Wednesday 12 October 2016

A Defence of Stop the War

I'm definitely not a fan of the Stop the War Coalition. It has a legion of problems, rooted in a rather reflex anti-imperialism that leaves it open to claims of soft soaping dictators, and providing cover for whosoever incurs the displeasure of the State Department and Whitehall. That said, some of the criticisms thrown at the group over the last couple of days strike me as stupid and disingenuous. Such as Boris Johnson's argument that it should be organising demonstrations outside the Russian embassy against the vile atrocities committed in Aleppo.

First things first, Stop the War was set up to oppose the war drive against Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Building on the organisation that came together to protest the bombing of Serbia in 1999, it put on flesh in the demonstrations leading up to and during the first phase of the Iraq War. It has also been very clear the Coalition's strategy is about building anti-war public opinion against the British government because, well, it's a Britain-based outfit. It aims to change British foreign policy by putting pressure on its democratic institutions via mass mobilisation, civil disobedience, influencing MPs, making the case against military adventurism, and so on. Furthermore, as even my cat knows, Britain is part of a web of alliances and strategic military partnerships. It has particularly close ties to the United States, and in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Wherever these states are involved in military activity, it is usually with the tacit or practical support of the British government. The 2006 Lebanon War, the 2009 and 2014 war on Gaza, and current commission of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen incur the opposition of Stop the War because of our complicity. For Israel, UK and US companies have happily furnished them with armaments to drop on largely defenceless populations. For Saudi Arabia, not only are we providing ordinance but also "military advisors", thereby exposing British military personnel to possible war crimes charges in the future.

With a Labour Party forever divided on questions of war and peace, someone has to take up the cudgels of making the case against Britain's wars.

Oh, but what about Russia and Assad? Sure, there are tankie nostalgics in Stop the War, but backward glances of this kind are very much a minority interest. The reason why the coalition doesn't protest against Russian militarism is a political calculation: what would such actions achieve? In the first place, picketing the Russian embassy is unlikely to change the minds of the Kremlin clique. With its reputation mud in most NATO countries, the kind of actions Stop the War undertake aren't going to have an effect. Whereas, say, a big march on the Saudi Arabian embassy has the potential of giving our government pause. Second, and most obvious - too obvious for our Boris Johnsons - if Stop the War begin agitating against Putin, that contributes to the case for war. Imagine, if half a million on the streets gives a British government jitters over its support for the latest US action, then the same number protesting the bombing of an aid caravan on Aleppo's approaches might encourage them in its Syrian no fly zone idiocy. Having Stop the War co-opted for a war drive kind of defeats their purpose.

I don't particularly like Stop the War's politics, but it is what it is. Instead of griping, there is nothing stopping Boris Johnson and his Progress cheerleaders organising their own gathering in Kensington Palace Gardens if they felt so strongly about "doing something". But they won't, which makes their criticisms of Stop the War sound like hollow point-scoring.


Will said...

"First things first, Stop the War was set up to oppose the war drive against Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks."

no. there was no 'war drive against afghanistan'. there was a very slow process over a lengthy period to attack and take out those responsible for a disgusting crime and those who sponsered and harboured the mass killer islamists who perpetrated it. the real suprise was that the yanks didn't just go all fuckking yee-haaa-gung-ho like fuckking maniacs. It was also fully 'legally' sanctioned action. Not that that matters anyway as I'm not a fan of legalistic, westphalian liberal horseshit.

StWC'not in my name!'
russkies'it's not in your name'
StWC'oh - okays then'

against sophistry and slimy bullshit!

Boffy said...

I think socialists and workers in general are clever enough to be able to protest against Russian/Syrian atrocities, whilst demarcating themselves from Boris Johnson, and calls for support for military action by NATO against Russia/Syria.

I don't agree that protesting Russian/Syrian atrocities outside the Russian Embassy - at the same time as protesting the hypocrisy of the UK/US/NATO - has no effect on Russia. Its impact is limited, its true, because we no longer have an effective international labour movement, but part of what international socialists should be doing currently is making common cause with socialists and workers in Russia, who are themselves suffering from Putin's regime.

But, we should, of course, point out the hypocrisy of the UK/US NATO whose actions over decades have created the conditions for the current situation in the Middle East. The US refers to war crimes, but itself is not subject to the International Criminal Court, the right-wing Brexit camp of the Tory Party have made a badge of honour their desire to remove Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights, so that it is not accountable for its human rights abuses against its own citizens and others, and Theresa May has just said that British troops will be exempt from charges in future for any war crimes they may be guilty of!

