The last Labour Party conference passed fairly clear policy on Syria, setting down four essential requirements that must be met before any UK intervention can be supported. The four requirements are set out below, in bold, followed by the arguments as to why these requirements have not, to date, been fully met:
- Clear and unambiguous authorisation from the United Nations – it is not clear that this requirement has been “unambiguously” met: a Chatham House expert has argued UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not provide a legal basis for military action as it does not invoke Chapter VII of the UN charter authorising the use of force. David Cameron claims to justify it on the basis of the collective self-defence of Iraq and of the UK, but that does not meet the condition.
- A comprehensive EU-wide plan to provide humanitarian assistance to the consequent increase in the number of refugees – In fact, the EU refugee plan has been frustrated by isolationist governments within the EU (including the UK) and no comprehensive plan exists. There are already 4m refugees in countries bordering Syria and 6.5m displaced internally. This would increase if the bombing escalates.
- That bombing is exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with ‘Islamic State’ – this is inevitably problematic as it is known that ISIS/Daesh is using human shields.
- That any military action is subordinated to international diplomatic efforts, including the main regional powers, to end the Syrian civil war – this requirement remains elusive, and the shooting down of a Russian plane by Turkey has been a major setback to diplomatic efforts towards ending the civil war.
So it is clear that, on the basis of Labour Party policy, Jeremy Corbyn would have little difficulty in motivating his opposition to Cameron’s plan for Britain to join the bombing campaign. Unfortunately, all too often Corbyn’s approach seems guided not so much by Labour Party policy, but by Stop The War’s. This means that he comes over as opposing any military action against ISIS/Daesh under any conceivable circumstances – and indeed, often gives the impression of doubting that they need to be fought at all.
The Stop The War Coalition position is at best bourgeois isolationist/anti-internationalist and at worse – as exhibited in this article by a founder of Stop The War ‘defeat imperialism, not isis‘ and by Stop The War tame celeb Mark Rylance – on ISIS not being enemies and “sitting down with them” – simply apologism for the fascists.
Equally, the idea that if only we only left “them” alone “they” wouldn’t attack “us” at home (put forward in one form or another, by Stop The War, Diane Abbott, and Corbyn himself) not only ascribes rational motives to these demented fascist nihilists but also ignores and insults the thousands of Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis murdered, enslaved and raped by ISIS.
Corbyn should break with the bourgeois isolationism and appeasement of Stop The War, and make it clear that if the conditions set out by Party policy were met, he would not rule out military action. In addition (as John McDonnell has very wisely advocated) he should allow a free vote to avoid a damaging split in the PLP and Shadow Cabinet over the wrong issue.