FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Expansion by Stealth: UK Strikes in Syria

It is worth noting that the UK Parliament was against it, namely, enlarging a campaign against the Islamic State that would also involve targeting Syrian positions. The security cognoscenti were always insisting that any conflict with IS worth its salt would have to involve strikes in Syria.

In 2013, however, the Commons took to the vote and say nay to the issue of striking Syria. The issue then was a supposed “red line” on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Punishment by way of airstrikes was in order. President Barack Obama was making mutterings about authorising them, and the French were getting hawkish.

The house, however, would not be swayed, and the government motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272. Chancellor George Osborne was left to tell Radio 4’s Today programme that there would be “national soul searching about our role in the world”.

Be that as it may, intervention in Syria has continued to remain a rather stealthy, vicarious affair for those in the UK cabinet. The result is a dog’s breakfast of rationales as to who should receive British support, generally of a more covert variety. Assad continues to be worth deposing, but he remains a foe of IS, which has roared into the geopolitical front line with ruthless aplomb.

This week, it came to light that the UK involvement in Syria has gone well beyond what Parliament authorised. Initial authority had been given to UK forces to strike IS targets in Iraq. Those actions have also been shielded by Baghdad’s blessing. To date, however, UK Defence Secretary Mike Fallon has maintained that the embargo would remain on British strikes against Syrian positions, at least till Parliament said otherwise.

The human rights group Reprieve, was not convinced. Yes, it may well be that the planes used in the operations continued to be American – but that did not necessarily say much about the pilots involved in the missions. In a Freedom of Information request, the organization decided to dig deeper into what, exactly, the Ministry of Defence had been up to on the issue of air involvements.

In the words of Jennifer Gibson, Reprieve’s staff attorney, “UK personnel have already been involved in bombing missions over Syria for some time – making the current debate over whether Britain should carry out such strikes somewhat obsolete.” The avarice of executive power was very much in evidence.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron initially tried to sidestep the issue of whether British personnel had been involved by taking a leaf out of the book of vague and trusty protocol. Since the 1950s, it had been a “well known” practice that UK personnel had been embedded with allies. There were currently “upward of a dozen” such personnel operating in the campaign against IS.

Then, the clinching remark: “The PM was aware that UK personnel were involved in US operations and what they were doing.” To date, the air aspect of the campaign has been confined to logistical support for other Coalition forces, air-to-air refuelling missions and surveillance.

This, in effect, was not so much mission creep as mission stretch, with its fair share of dangerous consequences, despite efforts on the part of such figures as former chief of the air staff, Sir Michael Graydon, to suggest otherwise. As Tory backbencher John Baron opined on the Today programme, “we should be very sensitive to the fact that we have military personnel participating, in effect, in military intervention.” Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader, suggested that the move had effectively played “into the hands” of IS, a body ever keen to find more recruits.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s foreign affairs spokesman, was distinctly unimpressed by this shadowy widening of conflict. “The Government’s policy in this matter is entirely unacceptable – effectively overseeing a bombing campaign by stealth – and we need to know what the defence secretary knew, when he knew it, and when he was proposing to tell the country. He clearly didn’t do so in the debate on 2 July.”

Salmond’s concerns have echoed the general scepticism about which warring horse to back in the conflict. Support for one faction, he suggested, would not necessarily lead to any “desirable” outcomes. Trite, but undeniable. “Experience tells us that interventions can have unforeseen consequences.”

Experience, however, tends to be the neglected sage in the rooms of policy makers, with the Middle East continuing to draw in the incapable, the blind and, ultimately, the anti-democratic.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail