Above: Lindsey German speaking on BBC TV before the Commons vote
by Robert Griffiths
The Commons vote against immediate British military intervention in Syria represents a victory for common sense. But it should mark the beginning of a deeper investigation into the institutions, processes and policies of state power in Britain.
PM David Cameron’s case for war rested on two fabricated last minute reports from two bodies at the heart of that power.
There was the letter from the chair of the joint intelligence committee (JIC) to the Prime Minister on August 29, the day of the vote.
Jon Day had concluded that “there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility” for the alleged deployment of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb on August 21.
Perhaps aware that the claim constitutes no proof whatsoever of the Syrian government’s guilt, Day added feebly: “We also have a limited but growing body of intelligence which supports the judgement that the regime was responsible for the attacks and that they were conducted to help clear the opposition from strategic parts of Damascus.” Day’s conclusion that “it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for the CW attacks” was given enormous publicity.
Less attention was paid to his claim that Damascus had used lethal chemical weapons on 14 occasions from 2012, a judgement made with “the highest possible level of certainty.” Yet neither Day nor the JIC produced a single verifiable fact in their two-page letter to substantiate their claims about anything at all.
Whether the intelligence supplied to the Prime Minister was similarly fact-free will doubtless remain a secret.
Hopefully the UN weapons inspectors in Syria will take a more rigorous approach to questions of evidence and proof.
But back to Day. Interestingly his letter finishes by admitting less confidence in finding a motive for the Syrian regime to conduct the August 21 atrocity.
Why President Bashar al-Assad would launch such an attack is a mystery.
The Syrian army has been slowly gaining the upper hand in fighting against the armed opposition.
Divisions have been opening in the rebels’ ranks between the secular leadership of the Free Syrian Army and the jihadi fundamentalist militias backed by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships.
People and governments around the world have noticed with increasing alarm the prominence of these sectarian groups among the rebels — groups which are trampling on the rights of women and religious minorities in areas they dominate.
Then there was the presence of UN inspectors in Damascus, just a few miles away from the alleged attacks. They had arrived just three days earlier to investigate previous chemical warfare allegations.
What would the Syrian government have gained by committing an even bigger atrocity on the inspectors’ hotel doorstep? The rebels, however, could gain a lot if the West intervened over it — though there are other possibilities, such as the action of a rogue commander in the Syrian army.
So much for the joint intelligence committee. But the Attorney- General’s assessment of the legality of British military intervention was just as shoddy. Dominic Grieve’s report is secret. But his advice is reflected in Chemical Weapon Use by Syrian Regime — UK Government Legal Position, a paper posted on the government’s website on Thursday.
It accuses the Syrian regime of committing a “war crime” and a “crime against humanity.” It asserts that “the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention” and outlines the terms of Britain’s proposed resolution to the UN security council.
The security council could indeed authorise “collective action” in Syria to maintain or enforce international peace and security under articles 24 and 25 of the UN Charter.
But the paper then asks what would be possible if action in the council were “blocked,” presumably by Russia or China, the only non-Nato veto-holders.
Britain, it asserts, could still take “exceptional measures.” The legal basis would be the “doctrine of humanitarian intervention,” provided three conditions were met.
Yet there is no such doctrine in international law. It makes no difference whether 100 conditions are attached or none at all.
The document fails to cite a single international charter, article, convention or treaty in aid of such a doctrine.
This is the same mythical beast as the “responsibility to protect” or R2P.
Article 2 of the UN Charter outlaws the use of force by member states. The only exceptions are the right to individual and collective self defence against attack under Article 3 and action authorised by the security council.
Former US assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith knows a rat when he smells it.
Commenting on the British government’s “legal position” — the inverted commas are his — Goldsmith says it “contains not a bit of legal analysis.” No attempt has been made to substantiate the doctrine of humanitarian intervention in international law because “there would be no basis for such a position.” These are the principles which the Labour Party leadership is still failing to uphold.
Ed Miliband told the Commons on Thursday that he would not rule out support for military intervention without a security council resolution, although he has rightly opposed action before the UN inspectors issue their report.
He even referred approvingly to the bogus doctrines of humanitarian intervention and R2P.
But as Goldsmith has pointed out the legal basis for an attack on Syria is as weak as the evidence for its government’s guilt.
But what if convincing evidence emerges of Syrian government culpability? What if the UN security council should approve a resolution authorising military intervention? Well, then it would be legal. But it wouldn’t be wise or right.
First, military intervention against the government would do nothing to end the bloody civil war.
It would not bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.
The main obstacle to talks has been the opposition’s refusal to participate unless Assad steps down first.
A Western attack would embolden the rebels and make them even less likely to negotiate.
And what would the consequences be? Attacking chemical weapons installations is dangerous enough.
But the idea that an attack would be confined to that, and would not assist the rebels or produce civilian casualties, is so much Libyan mist.
Tipping the military balance against Damascus would directly aid the jihadist brigades such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which have made no secret of their plans to extend their pogroms against Christian and Shia communities.
A growing number of reports cite cases of rape and restrictions on women’s rights in areas under fundamentalist control.
Western bombing would increase the flood of refugees, adding to the millions already in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.
There is every prospect that Lebanon and Iraq would be drawn deeper into the conflagration.
Clashes are escalating in Lebanon between Hezbollah, which supports Assad in order to defend Shias, and Sunni jihadists fighting on the other side.
Adding to the bloody chaos, Israel is already bombing Hezbollah facilities in Lebanon.
Above all, we must understand that the US motive for military action has nothing to do with rescuing civilians or refugees, or deterring the use of chemical weapons.
US policy for three decades has been explicit — to extend military and political control over what its strategists call the Greater Middle East.
This is the most oil-rich region in the world, the crossroads of vital transport routes and a springboard for forces surrounding Russia and China.
That is why regimes which try to protect their national sovereignty or maintain independent foreign policies have to be tamed, bought, destabilised or removed.
That’s why US and Nato military installations now extend right from the eastern Mediterranean to central Asia, from the US 6th Fleet headquarters in Naples through the giant bases in Turkey and Jordan and the 5th Fleet facilities in the Persian Gulf.
This is their strategy, one in which the British ruling class is complicit. It dragged us into war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Where next, if not Syria?
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
This also appears in the Morning Star newspaper