Anonymous said...

The point about Stop the War is its blatant hypocrisy.

Yes, we and the USA are complicit in some bloody awful things that deserve widespread condemnation. Our involvement with the Saudi’s and their onslaught in Yemen is utterly shameful.

But StW seem to hold what the Russians are doing in Syria to a different standard. By any reasonable measure, the Russians ARE behaving in a manner that should enrage anyone with an ounce of decency – and should certainly receive the most severe denunciation from an organisation who stand for the reduction and elimination of armed conflict.

What do you think StW would be doing and saying if we and the US were reducing Alleppo to rubble?

If we on the left view all conflict and war mongering as abhorrent then we have to say so. Clearly and without fear or favour. Picking and choosing sides while soft peddling on regimes that are not of a western hue undermines the strong case that is to be made about our meddling.


John Rogan said...

In late 2014, the Kurds and their allies in Kobane were in serious threat of being overrun by Isis. For many years previously, it had been very easy for the "anti-imperialist" Left (e.g. Corbyn, StWC etc) to back the Kurds as they had been oppressed by fellow Nato member Turkey.

Now, it was a new ball game. The Kurds were calling on the US to protect them by providing arms and attacking Isis with airstrikes. The US was in a quandary. They couldn't fall out too much with Turkey but, at the same time, they didn't want Isis to take Kobane. So, the US did attack Isis and formed a short term pact with the Kurds to defeat Isis but not so far (e.g. provide heavy weapons) that there would be an irrevocable fall out with Turkey.

What was the position of Stop the War?

They opposed the American air strikes against Isis. Their leader, John Rees, did join a Kurdish Solidarity march in Oct 2014 where he did call for the Kurds to be armed against Isis but then went on to call for the ANC, Hamas and Venezuela to provide the arms [1].

The poet Dante once said, "the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crises maintain their neutrality". I think a similar place should be reserved for those who exhibit the kind of despicable political cynicism that John Rees did here.

Did John Rees even spend five minutes sending an email to the ANC, Hamas or the Venezuelan Govt asking for arms for the Kurds? I doubt it very much. It was just a cheap "anti-imperialist" demand where he could show his "solidarity" with the Kurds, pat himself on the back and keep up his anti-Nato, anti-US credentials.

More realistically, in August 2014, in Denmark, the Trotskyists involved in the Red Green Alliance, voted in Parliament in favour of Danish military aid to the Kurds as they realised their desperate need [2].

So, to sum up, the leadership of StWC are not "anti war' but for the defeat of Western Imperialism, no matter the consequences to the Kurds etc.. If Kobane had been overrun by Isis, no doubt John Rees, Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne et al would have flooded Islington High St with their crocodile tears while the Kurds were slaughtered and enslaved. We would have seen copious articles in the Guardian explaining how it was really all the fault of the west (Nato, Turkey and, of course, the Iraq War) that the Kurds were defeated. Remember, if, somehow, the StWC and their American allies had managed to stop American air strikes against Isis, this is exactly the scenario that would have happened.

Luckily, the Kurds survived and some leftists, such as the Red-Green Alliance saw what was necessary.

Support for military intervention depends on the situation. The Kurds needed help from the US, got it and survived. When the vote came for the UK air strikes against Isis (note, not against the Syrian Govt), then, I believe, Hilary Benn etc were quite right to support them against Isis as they have helped the Kurds and their allies.

So, I'm afraid, I believe there is no "defence" of StWC. They have nothing positive to offer and when they try, they produce solutions (see John Rees above) which are cynical and self-serving along with "solidarity" of the worthless kind.



BCFG said...

Boris Johnson called Russia a rogue state.

This is pretty conclusive proof that either Boris Johnson thinks the British people are thoroughly brainwashed or he thinks the British people are in on the game.

Boris must be thinking that no one will be asking the question:

How can we call Russia a rogue state given that,

1) We invaded Iraq on a false pretext, destroying that nation, causing hundreds and thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people.
2) We destroyed Libya, causing thousands of deaths and bringing more chaos and disaster to a region already shattered by imperialism’s disastrous policies
3) Parliament voted to bomb civilians in Syria, Hilary Benn almost had a seizure such was his determination to bomb Syria. He was applauded by most people in the house if memory serves me right.

