the situation reached a boiling point when Hannah Smith, a teenage girl from Lutterworth, committed suicide after a string of abuse on a social networking site Ask.fm telling her to kill herself. David Cameron called for boycotting of such sites, major companies pulled out their adverts and Hannah’s father stated he holds Ask.fm responsible and that he will ‘not rest until the site is safe for children’.
‘Trolling’, ‘cyber bullying’ and general offensive behaviour on the internet is a real problem, especially among young, vulnerable people who are likely take anonymous remarks to heart. As a social phenomenon, it is also a worrying indicator, possibly of a society which went too far with emotional correctness.
I’m concerned, however, that the debate surrounding this issue has degenerated into hysteria. What is baffling to me, however, is why it is the sites that get most stick these days and not the people who use them in such immature and often sick manner.
Sites like Twitter and Ask.fm can be thought of as platforms and speaker stands – and as such cannot be held responsible for what they are being used for. If, for example, we choose to spend our Sunday afternoon at the Speakers’ Corner but, having got there, find we are feeling upset by what is being said, we put down the orator as an individual we want nothing to do with then move to look for another one or leave altogether, if we find nothing to our taste.
It would be unreasonable to feel any resentment to Speakers‘ Corner itself, let alone publicly advocate a boycott or censorship measures – like Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm, it merely provides space/servers with a policy that anyone can come/sign up and speak, but also everybody is free to leave and there’s no obligation to stay. If they have no power over who is speaking and what is being said, nobody is forced to listen, and those that do listen do so of their own free will, then the social networking sites/the Royal Parks authority cannot be guilty of it’s effects.
The issue at heart of this affair is one of responsibility. Many people feel that, just as a police officer would theoretically protect us if we were faced with abuse of any kind on the street, the government, ISPs and webmasters have a similar obligation towards us when we venture online.
Internet safety standards are heavy on PM’s agenda, and it seems that Cameron is pushing the image of being the keeper of our children’s online virtue – the plans for pornography opt in filters enforced on major internet providers will take place in 2015, where every new broadband connection will have a default block on pornographic material, which can only be disabled by an adult.
There’s no doubt that, just as the real world, the internet is inhabited by all kinds of people and has its dark alleys. But I wish that more faith was granted by the government and in particular the PM to the judgement of ordinary internet users such as you and I.
We don’t need to be heavily sheltered from the influence of unpleasant individuals, we can deal with them ourselves, be it by meeting them head on and retweeting their abusive comments, a great trend started by Ms. Criado-Perez, or simply by ignoring the emotional outbursts of some 16-year-old yet to learn how to use anonymity responsibly. This is important so as not to discourage new social networks from appearing in fear of crushing regulation or being blamed for the content posted.
The new broadband filters may not seem like much and there’s no doubt that care must be taken when letting children use the internet, but who is David Cameron to tell us that we can’t be trusted to talk to our kids about what the internet is really like, or to set up the filters ourselves, already available from ISPs and browsers? Then there is the issue that these filters don’t just block porn, but also extremist, violent, suicide, smoking, alcohol and esoteric related content. Where do we draw the line for those?
Cyberspace, just like Carling, is accessible to all, lifeblood of some, been a ruin of many-a-poor boy and houses many demons. But generally harmless if you know how to handle it, and a bad experience will leave you wiser.
Jan is a Polish national in his second year studying law at the University of Bristol.
By Dominic Trynka-Watson
It is truly frightening just how infatuated the New York Times is with Barack Obama. I cannot imagine for one minute that this article, for example, would have been printed with had John McCain or Mitt Romney won the 2012 presidential election.
More worryingly, this article’s message is very dangerous. Whilst I do not have an inherent problem with the idea that moral considerations may sometimes override strict adherence to international law, being able to make a moral case for intervention is not enough on its own.
A UN and Arab League delegations are still in Syria and, arguably, either organisation is better placed to lead on this – Western intervention in the Middle East will always be viewed as a sort of neo-colonialism, regardless of its intent, which was demonstrated in the bombing of Libyan targets during that country’s recent civil war.
Resorting to military force before other options have been fully explored is always foolhardy, which is why we in Britain have much to be proud of in the House of Commons’ recent vote, and weighing in will almost certainly escalate the conflict and the potential for it to spread.
