Imagine, if you can, a small, impoverished child, or somebody elderly and infirm, living in a war-torn nation, with their family lacking the wealth to escape. Imagine their knowing that, daily, they risk death from above by their own government, and death on the ground from terrorists. Imagine chlorine and sarin gas bombs descending on their town, burning out their eyes and lungs, killing them and more than 74 others in the most nightmarish and agonising of ways. Yet after the events of this week, as Syria’s civil war rumbles on, we no longer have to imagine such a scene.
As Britons, we live in a lawful and stable state. The UK is without war on its shores, without daily slaughter on its streets, and outside of the reaches of dictatorship. In a great number of ways, we sit in a position of enormous privilege. That privilege, however, affords our political class the opportunity to be neutral to the point of myopia: ‘no war’, they cry. Whilst the Prime Minister has acted with the USA and France in attempting to disable Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities, Labour has made it clear that it does not support such a use of the British military, alleging that bombing Assad’s chemical weapons infrastructure would cause more suffering. This is one such example of naïveté, of ‘no war at any cost’. If that is the reaction of the famous old party of the people, to demand we leave Assad be in the face of his monstrous gas attacks on his own men, women and children, then we have more to fear from Corbyn than we thought.
Indeed, as King’s College London alumnus Desmond Tutu once said, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ For nearly ten years, Syria has been a place where people cower in rubble as they are murdered and suffocated by Assad’s increasingly desperate regime, propped up by a Russian state whose foreign policy is curt contrarianism, through childish accusations and disingenuous demands for more ‘evidence’ of the war crimes they themselves permit on Syrian soil. The mendacious even-handedness of Russia is the cloak over which Putin veils his desire for greater control of the Middle East. It is Putin’s regime that has vetoed every attempt to end the suffering of Syrians at the UN and supported Assad through every assault on the dignity of his people. In their refusal to support the undermining of Assad’s capacity to commit war crimes, Labour’s establishment serves as useful idiots to this blood-soaked duumvirate, too.
The ostensible charge against Theresa May’s decision to support air strikes has been that she did not seek parliamentary approval, and that Britain should not be seen to intervene, lest it involve itself in ‘a second Iraq’. Such criticisms are wilfully obtuse and short-sighted – tactical strikes occurred on a short-term basis before Assad had time to move his chemical arsenal – there had to be an element of surprise. Indeed, under the royal prerogative powers that are devolved from the Queen to the Prime Minister, it was Theresa May’s right and responsibility to authorise military action. They cavil so not because they genuinely believe there is any more risk from air strikes to civilian lives, and not because they genuinely believe there will be a real war. Labour’s feeble gripes stem from its sympathy not with Britain, but with Russia and its allies, and its underlying ache to be Putin’s cheerleading apologists in Parliament.
Just look at the reaction from the Labour Party when it emerged that Porton Down could not confirm with one hundred per cent accuracy, that the chemicals used to poison Sergei Skripal originated from Russia. Labour’s front-bench rejoiced and went into full electioneering mode, attempting to make political hay of a nerve agent’s deployment on British shores that nearly killed a policeman. Indeed, when the Russian Embassy in London attempted to make the quite pathetic Kremlin case that the chemical was not Russian, they were well supported by Labour MPs. Corbynista Chris Williamson wasted no time in surmising that it was probably a cover-up by the UK government. What a surprise. It makes one wonder whose side they are on.
So, what does Labour want? They have made it clear time and time again that they will appease, prevaricate and reject any sort of action involving Britain’s military. The party’s take-over by coffee shop Communists ensures that this position will endure throughout their tenure at the top, and that their pacifism does not depend on how desperate the situation becomes in Syria. A dogma of ‘no war’ will leave hundreds more to die from gas attacks in towns like Douma and precipitate a path towards a normalised use of chemical warfare tactics further afield.
Yet the standard response from the Labour Party has been that it is for the United Nations to lead an independent investigation into what happened. The party’s frontbenchers, who peddle such meretricious rubbish, know fully well that any attempt to put such an investigation will be vetoed by Russia at the Security Council, as has already happened multiple times. They also know that it will not lead to any real change, as Russia wields too much influence in the Syrian conflict to be affected by any UN judgement. New, significant sanctions against Russia are unlikely in the short to medium term, and so there is little to no chance of the status quo changing anytime soon.
Within the Labour Party, attempting to stop the proliferation of chemical warfare is not Britain’s fight. For them, it is not important who is involved in Syria, so long as British military power in the conflict is zero. The use of weapons of mass destruction poses real and grave threats to the UK, but such is Labour’s attachment to pacifism that they foresee no circumstances in which the UK could use its military to defend its interests. Not even the use of a nerve agent on British soil could provoke the Labour Party into demanding significantly more action against Russia, the main stoker of conflict worldwide. It is this lazy, careless isolationism we should fear – it is a sure-fire route into yet more trouble.
Charlie Collard is a graduate of King’s College London.