by Nick W right
The more morally dubious an act the more likely it is to be clothed in pseudo-legal justification.
Such was Hilary Benn’s pompous justification for British imperialism’s latest foreign adventure.
Stretching the ambiguities of UN resolution 2249 to include bombing of a sovereign state whose UN representative specifically opposes such action puts Benn in the same category as Blair. A point well made by John McDonnell.
Benn cites as precedent and authority the post-war Labour government which helped found the United Nations.
Set aside those aspects of the welfare state and post-war reconstruction that went some way to meet the needs of Britain’s working people, this government was distinguished, above all, by a fiercely bipartisan foreign policy which in all essentials sustained Britain’s imperialist pretensions. A Labour trend almost unbroken save for the Suez episode. Korea, Malaya, Aden, Kenya. He should read again his father’s diaries and view his Commons speeches.
Alongside a passing reference to the Vienna process Benn pressed on with the claim that as well as progress in this ‘peace plan,’ British bombing would ‘help in the defeat of Daesh.’ In the same paragraph he argues that it would also ‘bring an end to Assad’s bombing, leading to a transitional government and elections.’
So there we have it, ending the military campaign of the Syrian government, which involves the only ground troops both able and willing, as well as legally entitled, to secure the territory of Syria against the range of fundamentalist, jihadist and foreign-backed insurgents is the precondition for the defeat of Isil.
One wonders whether Benn is conscious of his almost Freudian slip in thus indicating a key consideration in the thinking behind this ramping up of military action. The possibilities it entails for widening the options to include a contest over control of Syrian territory, a confrontation with the Syrian state and a new approach to the kind of regime change which Cameron wanted with the bombing campaign he presented two years ago to Parliament and which was shot down by a combination of Stop the War Coalition campaigning, public sentiment and Miliband’s effective marshalling of parliamentary opinion.
Benn, like all those keen to interfere in Syria’s affairs, is silent on the inconvenient truth that a very large proportion of those fleeing danger find refuge in the largely urban and more fertile regions controlled by the Syrian government. How British participation in the bombing campaign by western powers will make the areas from which these ‘internal’ refugees have fled more safe is left unexplored.
Benn then recited a list of Daesh atrocities. The hypocrisy involved in this sordid exercise in double standards again attained Blairite proportions. We are to bomb civilians in Syria in retaliation for Isil beheadings but in Saudi Arabia, such beheadings – carried out by precisely the people who are funding Daesh – are rewarded by lucrative arms purchases oiled by unimaginable sums of bribe money and embellished by exchanges of royal visits.
We are then invited to stand alongside President Hollande and ‘our sister socialist party’. When Labour politicians line up behind our ruling class in support of imperial foreign policy they invariably draw on their mostly redundant lexicon of ‘socialist’ and ‘internationalist phraseology.
In citing the experiences of Iraqi Kurds, Benn unwittingly revealed the lack of joined-up thinking that is rooted in the unwillingness of Western powers to tackle the great strategic advantages Isil possesses in the protection and funds it gains from its privileged relationship with key elements in the Saudi state and in Turkey. Cutting off its Saudi subsidies, degrading its capacity to realise oil profits through its exports to Turkey and sealing the border with Turkey are all obvious strategies that would limit its ability to conduct operations in Iraq and Syria and even mount operations in Western countries but this would run up against the commercial and foreign policy imperatives of Western longer-term interests.
The Kurdish regional government in Iraq, like the Syrian Kurdish forces on the border, both depend on US support and air protection. The twin-track US policy of supporting elements of the disparate Kurdish nation and their persecutors is part of its long-term strategy of tension designed to shore up the oil-producing despots and the Israelis.
Benn’s conclusion — that the border between Iraq and Syria is a ‘fictional boundary’ and that the two countries should be treated as one — reveals the deep structures of an imperial mindset. Hilary Benn as the new Mr Sykes to Hollande’s Monsieur Picot.
If Benn’s intellectual poverty and shallow rhetoric are not exasperating enough, his attempt to mobilise the memory of anti-fascist solidarity with the Spanish Republic in support of foreign intervention invites derision and contempt in equal measure.
Daesh/Isis/Al Quaeda/Isil whatever are an unsavoury and savage lot whose extirpation must be the collective effort of such state and non-state forces that can be assembled to most effectively complete the task. That this must entail the support at the UN of both Russia and China, the main regional states and, most critically, the military assets of the Syrian government is the rationale behind Jeremy Corbyn’s principled stand and this majority in the parliamentary Labour Party, the unions and among Labour members and supporters.
But they are not fascists. To employ the term ‘fascist’ as a swear word is to empty it of content. Fascism is a distinct ideology, a theory of state and government, a system of power and class domination. In history and human experience it is the political instrument of the most reactionary sections of big capital.
In the case of the Spanish Republic it was a conspiracy of fascist states with the most reactionary elements among the political and military representatives of Spanish capitalism.
The International Brigade volunteers who came from Britain included – as well as communists – many Labour Party members. They volunteered, in clandestinity.
When Benn claims that “This entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini,” he betrays either ignorance or displays mendacity. When Chamberlain, as head of a Tory government that included National Labour members announced Hitler’s invitation to Munich — the deal that dismembered Czechoslovakia and led directly to war — only the single Communist MP, William Gallacher, objected.
When Benn states: “Our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice,” he was wrong.
It has always been a divided party. It is a divided party today. And he is on the wrong side.