Today, down the panelled halls of Westminster, one sound can be heard above that of the typewriters and the printers and the silver service bells in the many drawing rooms and conservatories.
It’s the sound of distant drums. The war drums.
There’s been a certain inevitability about this for the last few months, and now we’re coming down to the wire. I suspect we’re about to cross the Rubicon, and it makes me sick to think we’re back here again, having learned no lessons from Iraq or Libya.
You know, like many of my generation I am seared by the experience of the Iraq war, and in particular that we didn’t do everything in our power to stop that from running its course.
The dreadful events which followed were exactly what we’d expected, and predicted, but somehow we weren’t able to hold back that tide.
Our guilt grew with the death-toll, until we felt heart sick.
Some of us were so disillusioned we left politics, we thought, never to return again.
The right-wing media sneers at us for how we still feel. They say Iraq made us “gun shy” and turned us into “pacifists” as if the former were wrong and the latter a dirty word, like “socialist.”
They might even be right, because I know people who once believed the West should at least try to export democratic values, whatever the means, who no longer do and would rather we just stayed out of other people’s affairs, even if those people are massacring each other.
For me, I still believe in humanitarian intervention but Syria doesn’t qualify for that, although our political leaders dress up their intentions in the language of “helping others.”
What’s happening over there is ghastly, and I have no truck with a bastard like Assad, but if we depose him – and we seem very keen to do just that – the entire country will disintegrate, and we know that because we’ve seen it before.
One look at the “opposition movement” tells you that any government formed by one of its splintered segments won’t last long.
Sooner or later, the country will be engulfed in further violence, pulled in two by Sunni power bases like Saudi Arabia and Shia ones like Iran, until what’s going on there today is a pale shadow of what comes next.
And finally, at the end, no matter what our “good intentions” were, the black flag of radical Islam will be flying over Damascus before we know it.
We might not call the government “Islamic State”, but that’ll be what it represents just the same.
There is no good end to this, only another chapter in a long book of dreadful errors and misjudgements which has destroyed any semblance of government in Iraq and Libya, has instilled a military dictatorship in Egypt, emboldened Iran, pissed off Russia and stripped the credibility of the Western powers until nothing of it is left.
The most shattering direct consequence will, of course, be the next wave of terrorist attacks which is unleashed on the people of the region and eventually the cities of Europe and the United States.
Before I look at what we’re about to do, I want to look at what we’ve done before and about what the terrorists themselves have done.
Terrorism is hardly a new thing; the people of the West have been living with it for decades.
What is new is our response to it.
The “golden age” of terrorism – in other words, the timeframe in which it was most common and the terrorists at their busiest – was the 1970’s.
Let’s start with the United States.
Between 1970 – 1979, terrorism in the US killed 184 people and injured 600 others.
That pales into insignificance because of 9/11, which killed over 2000, but it’s an incredible number just the same.
But it’s the stats since September 2001 which ought to clarify matters significantly.
In the 14 years since, terrorism in the United States has claimed a grand total of 74 victims.
What those cold figures hide is that almost all the dead from the 70’s, and majority of the 74 who have died since, were killed by domestic organisations with no links at all to radical Islam.
The Weather Underground carried out a series of bombings in the States during the former period and in the latter dissident groups ranging from the extreme left to the far right, motivated by religion or ideology or race, have largely accounted for the modern toll.
Of the two biggest terrorist attacks to take place in that country before 9/11, only one – the first World Trade Centre bombing, in 1993 – was linked to radical Islam.
Ramzi Yousef, the man who carried out the attack, later went on to carry out the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, he bombed a mosque in Iran and he was linked to attempts on the life of the Pope and Benazir Bhutto.
The only other mass casualty attack in the US was the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995.
168 people died in that atrocity, and it remains the single biggest act of terrorism, after 9/11, in US history.
Its perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were members of a domestic militia group and they carried it out in response to the FBI operations at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
Ramzi Yousef carried out his attack, he says, in response to US interference in the Middle East and their continuing support for Israel.
He traced the genesis of that decision to the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia.
Someone else did too; Osama Bin Laden.
In 1996, he issued his Declaration of Jihad Against Americans, the landmark document which introduced Al Qaeda to the world.
When US forces went into Saudi Arabia in 1990, to defend that country from Saddam Hussein, who had already invaded Kuwait, Bin Laden and others objected to the presence of Western troops in an Arab nation.
He believed Arab soldiers were the only ones who should be fighting for Arab people.
He had been a prominent fighter in the Afghan Mujahedeen, and could call on tens of thousands of men, and he actually offered to supply those fighters to protect the Saudi border and deter Saddam’s forces, something Western politicians and journalists ignored later on.