For Syria is no military weakling. Indeed, the talk of cruise missiles is occurring precisely because Assad’s air defences make an aerial assault too risky. There is also the small matter of Syria having some very advanced Russian anti-ship weaponry. Western navel vessels could quite realistically be sunk in retaliation.
And, whilst Syria lacks the capability to strike the US or UK itself, regional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia are well within range and some analysts believe their Scud D missiles have a 700km range – adding the British base on Cyprus to their list of viable targets.
There is also the small matter of Russia and China’s position. Even if they proceed with the coolest of heads, intervention will greatly increase the tensions between us and rob us of the high ground on issues like Russian interference in Georgia.
To make a moral case for intervention is not on its own enough. For that moral case to stand up it must be clear that the likely consequences of not acting outweigh the risk of making matters worse.
By Jamie Brooke
This week saw Army Colonel Judge Denise Lind sentence whistle-blower Bradley Manning to 35 years’ imprisonment. The divisive American, seen as a traitor, political prisoner or folk-hero, was convicted of nineteen of the twenty one charges against him, mostly brought under the Espionage Act 1917.
The sentence was met with mixed reactions from US and international commentators. Many came out in defence of Bradley Manning. Notable amongst them was Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize winning war correspondent, who described it as ‘one of the most important watersheds in US history’. Many newspapers and TV networks, however, ran stories regarding Bradley Manning’s sexuality and mental state instead of discussing the fundamental issues of democracy raised by the case.
Manning released more than seven hundred thousand intelligence files to the site Wikileaks, having exhausted reporting channels within the military establishment upon uncovering abuses committed by the military.
Amongst these was the revelation that there have been 109,032 ‘violent deaths’ in Iraq, including those of 66,081 civilians. Also included in the leaked content was the video ‘collateral murder’, in which the crew of a US helicopter are seen shooting down nine people including two Reuters journalists.
Hedges suggests that ‘under the military code of conduct and international law, the soldier had a moral and legal obligation to report the war crimes he witnessed. But this argument was ruled off-limits,’ for the defence attorneys, leading him to describe it as a ‘show trial’. This may be something of an overstatement from the war-scarred commentator, considering the worst of the charges – aiding the enemy – was eventually dropped by the prosecution.
They argued Bradley Manning – who was 22 at the time he released the files – had risked the lives of government workers, caused extensive damage to the military and disrupted diplomatic missions. They did not argue that any specific person had lost their life as a result of the disclosures.
This is obviously in contrast to the killing of unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007 by the helicopter gunship soldiers Manning exposed. The video ‘collateral murder’ is publicly available (warning – graphic).
The law governing aerial warfare has seen minimal development since the Second World War. Its history has been mired in abuses, ranging from crop eradication in Afghanistan to indiscriminate heavy handed attacks in Iraq. The Geneva Convention 1949, as amended by Protocol 1 of 1977, does establish rules regarding illegitimate targets on land and rules concerning the protection of citizens.
This is of particular relevance as the situation in Syria worsens. The conflict near Russia’s doorstep, were it to escalate, would predominantly be characterised by aerial combat. Diplomatic relations are highly strained, but fears that it may evolve into a scenario like those in Bosnia, Chechnya or Kosovo ought to be cause to keep the door ajar for continued discussion.
The military code of conduct Hedges refers to is a set of accumulated doctrines and precedents. Notable here is the US Department of the Army Field Manual FM27-10. The provisions in Chapter 8, paragraph 495 state that:
In the event of violation of the law of war, the injured party may legally resort to remedial action of the following types:
- Publication of the facts, with a view to influencing public opinion against the offending belligerent
Bradley Manning would, then, presumably not have been able to use this justification as he is not the injured party. There were no injured parties – they were all shot dead.
The apathy that has been touted by the corporate media is a major cause for concern. When abuses occur abroad the security of citizens in the homeland is jeopardised, as radicalisation may occur in response to war crimes going unreported and unpunished. It is the role of the fourth estate to ensure debate is maintained so as to allow problems to surface before situations escalate unduly, risking the lives of the domestic citizenry.
The ‘rules of war’ are not set in stone, however the extent to which certain premises have been entrenched – since the bloody destructiveness of two total wars – should be substantial enough cause for the US authorities to pursue lines of enquiry relating to the offences raised.
The concerns shared by Bradley Manning, most notably the excessive violence in the ‘collateral murder’ video, ought to prompt America to at least justify those who died in Baghdad on that day in 2007 – if not for the good of its own citizens – then for the peace of mind of the international community as yet another conflict looms heavy.
Bradley Manning was cleared of the most grave of charges – aiding the enemy – despite the somewhat sensitive nature of the information he shared. This is one small glint of light in an otherwise bleak moment in the history of America’s endless pursuit for freedom.
Shortly after the sentencing David Coombs, the lawyer representing Bradley Manning, told a press conference that he would be formally requesting a Presidential pardon next week. Once again the sturdiness of checks and balances in the US system have been called into question, as have the practices that were allowed to develop during the Bush era and the role of military courts.
I am of the opinion that a civilian retrial would be preferable to a Presidential pardon as it would serve to bring further abuses to light in a way that doesn’t further accrue Presidential war powers. It would though raise questions appertaining to double jeopardy.
The Manning case raises questions regarding conflicts between the first and fifth amendments to the US Constitution, as well as a moral question as to when, if ever, burying the truth can ever be justified. President Obama is yet to comment despite calls to do so.
By Bradley Willis
With US defence secretary John Kerry’s statement and David Cameron cutting short his Cornwall holiday, we have been given the strongest indication yet that the West, or at least Great Britain and the United States, is preparing to intervene in the Syrian conflict after the alleged use of chemical weapons on the Syrian populace by the Assad regime.
With the likelihood of military strikes against Syria increasing by the day, it is safe to assume that Western leaders will soon be presenting their cases to strike Syria to the electorate.
Without a doubt just like past cases such as Libya or the First Gulf War similar excuses will be cited. Such excuses most commonly include and are not limited to, ‘our responsibility to protect civilians’ (or ‘R2P’) and ‘our moral duty to intervene’. However, such excuses have always been used to mask the real intentions of governments to intervene in foreign conflicts.
So what is our ulterior motive to intervene this time? Like Libya is it oil? Well, no, although Syria is an oil producing state with notable oil reserves, it produces a meagre 0.48% of the world’s total oil output whilst harbouring world’s 35th largest pool of oil reserves, and it certainly isn’t a case of Syria being a threat to our own national security. So what could it be?
The real answer at first glance may appear surprising, but put simply the West wants to intervene in Syria as a means of reducing Iranian power and influence within the Middle East. Iran, I hear you ask? What does striking Syria have anything to do with limiting Iranian regional influence? Well, let me try and explain.
As I’m sure most of you are well aware of, it is no secret that relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Western governments have always been far from cordial. Ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Western-Iranian relations have been cold to say the least. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war the West was firmly backing Iraq (a convenient fact they’d rather you forget).
A move purely designed to prevent an Iranian victory, which would have increased their sphere of influence in the region, and made Saudi Arabian oil assets considerably vulnerable. Furthermore, since Iran embarked on its own nuclear enrichment program, these already frosty relations have only deteriorated further, and have been seen as the motivating factors for a series of Western imposed economic sanctions and even alleged acts of cyber-warfare.
So if the West were to intervene in such a way that would weaken Assad’s loyalist forces strategic situation and encourage the Assad regimes collapse, how would this damage Iran’s regional power?
Iran and Syria have been long term strategic allies, with Syria arguably being Iran’s strongest ally. This alliance was first sparked by Syria’s support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, and has since been consolidated in a handful of other ways including a mutual defence pact in 2006 and Syria’s refusal to be swayed by an American offer of a removal of sanctions in exchange for rejecting Iran as its ally in 2010.
The alliance has benefited Iran in two key ways. First and foremost, through the alliance and what is commonly referred to as the Resistance Axis, Iran has been able to gain a stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
By using Syria as a means in which to supply Iranian funding and arms to Hezbollah and formerly Hamas (before their withdrawal from the Axis in protest of the killing of Sunni Muslims) whom would use such weaponry against Israel Iran was able to boost its prestige among Middle Eastern Arabs, whom traditionally hold Iran in a less than positive disposition.
In addition, Iran benefits from by having a fellow military ally in a region almost defined by its tumultuous nature, and hostility towards regional super power Israel, this is of vital strategic interest.
With this in mind, Iran has strong rationale to keep the Assad regime in power. This has been evidenced, for example, by the Iranian decision in June to send 4,000 troops in to Syria to help prop up the Assad loyalist war effort. If a recent interview with former Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun is anything to go by, then Iran has legitimate cause for concern.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, Ghalioun cited that a post-Assad Syria would at the very least ‘reconsider’ its relationship with both Hezbollah and Iran. Considering the makeup of the Syrian population is majority Sunni Muslim compared to the Shi’ia leaderships of both Hezbollah and Iran, both of whom have supported the systematic murder of Sunni Muslim Syrians, this ‘reconsideration’ would almost certainly be a radical change in the relationship between a post-Assad Syria and Iran should Western intervention support a collapse of the incumbent Syrian regime.
