Tonight, yesterday evening now, the UK Parliament voted in favour of airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. Hilary Benn’s speech as been lauded by some as one of the highlights of the evening. After the obligatory courtesies Hilary Benn presented eight arguments for military action in Syria:
1. “We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures …”
This is dishonest UNSCR 2249: “Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;”
Ignoring Syrian sovreignty and acting without the consent or invitation of the Syrian government makes the status of UK intervention at best problematic under international law.
2. “All of us understand the importance of bringing and end to the Syrian civil war and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a cease-fire. Now that would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable million of Syrians, who have been forced to flee, to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.”
While agreeing that a cease fire between warring Syrians would be a good thing Benn fails to acknowledge that the Syrian government is fighting a number of terrorist groups, many of whose members are mercenaries and takfiri ‘jihadists’ from foreign countries.
3. “Now Mr Speaker, no-one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do …”
After outlining the horrors of Daesh including the attacks in Tunisia, Beruit, Ankara and Paris, Benn says that we cannot ‘refuse to act fully’ against those who are planning thsese attacks. Now I agree with this but I do not know that the Paris attacks were planned by individuals based in Raqqa, Syria. The terrorists who carried out the attacks were citizens of Europe. It is clear to me, given the support Daesh has received from multiple international sources, that there is a multi-national network behind Daesh and it is likely that the Paris attacks were planned and equipped from outside Syria. Acting fully and effectively against the terror network and the faux state that it sponsors means identifying and dismantling that network and taking down Daesh in the way that is most supportive of the restoration of Syria as a fully functioning state.
4. “Now, France wants us to stand with them and president Holland – the leader of our sister socialist party – has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq where Daersh’s hold has been reduced and undertaking everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria should we not play our full part?”
We are allied with the Iraqi government but not with the Syrian government in fact our allies have been trying to overthrow the Syrian government and the Syrian government have every reason to be mistrustful of their motives. Here we must remember the admissions of US generals Clarke and Flynn and the admission of Vice President Biden that the US and her allies facilitated the establishment of Daesh in Syria and supported other armed anti-government forces.
5. “It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq..”
The issue for me is not the effectiveness of airstrikes in themselves but their effectiveness and appropriateness within specific contexts.
6. “Now, I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh – who target innocent people.”
I presume that Benn would say that when he voted for bombing and invading Iraq in 2003 he did not intend to harm civilians and yet tens of thousands died as a direct result of military action and hundreds of thousands died, and are still dying, as an indirect consequence, and Daesh arose, in part, out of the frustrations and anger of Iraqi Sunnis with a new regime perceived to be following a Shia agenda.
7. “Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I’ll tell you what else we know, is whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number”
Benn talks about the notional 70,000 ‘ground troops’ that Cameron seems to depend on to defeat Daesh. He admits that most of them are engaged in fighting the Syrian government – I will not agree to use Benn’s terminology and say that they are fighting President Assad, more than 90,000 members of pro-government forces, mostly members of the Syrian Arab Army, have died defending their country and compatriots against Daesh and other terrorist groups. We should neither support nor expect support from the people who are fighting Syria’s legitimate government though we should support, as Russia does, groups prepared to accept a cease fire with the SAA and to work with the SAA to defeat Daesh and then take part in free and democratic elections.
8. “The old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary. And that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one if we are serious about defeating Daesh.”
Benn says “the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist .. that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one.” I find this dangerous. Benn is doing what Daesh is doing, attempting to disappear Syria as a country with territorial integrity.
I have heard Benn’s speech described as ‘electrifying’. I do not find it electrifying, I do, however, find it shocking in its dishonesty.