And anyone who thinks people won’t be asking this question must surely believe people are thoroughly brainwashed and that calling others rogue states will pass without question!

Incidentally what is the definition of a terrorist these days, given that USA and Britain are actively supporting groups that plant car bombs and mow down civilians as if it were a sport? Is the working definition now to be what we always knew it was, i.e Anyone who opposes us!

I think it would help clarify the debate if we could all stop pretending anyone gave a toss about the Syrian people, as if they were the reason for these war games! Given that most British people would rather Syrian refugees died in the sea rather than reach our shores I think it is a bit rich to take the moral high ground!

The enemy as always is much much closer to home than Moscow.

asquith said...

BCFG, has it not occured to you that the West can do bad things, and Russia can do bad things too (notably funding far-right and far-left movements in Europe) and the one doesn't somehow disprove the other?

I accept that our links to the Gulf states and Turkey are too close and some people slagging off Russia are responsible for their own atrocties, that doesn't somehow mean Vladimir Putin is above criticism. If you're going to support indigenous peoples against colonisation by European superpowers what about Ukrainians, Chechens or Crimean Tatars? Didn't think so.

What you're trying to say overall isn't clear, although I'm sure it'll all be "Zionism's" fault.

Ed said...

John Rogan has the details of what the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark did garbled. Their MPs did vote in favour of a Danish military plane being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan with weapons to be used against Daesh, but at the same time they voted against Danish warplanes taking part in US-led air strikes in the region and called for weapons to be sent to the Syrian Kurdish fighters instead. This is what their spokesman said in parliament:

“The government is proposing a bombing campaign that may last more than a year according to the prime minister. These bombings may very well lead to a strengthening of ISIL and of creating even more chaos. When civilians are killed and foreign military again is bombing Iraq, it may increase the recruitment of ISIL. Many hidden agendas are involved in this alliance that the government want Denmark to join. It is a 100 percent certain that Saudi Arabia and the Golf states do not want democracy in Iraq. Likewise, Turkey does not want Kurdish self-government anywhere inside or outside Turkish borders. I fear that Denmark just will be tail-ending the interests of big powers in the region.

“What we ought to have learned from the previous wars that Denmark participated in, is that we should rather support those local forces on the ground that fight for democracy and human rights. That is why the RGA proposes direct support for the Kurdish militias in Syria. They have defended themselves against Assad and ISIL for three years. But now ISIL have conquered heavy American produced weapons from the Iraqi army in Mosul, and they are launching an offensive against the Kurdish territory around the city of Kobane. The Kurds have real problems in resisting them."

Were they also guilty of 'despicable political cynicism'? It would appear so, by the logic of John's argument.

BCFG said...

"BCFG, has it not occured to you that the West can do bad things, and Russia can do bad things too"

Erm, yes it has. Why would you think otherwise? Maybe it should have occurred to you that you really didn't need to ask that question?

Corbyn needs to be stronger on the transparent attempt by Zionist apologists and front groups to expel and purge anyone from public life who opposes the terrorist state of Israel and supports the beleaguered, oppressed and brutalised Palestinian people.

We should ask the question, why do these people hate the Palestinians so much? For these people the Palestinian problem comes down to a question of vermin control.

Corbyn’s essential strength, being grown up and reasonable and willing to calmly debate the issues is also his biggest weakness, we don’t live in an era of calm debate and the willingness to debate the issues. Corbyn is trying to cuddle a Tiger (no offence to Tigers but I can’t think of a better analogy!) and is trying to embrace people who would happily stab or shoot him in the back, they would stab him in the back as he was cuddling these people.

We need to create a climate where instead of Palestinian supporters being made to feel uncomfortable and bullied it is the supporters of Israel who feel uncomfortable and ashamed, which is what they should feel.

The problem is that on this subject you have the establishment and liberal opinion in utter agreement on this issue. Whether Yvette Cooper, David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch, Boris Johnson, Tom Watson, Boffy, Andy Burnham, Jim Denham, Richard Desmond, Theresa (our wonderful determined and focussed great leader – well according to the unfree anyway) May, George Osborne or Hilary (please let us be allowed to bomb the crap out of bad Syrian civilians) Benn they are all, in their own ways, dogged fighters for the colonial, racist, terrorist state of Israel.

But the left should not cower to this formidable enemy, this alliance of human garbage.