If this were the case, Iranian influence would be severely affected, losing access to Hezbollah and, therefore, its stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict and its loss of a genuine military ally, thus boosting regional Sunni rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s standing in the region. The fact that the Saudi Arabians have recently offered the Russians a lucrative oil deal in exchange for the Kremlin backing away from the Assad regime is only further evidence of this.
Now, regardless of who deployed the chemical weapons in Syria, the West finally has the casus belli it’s been so eagerly awaiting in order to try and weaken Iran’s strategic position in the Middle East.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the tragic images of the Syrian chemical attacks and make the knee jerk reaction that we should intervene by any means necessary. Whether you believe the West should intervene or not is up to you, however, don’t get caught in the trap that Western governments want you to.
The West does not desire to this out of some genuine philanthropy. If that was the case we would have intervened in the Rwandan genocide rather than watch from the side lines in an embarrassing displace of indifference. This is quite simply opportunism, to eliminate one opponent of the West, and to significantly weaken the regional standing of another.
By Thomas Pike
Needless to say, as a proud classical liberal, I am most certainly not a fan of Western military intervention in foreign wars.
Such intervention can come with an incredible price tag, seriously harmful and unintended consequences, and trample upon a whole host of social and cultural norms which the sole of the American military boot can struggle to comprehend.
However, despite this position, I am not completely against the principle of humanitarian intervention – even if I do believe we’ve been far too eager to apply it in recent years. For example, while I hold that we were wrong to enter Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, I would have supported intervention in Rwanda.
To take a somewhat extreme hypothetical view, if the Holocaust were to be occurring in Germany today, could classical liberals really claim to be taking the moral high ground by refusing to intervene in the face of overwhelming genocide?
To me, that suggests that firstly, a boundary exists between situations we know do not warrant intervention, and those that do. While defining that line is no doubt difficult and highly subjective, we can conclude that it does actually exist and we can, in some cases, appreciate situations either side of it.
Secondly that intervention, if it can be justified in certain circumstances, can actually be highly unfavourable due to very basic pragmatic constraints. Which leads me to a quite a simple conclusion in regards to the current Syrian crisis and the question on many people’s lips: should the West intervene? Yes we should but, no, we shouldn’t…
By this rather unclear response, I mean that I believe that there are sufficient moral grounds to justify the intervention. I struggle to conceive of a real-world situation where the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons is moral or even amoral (not forgetting the widespread use of Agent Orange by the USA in Vietnam…).
Moreover, if we were to not take serious action following this attack, we risk communicating to dictators struggling to cling on to their shattered thrones across the world that the use of chemical (or similarly brutal) weaponry on their own populations is perfectly permissible.
But I’m not writing in an attempt to persuade you to adopt my moral code in regards to the use of chemical weapons on civilians; that is for you to decide for yourself.
However, despite my belief that military intervention on humanitarian grounds is now justifiable, I don’t believe it can actually make the situation any better – I can see us only dousing a fire with petrol, rather than water. I take this position for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is a lack of clear desired objective amongst Western governments and populations. Would we intervene only to destroy chemical weapons stocks, and to ensure everybody ‘played fair’? If so, would we be willing to target stockpiles which the Syrian Free Army may have also collected?
Would we also be willing to target biological, and maybe even conventional weapons too? Or is our objective actually to completely overthrow the Assad regime? Is it even to establish another liberal, democratic and pro-Western outpost in the Middle-East, by also crushing Islamist elements within the rebels themselves?
A clear objective is fundamental for the moral justification of the war. We should stop the use of chemical weapons where at all possible; we have absolutely no right to engage in nation building in the Middle East, just as Assad has none in Europe.
Secondly, potentially huge damage to foreign relations in the region could be caused. Not only are we setting ourselves on a collision course with Russia but the Syrian conflict represents far more to the Middle East than simply a group of disgruntled citizens attempting to oust their unpopular leader.
It is ultimately a Sunni-Shiite war, being fought along a fault line which has existed for well over a millennium and, for this reason, has attracted the close attention of Iran and Lebanon with the possibility it may continue to draw in other Arab states.
