Inaction is intervention by another name
—The most depressing thing since August’s vote in the House of Commons on military action in Syria has been the speed at which the topic appears to have dropped off the political agenda entirely.
Publicity for the Stop the War Coalition’s annual conference last month triumphantly proclaimed that: ‘In a historic setback for the organisers of the War on Terror, protest and public opinion helped stop a new war on Syria.’
Fine, except that the war had been going on for two years prior to August’s parliamentary vote and has continued regardless ever since. The only ‘new’ and ‘historic’ thing about the conflict is the kill rate – two years into the Iraq war the death toll was 67,365 civilians; two years of inaction has resulted in the Syrian civilian death toll being somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000.
The August parliamentary vote was in reality a triumph for staying out rather than a victory for peace – a crucial distinction. The anti-interventionists of the Little England right are fine with that; if only the Stoppers showed as much candour.
Nor, contrary to the portrayal of August’s parliamentary vote, does it take a great deal of moral courage to vote against war: history is, with a few exceptions, far less forgiving of leaders who take the country to war than those who stay out – regardless of the consequences. This is why Tony Blair will be harassed for the rest of his life for his part in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, while former prime minister John Major gets to play the amiable elder statesman despite opposing military intervention which might have prevented the methodical murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
It is almost always forgotten that inaction can be the same as intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim.
It should never have taken the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad for the west to sit up and take notice of Syria. The so-called ‘red lines’ we heard so much moralising about a few months back should have been sufficiently drawn so the regime was guilty of crossing them as soon as it decided to drop high explosives on civilians.
That was one of the west’s initial mistakes on Syria; the mistake now would be to ignore the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from our reluctance to tilt the balance against Assad. To date, two million people have now fled Syria as a consequence of the country’s civil war, half of them children. The United Nations expects that by the end of 2013 there will be 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Those who maintained that the UK was ‘best off out’ of the horrific situation in Syria ought to realise that they were being either foolish or disingenuous. It is not possible to stop the world and get off, and the left, which overwhelmingly opposed intervention, should now be making the case for giving shelter to as many Syrian refugees as Britain can take.
It is unsurprising that the United Kingdom Independence party, with its penchant for the days of penny farthings and tripe shops, should believe that globalisation only applies to the movement of capital and that faraway wars and genocides can be ignored; but we on the left should do better. We are, after all, supposed to be internationalists.
James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward and a contributing editor to Progress
The article refers to the death toll from the conflict in Syria as ‘somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000’. This figure actually refers to the total death toll, rather than the number of civilians killed. The figure for civilian deaths is actually 35,479. However, the total number of civilians killed in Iraq in the first two years of that conflict was 24,865, according to the Iraq body count.
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