Against bombing Syria

I posted the following on Facebook on 27 November 2015, in a general act of aggression against my acquaintances' timelines.


Sorry for going all SJW on your timeline, dunno who I’m even talking to here, but there’s a limit to how much superficial journalism I can stomach without bleating about it somewhere, and I’m not seeing adequate coverage of some of these points. (Please just skip over the links if you want to be daring and take my word for any of this, I’ve just included them for reference.) I might have a few things upside down, but Parliament’s excitement at the prospect of bombing Syria “within days” seems completely short-sighted and misguided, and not just because it’s impossible to destroy an ideology of grievance by bombing fighters/civilians on another continent.

Passions are understandably high in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, but it’s still very unclear what further bombing would actually achieve. Cameron isn’t even grazing the problem as long as he refuses to confront Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia about the alternately tacit and brazen military and financial support for ISIS and the al-Nusra Front (aka Al Qaeda in Syria) that comes from within their borders, or to address the vast geopolitical schism brought about by two competing pipeline projects: Iran-Iraq-Syria vs Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey…

In either case, the pipelines would need to go through Syria. If the former project goes ahead, Iran would gain greater regional status and Russia would gain control over much of the oil supply to Western Europe. Since Assad provisionally approved this project in 2011, both countries have a clear interest in backing him, and that’s very unlikely to change.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are backing the latter project for obvious reasons, and if Assad falls then his support for the rival project will be voided.

Meanwhile, the Turkish “deep state” is far more interested in fighting the Kurdish militias (and virtually waving through the bombing of their trade union and student supporters) than fighting the people the Kurds are fighting on the ground: ISIS. Beyond turning a blind eye to ISIS activities, evidence is mounting that they’re actively supporting them. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of the Turkey/ISIS evidence up till now:…/research-paper-isis-turke_b…

For a more interpretive view that fits this all together, I’d really encourage anyone interested in the conflict to read the following by Dr Nafeez Ahmed:…/europe-is-harbouring-the-islamic-state…

If you tend to believe that nations engage in wars on the basis of high-minded principle rather than geopolitical interest, you might be inclined to disagree with some of his causal explanations, but the evidence he compiles is pretty damning.

Dennis Skinner had the temerity to raise a few of these points in Parliament the other day, asking “Do you regard Turkey as a reliable ally in the battle against Isil [Isis]? When you consider that not only today that they’ve shot down a Russian jet – who are also trying to fight Isil – they’re buying oil from Isil in order to prop them up, they’re bombing the Kurds who are also fighting Isil.”

Phillip Hammond could only offer the cheap response “I see old habits die hard and you remain an apologist for Russian actions”, blandly reasserting that “Turkey is an important Nato ally” and refusing to address the substance of Skinner’s point.

But this isn’t Russian apologism. This important Nato ally’s deep state is providing essential support to the very group that our military would be bombing, as well as waging war on the very people fighting them on the ground: the Kurds.

You don’t need a rose-tinted view of Russia’s motives to take a dim view of the Turkish state in all this. Trying to understand the Turkey/Russia relationship takes us back to the question of fossil fuels. In December 2014, the following Russia-Turkey gas pipeline was approved:…/new_russia-turkey_…/9095

The pipeline would allow Russia to supply gas to Europe via Turkey, and the agreement was recently undermined by the threat of a coalition government in Turkey:…/turkey_in_turkish…/98148

The UK and USA do not want to rely on Russian gas, so they don’t want the deal to go ahead. Now, with the downing of the Russian jet, the deal is in even bigger danger:…/deteriorating-relations-between-ru…/

Obama and Cameron have been predictably supportive of Turkey, Putin has responded by pointing out Turkey’s oil links with ISIS, and Erdogan has responded by saying this is outrageous slander and he should either prove it or shut up, while also arresting Turkish journalists who report on his government’s complicity:…

The Russians almost certainly knew about the oil sales already, so why are they bringing it up now? They’re already suffering due to the drop in oil prices brought about by Saudi overproduction. Oil and gas account for 70% of Russia’s export incomes, and both of them are being threatened in this conflict – not least by ISIS undercutting already low market prices and making an estimated $3m a day by flogging it on the black market. Russia are economically suffering because of all of this, and shooting down one of their planes is like poking a cornered bear.