One of the men later accused of helping mastermind 9/11 was Khaled Sheik Mohammed.
He is Ramzi Yousef’s uncle.
It was Mohammed and Yousef who, in 1994, first conceived of targeting a number of passenger jets and flying an aircraft into CIA headquarters – Operation Bojinka – which was the genesis of that deadly day.
Thus the motivations behind the two World Trade Centre attacks are the same, and the people who carried them out were quite literally linked.
The only other mass casualty operation Muslims launched against US civilians, and aircraft, which happens to draw in our own country, was the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988.
That attack, which was later blamed on Libya, was planned and funded in Tehran and, to a lesser degree, Damascus, in retaliation for the US shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 in July that year.
In short, prior to, and including 11 September 2001, Middle Eastern terrorists had targeted US and British citizens only in response to very specific grievances, and those had nothing whatsoever to do with “hating our way of life.”
They responded to what we did, not who we were.
During the 70’s, there was barely a country in Europe which was not encountering some problem with terrorism.
A wave of bombings and actions had swept the continent, and some of those were directly the responsibility of Arabs organisations.
These shouldn’t be confused with Islamist groups.
Lockerbie was not about radical Islam, although Muslim governments helped plan it.
The attacks in the 70’s were mostly launched by Palestinian groups who wanted the world to acknowledge the occupation of their lands by Israel. Many of the attacks were against Israeli businesses, embassies, and El Al flights.
The most notable of these attacks were linked to an organisation known as Black September, best known for the killings of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
They, and their brother organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were but a small part of what was going on across continental Europe at that time.
In Germany you had the Red Army Faction, more commonly known as Baader-Meinhof after its two founding members.
They were a left-wing paramilitary group with various Marxist objectives, including the reunification of Germany under socialism. They carried out dozens of attacks during the 70’s, and killed over 30 people.
In France, towards the end of the decade, you had a similarly minded organisation called Action Directe.
In Italy you had the Red Brigades – Brigate Rosse – who waged war, as a Marxist guerrilla group, against its government all the way through that decade and the next. One of their stated objectives was to remove Italy from the NATO alliance.
Then there was the Basque conflict, which was waged against Spain and, to a lesser extent France, by a number of groups, most prominent of which was ETA, during a period from 1959 until 2011. They killed over 800 people in the course of their war.
And of course, there was the smorgasbord of groups who fought over the ownership and political status of the Six Counties during that time and into the 90’s, ranging from Loyalist paramilitaries like the UVF to one of the world’s most enduring organisations, the Irish Republic Army, and a host of others in between, some on a large scale, like the INLA, and others mere handfuls of individuals pursuing their own wars, including internal disputes.
People forget that the 70’s and the 80’s were dominated by all this stuff, that bombs in London and Paris and Madrid and Bonn were commonplace.
But no-one rational or sane ever advocated carpet bombing the Falls Road.
In global terms, things changed radically after the end of the Cold War.
And what was the consequence of taking a more measured approach?
Peace through negotiations. Stability.
Almost every one of these groups had been disbanded or gave up their military operations by the 1990’s.
Global terrorism almost dropped off the radar.
Peace had broken out; in fact, that’s how these conflicts usually end.
It’s not ever properly acknowledged in our media and by our political class, but more than 40% of all these struggles, globally, have ended as a consequence of political settlements.
Most of the others have ended via anti-terrorism legislation, which interdicts money and supplies, or police and judicial action.
Only a handful – 7% in total – have been ended by military means.
Baader-Meinhof was closed down by the German police when its leaders were arrested.
The Red Brigades were eradicated by a similar process, and finally by the granting of amnesty to its key leaders.
Other organisations, like ETA and the IRA, opted for political engagement and now play a full part in the democratic process.
From 1995 until 2001, terrorist organisations killed less than 1000 people worldwide.
The year 2001 only jumps off the graph when you consider that the 9/11 attack killed over 2000 people in a single day.
Between that event and 2004, global terrorism almost fell back to its pre 9/11 level, and it might still be there today had we not made matters vastly worse.
Because everything changed when we ignored all logic and past precedent and Western forces moved into Afghanistan and Iraq.
Global terrorism rates skyrocketed.
By 2007, a decade after terrorist attacks were at their lowest level since the end of the Second World War, over 8000 people were being killed in terrorist atrocities annually, and that was outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the number was twice as high.
The numbers have continued to climb ever since.
The global terrorism death toll rose by 80% last year … to over 32,000.
