Month: April 2017

America’s Attack on Syria: Some Elementary Observations

  • The strike violated domestic American law, as there was no congressional authorisation, and it violated international law, specifically Article 2 of the UN Charter, which bars the “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. It was an act of aggression, which is, according to the Nuremberg principles, the “supreme international crime”.
  • The timing of the strike indicates that it was not motivated by humanitarian concerns, as it is unclear who was responsible for the chemical weapons attack, and a logical step would have been to help coordinate an independent investigation to ascertain the facts and then proceed to bring whoever was responsible to justice using legitimate mechanisms (i.e. via the UN). There is no way that in the short space of time between the chemical attack and the US strike that the Trump administration could have gathered irrefutable evidence as to who the culprit was; certainly nothing that would have justified an illegal military attack. The tragedy in Idlib was clearly a pretext for military intervention, rather than the actual reason.
  • The US has once again reaffirmed that it has the right to do whatever it wants in the world, without needing to defer to a higher body or seek approval from anyone, which is perfectly consistent with how rogue states operate.
  • If the principle that it is justified to attack military bases in a sovereign state in order to deter repetition of atrocities was universally applied then military bases in America, Britain, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia and a host of others would all be legitimate targets. Suppose Iran attacked military bases in the UK under the pretext of deterring future aggression of the kind we carried out against Iraq (which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the region); how might we react?
  • If it turns out that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib, he certainly wouldn’t be the only one to have used chemical weapons against defenceless civilians; America and Britain used white phosphorous in Iraq, and America notoriously used it in its attack on Fallujah during which 5000 civilians were killed. Israel used white phosphorous shells to bomb hospitals during its 2008/2009 attack on Gaza. During the 1990s, Turkey dropped US-made napalm on Kurdish villages as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing that was strongly supported by America and Britain. These are just a few examples.
  • The consequences of the attack are likely to be extremely negative; risking military confrontation with Russia is reckless in the extreme. The threat of nuclear war is increasing, and one provocation on either side could easily set off an irreversible chain of events. The attack has done nothing to curb the Assad regime’s military capabilities, but has allegedly succeeded in killing nine civilians. It could even strengthen the regime, which now has added rhetorical justification for carrying out its crimes by being able to repeat the line that it is under attack from the West and is acting defensively. 
  • More commentators and political officials from both parties in the US will now be calling on Trump to escalate and carry out further strikes once it becomes obvious that the limited attack he has already authorised has had no observable consequences on the ground, and he will probably oblige so as not to appear weak. This could end in full-scale invasion, which would be catastrophic (see: Iraq, Libya).
  • If it turns out that the regime was responsible for the chemical attack, one step would be for the UN to oversee the destruction of all of the illegal substances and to move in independent monitors to help stem the atrocities. Whatever influence Trump has with Putin he should use to pressure Russia and Syria to get round the negotiating table (maybe in return for relief from sanctions or promise of investment), and America should stop supplying weapons to the rebel forces, whose own actions are often awful, and end up eliciting a more brutal response from the regime. Aid-drops and an increased intake of refugees would be positive steps in the short-term.

The British Government Descends Deeper Into Moral Chaos

Theresa-May-006

As the Saudi-led coalition continues to demolish Yemen, the UK’s role in fuelling the ongoing assault is becoming increasingly difficult to defend, both morally and politically. First, General Ahmed al-Asiri, spokesman for the coalition, was pelted with eggs and subjected to an attempted citizen’s arrest on a recent visit to London. Then, just recently, it was revealed that the Metropolitan police are examining allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen, committed with the active participation and unconditional support of the UK. As the brutality of the bombing campaign becomes harder to conceal, despite the best efforts of warmongering MPs and their lapdogs in the corporate media to do just that, the government will be forced to churn out even more propaganda than usual in order to justify its role in this unending savagery. The Bahraini government, another renowned defender of human rights and one of the UK’s chief allies in the region, condemned the attempted citizen’s arrest of al-Asiri as a “barbaric assault” committed by a “group of terrorists”, thus inadvertently but aptly summing up the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen.

Responding to reports of atrocities, an FCO spokesman has stated: “We regularly raise the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law with the Saudi government and other members of the military coalition and we do not shy away from raising legitimate human rights concerns with our friends”. It’s touching to see British political officials proudly and unashamedly referring to Saudi despots as their “friends”, once again illustrating how admirable our alliances are and how sincere we are in our professed commitments to ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. It’s a mystery how anyone could possibly accuse us of hypocrisy when we lecture other countries on the importance of protecting human rights and upholding ‘Western values’. Moreover, rather than pressuring their “friends” in Riyadh, it would be much easier for members of the Foreign Office to raise “legitimate human rights concerns” with themselves and ponder for a moment why they continue to materially and diplomatically support a campaign which has killed 10,000 civilians, displaced millions more and left an entire country on the brink of famine.

As Britain plummets away from the EU into a dark abyss of political and economic insecurity, the government is forging deeper links with yet more repressive and barbaric regimes. International Trade Minister Liam Fox has announced that the UK is already having informal conversations with twelve countries about post-Brexit trade deals; among them are Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Turkey and Israel. When members of the government announce their vision for a ‘truly global Britain’, this is what they mean; deepening our relations with tyrannical and oppressive regimes, and fuelling yet more violence and suffering around the world. During an interview with Channel 4 News prior to the EU referendum, Noam Chomsky warned that if we were to leave the EU, we could find ourselves “even more subordinated to US power”. He turned out to be correct; Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently stated: “Our defence relationship with the US is unprecedented in its depth and scope. As we leave the EU, our bilateral relationships matter more than ever, so we’ll be enhancing our cooperation and investing more in our joint F-35 fast jet programme”.

The programme to which Fallon refers is one of the costliest military projects in history, and it’s good to see that, with the NHS in dire straits and a record number of people relying on food banks as of 2016, the government has its priorities sorted with regards to investment. This strengthening of our role as America’s leading ‘junior partner’ is an extremely dangerous development; the government recently deployed 200 out of 800 NATO troops to Estonia, and huge NATO training exercises are underway in Scotland with the obvious purpose of intimidating Russia and exhibiting NATO’s military prowess. Similarly provocative acts can be expected in future (from both sides). Growing Russia-NATO tensions could easily escalate into a potentially terminal situation. As we leave the EU and enter into a new era of uncertainty, the importance of activism and direct action on the part of the citizenry in order to protect human rights and prevent destructive policies from being enacted is especially great. Unless we band together and organise, political elites will be free to do as they please.