• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May

Photo by EU2017EE Estonian Presidency | CC BY 2.0

Political leaders in power generally like small wars. It enables them to stand tall, wrap the flag around them, pretend they hold the fate of the nation in their hands, and denigrate their opponents as unpatriotic softies.

Theresa May is behaving in keeping with this stereotype since ordering four British planes to join the very limited air attack on three Syrian facilities on Saturday morning. Her performances are low-key but resolute, occasionally aping Elizabeth I at Tilbury defying the Spanish Armada, but more usually recalling a stern-faced Judi Dench as M, sending 007 on some dangerous but necessary mission to thwart the plots of the enemy. The trick is to appear weighed down by a terrible sense of responsibility, but not afraid to take decisive action in defence of our nation.

The media likewise enjoys a short sharp military conflict. It is good for business because people have a stronger imperative than normal to find out what is happening in the world. The first newspapers were born out of the wars at the end of the 16th and beginning of 17th centuries. Military conflict is exciting and provides plenty of melodrama that can be reported as a simple conflict between good and evil.

On this occasion, the minimalist nature of the strikes left news anchors and their caste of reporters all dressed up but with nowhere to go. Their sense of disappointment and anticlimax at not reporting a real war was ill-concealed. Suddenly, there were too many actors on stage without enough lines to speak, though each, from Washington to Moscow to Beirut (few seem to have made it to Damascus, presumably because of an absence of visas), had to have their say even when they had nothing of interest to report. Coverage was consequently tedious and unrevealing since even those correspondents with something original and interesting to say did not have the time to say it.

But the air strikes on Saturday morning should not be dismissed simply as a glorified PR stunt. They have a very real significance, though one that is diametrically the opposite to that claimed by Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron. What we saw was not a demonstration of strength by the US, UK and France but a demonstration of weakness.

The evidence for this, reflecting the real balance of power in Syria, is the list of targets that were not attacked rather than the three that were. Tremendous efforts were made not to kill or injure any Russians, as the dominant political and military force in Syria. The Iranians and Hezbollah of Lebanon were evidently out of bounds. So too was the Syrian army, including its elite divisions, heavy equipment and ammunition dumps. Unlike Baghdad in 1991, 1998 and 2003, there were no cruise missiles striking empty but iconic sites like the presidential palace or defence ministry buildings in Damascus.

Theresa May and Boris Johnson argue that the air strikes were simply “humanitarian” in intent and to prevent the “normalisation” of the use of poison gas. Johnson speaks as if Assad were the first to use gas since the First World War, ignoring the tens of thousands of Iranians and Kurds gassed in the Iran-Iraq war by Saddam Hussein, who was supported by the US, UK and France.

Suppose that the threat of renewed air strikes does deter Assad: this is not necessarily great news for the Syrian people because less than 1 per cent – some 1,900 people out of the half a million Syrians who have died violently in the wars since 2011 – have died by gas. If foreign leaders showed any real concern over seven years of butchery in Syria, they would have made greater efforts in the past to bring this horrendous war to an end.

The restrained nature of the air strikes was sensible and realistic, reflecting the real balance of power in Syria. Assad is backed by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Shia forces from Iraq and has largely won the civil war. This is not going to change without an open-ended campaign of mass bombing in support of rebel ground troops like that which Nato conducted in Libya in 2011.

A similar campaign could not be conducted against Assad because, unlike Isis, he has powerful foreign allies in the shape of Russia and Iran. As the US discovered to its cost, the only determined and experienced anti-Assad fighters available, aside from the Kurds, belong to Isis and al-Qaeda. Remember how, in 2016, an embarrassed Pentagon admitted spending $500m to produce just five trained moderate pro-US fighters, rather than the 5,000 it had expected?

The point is that even far more extensive air strikes would not have changed the outcome of the Syrian war, though they would certainly have escalated it and killed a lot more people. There is a myth, lately adopted by President Trump, that President Obamalost a real opportunity to weaken or get rid of Assad in 2013, but the factors that restrained Obama then apply today with equal force to Trump: it is not possible to get rid of Assad without a wider war and, even if he went, the outcome would be a collapse of the state, as in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, producing chaos in which Isis and al-Qaeda will flourish.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
Jeff Klein
Syria, the Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: Why Progressives Should Not Support a New Imperial Partition in the Middle East
George Ochenski
The Governor, the Mining Company and the Future of a Montana Wilderness
Charles Pierson
Bret Stephens’ American Fantasy
Ted Rall
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Fire All the Cops
Jon Rynn
Saving the Green New Deal
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Down Side of Impeachment
Harvey Wasserman
What Really Happened to American Socialism?
Tom Engelhardt
American Brexit
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail