There’s been much talk by political and media elites in recent days about the supposed need to start a bombing campaign in Syria targeting Daesh, the so-called “Islamic State”. By now, this is a depressingly familiar drumbeat for war.
In 2013, the UK parliament surprised many by derailing the prospect of British bombing of Syria, explicitly targeted at the regime. For a time, it even seemed that this decision had even put the American war machine on the back foot.
But since September 2014, the US has, in fact, started bombing in Syria – but targeting Daesh. And, more recently, the details of what appears to be a covert British role in the bombing campaign, in defiance of Parliament, have slowly emerged.
In July it was revealed that British pilots took part in US-led bombings in Syria. And on Monday, the government announced that it had assassinated two British citizens in a drone strike in Syria. These actions has set a disturbing precedent, and sets Britain on a path already forged by the US and Israel.
The British military has now taken upon itself the right to target and kill its own citizens at will. A state that did away with the death penalty decades ago has now resumed its practice – but without even a trial.
While it’s clear that Cameron is pushing for war in Syria, it also appears he has already surreptitiously entered it. As if the bloodshed in Syria is not already bad enough.
A key element in the most recent drumbeat has been the role of reactionary tabloids such as The Sun and the Daily Mail. They have astutely and unscrupulously pushed to divert and twist an outpouring of popular support for the most desperate refugees (many of whom have been fleeing Syria), into popular backing for war. “Bomb Syria now,” screamed the front page of the Sun on Sunday; adding that it would be “for Aylan” – a reference to Aylan Kurdi, the tiny Syrian boy whose washed-up body on the shores of Turkey caused an outpouring of sympathy around the world.
These despicable manipulations aside, what are the facts on the ground? What has been the result of the Western bombing campaign targeting Daesh in Syria?
It’s been almost a year since the US started its air campaign in Syria, and if the aim has been to destroy Daesh, it has been a total failure. In the last year, Daesh has not only stepped up its brutal executions against the civilians and combatants it captures, it has also made gains in the territories it occupies.
An air war by a foreign imperial power such as the UK cannot defeat a fluid entity like Daesh. And a ground war by a foreign imperial power would be an even worse disaster. As bad as things are in Syria, they can still get worse.
The reason for this is that the inevitable deaths of civilians that Western bombing campaigns have been causing in Syria actively help Daesh to recruit. They are able to use such incidents to call on new fighters from around the world, such as the two young men the government announced it had assassinated on Monday. There will always be more recruits to take their place, unfortunately.
Western involvement in the complicated, multi-sided war in Syria only helps to prolong it. As the utter destruction of Iraq caused by the 2003 invasion shows, such interventions have far- and long-reaching reverberations.
Only this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a pro-opposition exile Syrian group based in London) reported that US-led air strikes in Raqqa had killed 20 civilians.
Meanwhile, the agonies of the civil war continue. The Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, led the capture of a military airport in the north-western province of Idlib on Wednesday. This essentially completes the rebel control of the province, which borders Turkey. While this Al-Qaeda victory brings the rebels slowly closer to Assad’s heartland of support on the western coast, the same base does seem to have been captured by rebels at least once before, so this is unlikely to be anything like a knock-out blow or “game changer”.
In fact, as I have argued before, Western powers – especially Israel (which although not technically “Western” likes to consider itself as part of that clique) – seem to have a deliberate policy of not decisively backing one side or the other. The longer the Syria civil war goes on, the less of a threat that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are to the Israeli occupation.
Embarking on a new or renewed bombing campaign in Syria will not help the situation, and will almost certainly make things worse. It will definitely create more refugees. There are no easy answers here, but what is ultimately needed is a wider peace deal in Syria.