In essence, any political actions in Syria will have very far reaching consequences within the reason, and may risk a much larger and unintended war on a scale we are ultimately unprepared to fight.
Thirdly, despite decades of Western presence in the Middle East, we seem yet to learn why the Arab world seems to dislike us quite so.
If we briefly accept the simply ridiculous notion that it’s down to the widespread death, damage and destruction which Westerns seem to wreck whenever they go near the region, intervening in Syria could simply add to the long list of well-intentioned but ultimately failed attempts to improve conditions for the average Arab chap and his family.
As Ron Paul says, if we want to reduce terrorism against the US and UK, the solution is to pull out of the Middle East, not go further in.
I make no bones about it, Bashar al-Assad is a cruel and ruthless dictator who the world would do well without. I dearly hope the man is eventually pulled before a court and sentenced for the heinous crimes he has committed against his own citizens.
But to believe that conditions in Syria, and the Middle East generally, will be improved by Western intervention is to underestimate the complexity and potential long-term fallout of the situation with which we are faced.
I was taught to hate Russians. My grandparents, on both sides of the family, were solidly patriotic Ukrainians and, although they arguably suffered more at the hands of the Nazis (they all did forced labour in Germany), it was the Soviets who occupied their homeland.
The stories they told us had been passed down the generations and, although myself and my brother loved to hear them and took them seriously, it didn’t stop us befriending Russians on holiday in Bulgaria. My grandparents were justified in their prejudice. We had no such excuse.
True enough, there are many things to dislike about Russians. The rampant homophobia and antisemitism that seems to show no sign of abating, after hundreds of years of ignorance and prejudice, particularly jars with our English liberal sensibilities.
The Russian economy, a particularly corrupt form of corporatism, is largely responsible for the hideous disparity of wealth in the country. The mega-rich brush shoulders with the destitute with no visible middle class to buffer them.
Russian history, too, reads like a never ending Greek tragedy – with opportunity after opportunity to mould Mother Russia into a constitutional state governed by the rule of law dashed time after time since at least the reign of Peter the Great. This great dream has still not materialised.
And yet there is so much in the Russian character, paradoxical as it is, to laud and admire. Russians’ hardiness and resilience, their iron discipline, their commitment to excellence in the high arts, their camaraderie and ability to forge a common identity out of 27 languages and 160 ethnic groups.
But, most of all, I think it is their independence I admire. Not since the days of the Mongols’ Golden Horde has the land of the Muscovites been beholden to any foreign power. Its church, too, has been independent since the fifteenth century – well before that of England.
Russians have destroyed anyone who threatened their sovereignty. Mongols, Tatars, Swedes, Frenchmen, Germans – all have been crushed under the Russian heel. Even today, Russia owes nothing to any foreign power or international organisation. Its anti-gay laws and support for the Syrian government, however distasteful, are symptomatic of this disregard for Western opinion and the ‘international community’.
This is important because it is that same independence which allows the Russian Federation to provide Edward Snowden with asylum. It is, of course, merely a tactical sleight against Russia’s auld enemy, the United States, and an authoritarian state harbouring a US/UK mass-surveillance whistleblower is a touch beyond ironic.
But Russia has the power and, more importantly, the will to do whatever it likes in a way this country cannot even dream of – shackled as we are by the chains of the EU, UN, IMF and even our own sense of fair play (France has no trouble ignoring Brussels directives it doesn’t like, for example). I firmly believe this to be a source of good in the world and actually a continuation of what, historically, allowed a cluster of states on the edge of the Eurasian landmass to dominate the world – the power of the alternative.
Russia may be harbouring Snowden for purely cynical and self-interested reasons but this is exactly what encouraged technical and cultural innovation in Europe and also what allowed Jews to flourish there from the time of the Renaissance. As finance was one of the few professions Jews were allowed to practice in Medieval Europe, they became something of an asset to aspiring princes, particularly as Christians were forbidden from lending money to each other.
Unfortunately this didn’t stop them being persecuted in certain kingdoms but, in the spirit of competition, rival princes were happy to tolerate them (and it was only ever toleration) in order to snap up a revenue stream discarded by their persecuting neighbours. None of it is morally ideal but it had three effects; a financial revolution in Europe, the development of tolerance as a European virtue and, more immediately, relative safety and security for European Jews.
