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Syria strikes will achieve little – we should concentrate on alleviating the human suffering on the ground

22 Apr 2018 4 minute read
Boy in Syria. Picture by Isakarakus.

Jonathan Edwards MP

The House of Commons becomes a very strange beast when a war debate is held.

Members of Parliament lose all sense of rationality and get caught up in the hype of senseless British jingoism.

Nothing excites unionist MPs more than a good war.

In refusing to recall Parliament over the Easter recess to authorise the strikes the British Government could jump to the tune of President Trump’s tweets with political impunity.

Disgracefully, no substantive motion was brought before the Commons for a vote which means those of us concerned at the decision to escalate involvement in the Syrian conflict were only able to do so by voting against a technical motion.

The Labour party, helplessly split and divided, abstained.

Leaving aside arguments over the legality of the action under international law and responsibility for the chlorine attack on Douma – although there are legitimate questions on both with respected journalist Robert Fisk from the Independent reporting from the enclave that there was no evidence of a chemical attack – I still consider the actions of the British Government to be foolhardy.

The thrust of the argument in the Prime Minister’s statement was that the British State had to respond to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

However, the British Government does not always respond to such attacks. Last year significantly more people were killed in a Sarin attack on Khan Shaykhun in Syria.

Furthermore, when Saddam Hussein was the good guy, Western powers fully supported Iraq against Iran during the 1980-88 war despite the mass use of chemical weapons.

Likewise, the British Government has turned a blind eye to the alleged use of white phosphorous by Israel in Gazza as well as its reported use by Saudi forces in Yemen.

My biggest criticism rests on the failure of this action to begin to deal with the bigger issues at play in Syria.

The US, UK and France have no intention of replacing Assad, firstly because they have no idea who may replace his regime, and secondly, Russia would not allow it.

This means that the action over the weekend was the worst kind of tokenism.


Critically, the action over the weekend will do nothing to dampen the regional rivalry at play in the Syrian theatre.

Even if Assad could win the war, it seems increasingly likely that British-backed Turkey and Saudi Arabia would continue the proxy conflict on the basis of the regimes’ close ties to Iran.

A careful look at the history shows how neighbouring countries have butchered Syrian territory when the opportunity arose and Turkey for instance, in its despicable actions against the Kurds of northern Syria, is exploiting the current situation for its own ends.

Rather than engage in gesture bombing, the British Government would be better advised in concentrating its efforts on alleviating the human suffering on the ground.

Our support for re-settling refugees is disgracefully low.

I am proud that Carmarthenshire, under Plaid Cymru, has resettled the largest number of refugees in Wales with 51 in the last year, whereas some Labour Councils in Wales failed to resettle a single person.  Collectively across the British State far more needs to be done.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that those most in favour of bombing Syria are most opposed to resettling refugees.

I’ve written in this column before how we are in great danger of entering a new cold War period that could quickly escalate to a global conflict.

In these deeply distressing and troubling times it concerns me greatly that the major powers of the day all seem intent on ramping up the tension and division.

I say again, history teaches us that matters can go wrong extremely quickly – that is, perhaps, above all, the greatest foreign policy critique of the weekend’s bombing.

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