Given their innumerable incursions into Greek airspace, Turkey haven’t got a leg to stand on, but they’re our NATO allies and we need them on-side to undermine Russia’s control of the gas supply, so the UK government backs them. Again, this isn’t to say Russia are the good guys. It’s just to point out that none of this is really about right and wrong – everyone’s looking after their own interests while claiming moral superiority.
And what about regional big guns Saudi Arabia? Cameron’s cosy relationship with the Saudi elite is well established:…/david-cameron-accused-of-fai……/uk-saudi-arabia-the-new-specia……/cameron-gulf-foreign-policy-mu…

I can understand his dilemma. The “defence” industry is one of the UK’s last remaining powerhouses, and he doesn’t want to compromise business deals by asking the Saudis too many difficult questions. As long as they keep buying our missiles to continue bombing Yemen, we’ve got a happy customer, and Cameron doesn’t want to mess with this arrangement.…/yemen-coalition-used-uk-cruise-m…/

But this vested interest, and the siding with Turkey over Russia, isn’t consistent with the stated imperative that ISIS must be destroyed. It’s not the only example. Another domestic source of funds for ISIS has come from Kuwait:…/the-terrorist-funding-…
… who we recently sold some fighter jets for a tidy sum of £5.8bn. I hesitate to use the term, but this seems to be a literal case of the military-industrial-complex directing UK diplomacy. I wonder if they’ve done the figures and established that going to war is actually *less* costly than exercising diplomacy and endangering arms sales.

Insisting on diplomacy rather than military intervention isn’t pie-in-the-sky commie philosophising, it’s the only practical way forward if the goal genuinely is to defeat ISIS. If you look at the UK’s current allegiances and the schism between the two pipeline projects above (with the UK implicitly following the USA in their support for the Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey line), it’s hard to take this stated aim at face value.

It also seems to be the case that it’s not what the people of Syria prioritise. Statistics gathered by the Syrian Network for Human Rights demonstrate that over 90% (respectively) of all civilians, children, medics and media activists killed in the conflict have been killed by government forces. ISIS seem to be responsible for around 0.9% of civilians killed, by contrast ( This obviously isn’t to say that their crimes are any less horrific or worthy of our attention, our sense of loss and condemnation. But it does signal the extent to which ISIS are less of a regional priority than Assad, and bombing them while they continue to receive vital funding with the tacit approval of our allies, and while the borders between different rebel forces are so porous, and while courting a ‘moderate’ force of 70,000 whose constitution and moderation seems to exist principally in Cameron’s hopes and dreams, seems like the definition of futility.

I guess a reply to all this is that it’s not so much for the benefit of the region as protecting the UK itself. Part of the group’s perceived religious legitimacy (which has been comprehensively and categorically rejected by the world’s leading Islamic scholars (see , or…/…/09/09/article3018529.ece)
…despite what some guy called Graeme wrote in The Atlantic, which was refuted (again in The Atlantic) by an actual scholar of Islam here:…/what-muslims-really-wa…/386156/ …)
….relates to its hold on territory, so the argument goes that disaffected UK citizens will stop pledging allegiance if they no longer hold that territory. Beyond that, they’ll no longer have the territory or resources to mastermind attacks on British soil.

This argument seems to confuse two points. One is the worrying flow of alienated youngsters who go and join them, and the other is the worrying sense that the UK itself will be attacked. Of course the two aren’t unrelated, but they are distinct. Yes, their loss of territory would delegitimise them and likely reduce the flow of volunteers. But the idea that domestic terrorists are incapable of planning and executing acts of terror unless the masterminds in Raqqa have a comfortable HQ is very weak. These things take a lot of planning, but the devil is in the local detail, and these attacks are almost always plotted and carried out by locals. This disturbing detail is unlikely to be positively affected by bombing foreign fighters, and the point remains that adding a few more bombers to an already comprehensively bombarded region isn’t *really* an effective way of undermining ISIS.

It’s bluster and symbolism, and claiming that it won’t affect the likelihood of an attack against the UK is laughable. If a single civilian death results from UK bombardment (which is almost certain to happen, and almost certain to go unreported even in the liberal newspapers sternly evoking Churchill and talking about Our Duty To Act), not only will it be a criminally avoidable tragedy in its own right but it will be a gift to ISIS recruiters, and an attack on the UK is just the sort of thing that encourages the UK military to act even more rashly and indiscriminately, which is of course what they want.

Again, I might have a few things wrong, but I just cannot see the benefit of UK involvement, beyond indulging various allies in the interest of recouping various morally dubious favours and munitions sales. I’m sure it’s improving Cameron’s approval rating after Paris, and the backstabbers in the PLP are already exploiting the issue to try and get rid of Corbyn, but they’re playing with people’s lives.
Obviously I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I don’t think they do either, and the factual points above should illustrate that it’s already a horrific mess of competing interests that military intervention from the UK is not going to benefit or resolve.

If you agree with any of the above, you’ve still got time to tell your MP before the vote in Parliament. There’s a template letter and an automated way of sending it at this webpage:

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