Russia is likewise benefiting Europe and the world, entirely in its own interests, by harbouring a man persecuted for doing a service to his fellow citizens. Such a thing would not be possible under the kind of world government envisaged by internationalists nor, indeed, by a binding web of international organisations. Russia is the living embodiment of national sovereignty – and long may it continue.
Some who have explored the internet recently may have happened upon what appears to be the left’s latest project, entitled ‘We Own It’.
At first glance, the website appears to be as creative as it is factually dubious, with the homepage alone riddled with statements that simply don’t stand up to empirical evidence. Anyone who understands economics or remembers the 1970s could very easily disprove their claim that ‘Privatisation doesn’t work’, for example.
While fact-checking the left’s attitudes to economic issues such as privatisation is important and, indeed, enjoyable – that debate is for another time. For one thing, any visitor to the website is struck by – its the name – ‘We Own It’.
Like Newspeak and doublethink from George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, the statement is imbued with meaning whilst having no real meaning at all. It is deliberately misleading, designed to direct the reader towards a false conclusion. Like any such statement, it can quickly be disproved with some scrutiny.
What is the statement ‘We Own It’ trying to say, exactly? The simplest explanation would be that we, the British people, on some basis have ownership of the services generously provided to us by government. Is this really the case? Let’s examine the facts.
First of all, what constitutes ‘We’ exactly? The statement, given the context, implies that ‘We’ means everyone who has access to, uses and pays for, public services. Since that is just about everyone, we can assume that ‘We’ refers to the British population at large. The UK population currently stands at around 63.7 million people.
Assuming each person has an equal share of public services, each person’s share would give them a 0.00000157 per cent stake in the public sector. Great, I feel empowered already.
So, now we have established that our individual share in public services is small to say the least, let’s thinking about what the concept of ownership entails. To own something usually implies that we in some form or another have a say over what is done with it.
The best way to illustrate this with the public sector is to contrast the concept of shareholding in those services with other entities where we are familiar with the concept of share ownership. Such an example is provided by joint-stock or public limited liability companies, in other words corporations whose equity is traded on stock markets.
If I own equity in a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, for example, I am entitled by law to the following privileges. According to the Companies Act 2006 I can, with support from five per cent of overall shareholders, call shareholder meetings where I can in theory initiate an election to remove directors by a simply majority.
I can also have a non-binding say on executive pay, initiate votes on changing the company’s constitution and vote on significant transactions such as mergers, takeovers and share buy-backs. The company I own shares in is also obliged by law to hold annual general meetings, which I can attend and vote on propositions.
You will notice that all these privileges are conspicuous by their absence in the public sector. The only real say any of us have on how public services are run is exercised in a general election, where I can vote between various different policy packages presented to me by political parties, of which only two have any realistic chance of actually winning the election overall.
I have no say in the formulation of those policies, I cannot decide who runs public services and I certainly can’t initiate a vote calling for their removal if I think they’re doing a bad job. In the private sector I can also examine, in detail if I wish, quarterly reports on finance that companies are obliged to produce and I can keep an eye on how my share of the company is doing simply by looking at its trading price on the stock market.
Given the behaviour of certain NHS trusts over the recent scandals relating to standards in hospitals, for example, it would be reasonable to conclude that public services tend to be far less open and transparent than their private counterparts.
If we accept the proposition that we do indeed have an, albeit small, stake in public services then it is clear to most people that a stake in private firms goes much further. In addition to the above, if a company is profiting and doing well, I am sometimes rewarded with dividends – a share of that companies profits. When I am obliged to hand over my money to the public sector, I don’t even get so much as a thank you.
Undoubtedly the left would come back at this with something along the lines of ‘Yes, but ownership in shares is so esoteric. At least we ALL have a share in the public sector.’ However, once again the facts suggest otherwise. Over 10 million people in the UK own shares directly, which equates to roughly around one in every four adults.
Not only this, but many millions more have an indirect stake in companies through pension plans, which usually invest in equity and bond markets to increase their value. Despite what the left may say, then, it is fair to suggest that a significant amount of the population, directly or indirectly, have some meaningful form of ownership in corporate Britain.
So it would seem that the statement ‘We Own It’ is actually rather hollow. As we have seen, any ownership we have in the public sector is extremely small and does not equate to what most normal people would regard as ownership. The left can argue based on abstractions all they like but, in reality, it seems the concept of us owning the public sector doesn’t count for much in the real world.