75% of those deaths were in five countries; Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
The West’s “war on terror” has unleashed the beast.
The number of countries where terrorist atrocities killed more than 500 people doubled last year from five to eleven.
The economic cost went up 61%, from $32.9bn to $52.9bn.
The War on Terror is killing people at an alarming rate too.
By 2008, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had claimed more civilian lives than 9/11 by a factor of more than 99-1.
That’s not an exaggerated figure. A chart which compares the 11 September 2001 death-toll with the impact on the civilian populations of those countries shows the worst terrorist atrocity in Western history accounted for slightly less than 0.3% of the casualties.
The notion that “the war on terror” benefits these nations in any way is patently absurd.
Another part of the government’s central claim is that we need to target ISIS and other organisations because of the “threat they pose” to our way of life.
That, too, is a nonsense.
9/11 was one of a number of Al Qaeda operations against the US in the five years since Bin Laden’s “Declaration of Jihad”, which spelled out clear reasons for the campaign.
It was the only successful operation on US soil.
Since the 1970’s Islamic fundamentalist attacks in the continental United States have killed less than dozen people, 9/11 and the first World Trade Centre attack notwithstanding. We’ve already demonstrated how many people died from domestic terrorism in that time.
In the UK, we had 7/7, a direct response to the invasion of Iraq, carried out by home-grown terrorists, which killed 56 people and there has only been one confirmed death linked to Islamic extremists in the country since, and that was the murder of Lee Rigby.
In the US, in 2014 alone, gun violence killed 12,500 people.
Since the re-introduction of the death penalty in 1977, the United States has used one method – lethal injection – to kill over 1100 of its own citizens.
In the UK, 537 people were murdered last year.
In Scotland, there were 61.
That, too, helps put the “terrorism threat” in perspective, doesn’t it?
Much is made of what Islamists have done in Europe, and various atrocities are held up for us as proof that they are “coming for us” whatever happens.
This, too, is a tissue of lies which are easily taken apart.
The recent attack in France was directly related to their government bombing ISIS in Syria.
The attack on a Russian passenger plane recently can be traced to the same thing.
The Madrid bombing, like 7/7, were in retaliation for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and were carried out by Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation.
It’s pretty clear that they only “come for us” when we poke them with a stick.
If we bomb Syria the possibility of retaliation increases exponentially and there’s something else that the stats reveal which our government is loath to acknowledge.
In the last decade, over 70% of the terrorist attacks in the West were carried out by “lone wolf” activists, and of those over 80% were conducted by extremists unrelated to Islam.
Those attacks were carried out by political extremists, radical nationalists, racists and those with religious motives, including those launched against Islamic targets.
These “lone wolf” attacks are usually the work of a single individual or a small group of people with no formal links to the larger terror networks.
The beheading of Lee Rigby was a case in point, and whilst it was motivated by Western interventionism there was no organisation that we could have bombed or stymied in order to prevent it.
In other words, bombing Syria will not erode the greater threat.
It will, in fact, enhance it and help to grow it.
When the next atrocity on British soil takes place, I am willing to bet it will be carried out by our own citizens, radicalised by our policies abroad.
If we accept, then, that the premise behind bombing Syria is not related to keeping our country safe, what are we left with?
Some of our MP’s have said it’s because Britain “can’t stand on the side-lines and do nothing.”
Others frame it as a moral issue.
Either way, their support for bombing amounts to the same thing; whether it’s national prestige or a salve to conscience, it comes down to how we feel about this issue, rather than what good it actually does.
America and France are bombing ISIS in one part of Syria.
Russia is bombing in another.
No-one really expects British airstrikes to be what makes the difference to a “final victory” here, and the notion that “70,000 fighters on the ground” are waiting for us is nonsense only a complete moron could accept at face value.
Our contribution will be negligible, the impact virtually non-existent.
Those who do frame this as a matter of national prestige are, at least, being honest about their motivations.
Britain has to be seen to be “in on the action”, or, in their view, our “standing” amongst the other nations who resort to the bomb and the missile will be lessened.
Few think to ask if this is a club we should really aspire to be in.
Those who frame it as a moral imperative are a little more convincing, but they can’t honestly tell you what benefit our bombs will have on the people of Syria, and those who aren’t, with appalling cynicism, simply hiding behind this excuse are only kidding themselves if they think we’ll accomplish anything more than helping them sleep better at night.
Bombing another country as a salve to your own conscience seems, to me, a pretty horrible testimony on somebody’s state of mind.
But there are worse reasons.
The Tory Party is not speaking with one voice on this issue. Cameron doesn’t have a Commons majority for these strikes without Labour support.
