Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Western bombs will not defeat IS: Only a wider peace deal can draw its poison

If British MPs authorize military action in Syria, they are voting to escalate both the war and the refugee crisis

By Seumas Milne  /  The Guardian

Without troops on the ground, air attacks cannot win a war. In the case of Syria, the only forces available are the Syrian army or radical Islamist rebel militias, from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front to the Gulf regime-backed Islamist Jaish al-Fatah.

So which do the Western governments have in mind? Their own sponsored rebel groups are entirely marginal.

As Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, the alternative of Western troops would lead to a full-scale anti-occupation war. After one disastrous Western military intervention in the Arab and Muslim world after another, it is mind-boggling that demands for yet more bombing keep on coming. You only have to consider the failed-state maelstrom that is post-NATO intervention Libya — the other main transit route for refugees into Europe — to see what it means in practice, but the problem, hawks insist, is that there was not enough intervention: NATO “walked away” from Libya and if only the US and its allies had invaded Syria in 2011 or bombed in 2013, the war would have been over by Christmas.

In reality, the death toll in Syria — where defenses are much stronger than they were in Iraq — would certainly have been far greater. The same goes for any attempt to enforce no-fly zones or safe havens now, but most bizarre is the insistence that the West has not actually intervened in Syria.

In fact, the US, the UK, France and their regional allies have intervened continuously, funding, training and arming rebel forces — well aware, as recent US leaked intelligence documents underline, that they were dominated by extreme sectarian groups. The result today is de facto partition, with the government in control of less than half the country, but the majority of the population, including large numbers of refugees from rebel-held areas.

If Cameron had won the vote in the British parliament two years ago, the main beneficiary in Syria would very probably have been IS. Next month, he plans to try again, hoping to trade on revulsion at the terror group’s vicious sectarian violence. Ministers know UK bombing will not defeat IS or add anything of significance to the US campaign. Instead it would be an exercise in cynical political posturing aimed at splitting Labour and reclaiming the mantle of chief imperial subaltern in the US-led war without end across the Middle East. If MPs do authorize bombing in Syria, they would be voting to intensify the war and the refugee crisis.

The only way to wind down the conflict is through a negotiated settlement involving all the regional powers. Syria has long been a proxy war, pitting the al-Assad regime’s Russian and Iranian backers against the Gulf dictatorships, Turkey and the Western powers that stand behind the myriad rebel groups. Talks between the main players have picked up in recent months, aimed at such a deal.

However, the pressure is always to use the battlefield to increase leverage at the negotiating table. IS thrives on war and sectarian conflict across the region. It will be marginalized and eventually defeated when that conflict is brought to an end. That needs pressure from the West on its Gulf clients, not a new bombing campaign. It is true the refugee crisis can be solved only in Syria — but through peacemaking, not more Western war.

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