Corbyn has decided not to whip the Labour members, and so some think a victory for the Prime Minister is now as good as certain.
The matter will be decided on a “free vote.”
You cannot have followed this debate without realising that Labour is alone in the Commons in being populated by MP’s who see this as more than just a national prestige matter but also as one reverbarating with consequences for “party credibility.”
Any number of them are going to vote for this for no other reason than they believe the party needs to be “positioned” on this issue prior to local elections, and as a way to boost their national opinion poll numbers.
A number also want to demonstrate their opposition to Jeremy Corbyn, and theirs have been the loudest voices in the last few days.
They saw this as a way to embarrass him, and challenge his leadership.
They must have been hoping for a whipped vote so they could more clearly express their opposition to his continuing in post.
The free vote decision might be devoid of political courage, but it will expose those members to the full glare of the Labour Party members; dare they vote for something that leaves them out of step with them?
I suspect many will.
Some want to position themselves as “patriots” for the leadership election they believe is inevitable.
Others are concerned with holding onto their seats in 2020 and don’t want to seem weak.
This “career judgement” is what we’ve come to expect from a party filled to the brim with morally bankrupt politicians, who have gladly abstained on every major issue that’s gone through the House in recent weeks – including welfare cuts – but apparently can’t wait to vote to kill people in a faraway land.
The Labour Party leadership has shown that it lacks the strength and the courage to confront its internal enemies even when it knows it is right.
This fudge on Syria adds to their laughable stance on Trident and their contemptuous position on powers for Scotland.
A number of MP’s within Labour, including most of the front bench, are plumbing the gutter here, ready to vote for something that plainly will make matters worse and further destabilise a region we’ve already helped plunge into total chaos, and they are doing so out of political calculation and nothing more. Their talk of “morality” is so much waffle; they know better.
There is no end in sight to this nonsense, not as long as the debate is being framed in a manner designed to embarrass Corbyn or promote lies.
We’re not going to crush ISIS from the air and those “70,000 fighters” who are allegedly poised to move in the moment our bombs start to fall are comprised, if they exist at all, of elements we don’t want near government in any country, anywhere in the world.
Tony Blair has long argued that he has no regrets about removing Saddam from power in Iraq.
Those are the words of a man incapable of dealing with the reality of what he helped to let loose. The global wave of terror sweeping the world today flows directly from the decision he forced on the Commons – don’t forget, Iraq was a whipped vote – and the country.
When Iraq’s government fell chaos replaced it.
The same thing happened in Libya, and in Egypt and the aftershocks of those events rocked the ground in Damascus, where the self-same scenario is about to play itself out to an inevitable, and horrendous, conclusion.
Assad is a horror of a human being, running a regime that is corrupt and without scruple of any kind … but he holds Syria together in the way Saddam did in his own land and what scares many of us most is the absolute lack of a “next day” strategy for when he is gone.
Whatever we do here, the consequences will be appalling.
The aftermath of the civil war there, no matter who wins, will be haunting Syria, the region and the wider world for a decade or more.
It’s already been ten years since Iraq was “liberated” and in that time the country has been torn apart by internal strife and external horror.
We did that, we in the West, and we’ve learned nothing from it.
It’s instructive to note that since the bottle holding the terrorist genie was smashed in 2004 that the most dangerous countries on Earth, those where you are most likely to be the victim of a terrorist attack, aren’t in the West but further afield.
They are Libya, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen.
Paris was the closest terrorism has come to our door since 7/7 … and it’s being used as a callous excuse for us to inflict further pain on those who have already suffered enough for our disastrous interference in the running of other nations.
For those are those nations in which we’ve poked our noses and sent our planes and drones.
The wave of killings the “war on terror” ushered in continues, almost without pause.
When they decided to invade Iraq our political class literally unleashed Hell.
Today there’s no sign whatsoever that they’ve learned the appropriate lessons from that disaster.
The gates have not been barred and the next set of monsters is poised to sweep through them.
In contradiction of history, in ignorance of the facts, we’re about to kill more innocents abroad and multiply the terror threat to this country by several orders of magnitude by creating the conditions and the motivation for the next atrocity on our own shores.
When the first British bombs on Syria fall, they will carry the Crown emblem, in all of our names, because those who retaliate against us will not concern themselves with whether we supported it or not.
But this will be in no small part due to the behaviour of a parliamentary Labour Party which now only allowed this, but embraced it, for reasons that have nothing to do with making the world a better, or safer, place.
By the time this is over, there will be enough blood for all their hands.
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