Bombing for Peace. This time: Syria.

1.  Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action

“It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

“”David Cameron, Prime Minister, 20th August 2013

BBC: “MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.  David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.”

Had that very close vote gone the other way, we would be attacking Syria’s government, troops, infrastructure and, inevitably, civilians as “collateral damage”.

2.  MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq

Intervention at the request of the Iraqi government was “morally justified” to combat a “brutal terrorist organisation” and was clearly lawful.  Britain has a clear “duty” to join the campaign, and IS is a direct threat to the UK and I am not prepared to “subcontract” the protection of British streets from terrorism to other countries’ air forces.

Paraphrasing of David Cameron, Prime Minister, 26th September 2014

BBC: “The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.  After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43.  Some MPs expressed concerns about the prospect of future engagement in Syria.”

3.   David Cameron believes ‘there ​i​s a case to do more’ in Syria

“British MPs need to think again about what else British forces can do to help moderate forces in Syria.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 2nd July 2015 via Downing Street

Guardian: “No 10 stressed it would be better if military action, likely to be air strikes, only went ahead if there was a consensus in the Commons.  Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said Isis was directed and led from northern Syria.  He vowed that if there was any decision to include air strikes in Syria as part of a full spectrum response (spot the weasel words), the government would seek the approval of parliament. “Our position remains that we would return to this house for approval before air strikes in Syria.  We are clear any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad’s regime.”  The prime minister’s spokeswoman stressed that British military assets were already flying over Syria, and British forces were helping to train members of the Syrian Free Army outside Syria itself.”

So we’re training ‘freedom fighters’ / ‘insurgents’ / future terrorists?  Isn’t that the classic mistake the CIA has been making for decades?

4.   Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots

” ”  ← (i.e. nothing so far)

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17th July 2015

BBC: “UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged.  Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the 2013 vote on action in Syria was a “totally different decision” to the question of strikes on IS and that that decision had not been undermined.  Labour has indicated it would not oppose military action in Syria. Acting leader Harriet Harman has said the case for air strikes was now different to the situation in 2013, when Labour voted against UK military action in Syria.”

When was this discussed and arranged?  Apparently a couple of days ago when the Greece crisis was all over the news.  What a good day that was to bury bad news.

Both sides of the Commons are all for this.  Politicians are odd creatures: opposition in everything, everything, as a matter of principal, regardless of the logic, yet unity in wanting to extend violence.  There is something about the desire for power that results in a mind-set of wanting to see others hurt.  [ note to self – there’s a psychology essay to be written based on that last sentence. ]

It seems there are three sides in Syria:

  1. Assad’s regime which is being attacked by the US and allies.  UK troops may or may not be embedded and supporting these attacks.
  2. The revolutionaries trying to bring down Assad’s regime (sorry, who are these people exactly?) who are being trained by the UK.
  3. IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever we are to call-them this week are being attacked by the US and allies and (covertly) the UK.

This is like the proxy wars of the Cold War in the1900s where NATO and the Warsaw Pact tested and demonstrated their weapons’ capabilities in other countries by supporting opposing sides.  At least then the West and East could pretend we/they were on opposite sides.  Now the West seems to be supporting the fighting on all sides.

Had the 2013 vote gone the other way (requiring a difference of just 7 MPs’ votes), we would be openly bombing all of Syria.  No wonder Moslems think there is a Holy War going on.

As for training the rebels (the next generation of elite mercenaries and terrorists) trying to bring down and take over Assad’s government, how many of them are now fighting for, leading, arming or training the IS / ISIS / ISIL forces?

Presumably, if and when IS / ISIS / ISIL have been defeated, the airstrikes will continue but against the Syrian government.  Therein lies the inevitable argument of the next few days: “We may as well start bombing Assad now to prevent his resources falling into IS / ISIS / ISIL hands“.  Yep, I predict a scorched earth policy, although it will not be called that.

Here we are in 2015, still bringing peace with bombs.  And how well has that been working since 2003?

No boots on the ground

Amongst the comments under the Jeff Danziger cartoon of 22nd June 2014 was:

Better to put drones in harms way than our young men and women.

The use of drones is exactly the sort of behaviour that promotes terrorism. They create impotent fear in the citizens of the target country which results in the development of more creative ways of hitting back.  When that creativity is coupled with opportunity and resources, new terrorist groups form.

Putting boots on the ground puts faces to the attackers and allows the victims to see it is real people attacking them, not just the whim of some anonymous uncaring president of an elitist, violent, uncaring country. Those real people can be talked to, traded with, bartered with and relationships formed. That prevents terrorism.

The more America attacks people in such remote, cowardly ways as using missiles and drones, the more they will be confident you are frightened of them – which, of course, America is.

You’re not just ‘playing into the hands of terrorists’ by using drones, you are creating the terrorist response. Unless, of course, you intend to kill everyone in the target countries.

The major casualties of war are civilians

“Armies are now so protected and their weapons so effective that the major casualties of war are civilians.”

Dave Turner, Open University tutor and course leader of criminology at the University of Gloucestershire.

By all means continue to fret for “our boys out there” and the body bags they come home in.

But spare some time to fret for yourself and the civilians our brave boys are killing and maiming and orphaning and widowing in our name.

Depending on whose figures you use, the 2nd Gulf War resulted in between 15 and 30 civilian deaths for each US soldier killed.

“Because of new body armour and advances in military medicine, for example, the ratio of combat-zone deaths to those wounded has dropped from 24 percent in Vietnam to 13 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, the numbers of those killed as a percentage of overall casualties is lower.”

Christian Science Monitor, 29/8/2006

That’s good news, it really is.  But civilians don’t get any body armour.  And when they are being targeted by drones where the operator is in another continent, they won’t be getting any first aid from their attackers, never mind military medicine.

Not starting the 2nd Gulf War would not have just saved nearly 5,000 US troops, it would have prevented hundreds of thousands of orphans too.

Coalition & allied forces killed: 25,286
Coalition & allied forces wounded: > 117,961
Iraqi combatants and insurgents killed: 34,144 – 37,344

Still, Saddam got strung up, so it was all worth it in the end, wasn’t it?

So that really was the best way to topple his regime, wasn’t it?

And in case you’re not bothered about the human cost, here’s what Wikipedia has about the financial cost:

In March 2013, the total cost of the Iraq War was estimated to have been $1.7 trillion by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University.[361] Critics have argued that the total cost of the war to the US economy is estimated to be from $3 trillion[362] to $6 trillion,[363] including interest rates, by 2053.

A CNN report noted that the United States-led interim government, the Coalition Provisional Authority lasting until 2004 in Iraq had lost $8.8 billion in the Development Fund for Iraq. In June 2011, it was reported by CBS News that six billion in neatly packaged blocks of $100 bills was air-lifted into Iraq by the George W. Bush administration, which flew it into Baghdad aboard C‑130 military cargo planes. In total, the Times says $12 billion in cash was flown into Iraq in 21 separate flights by May 2004, all of which has disappeared. An inspector general’s report mentioned that “‘Severe inefficiencies and poor management’ by the Coalition Provisional Authority would leave no guarantee that the money was properly used”, said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. “The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that funds were used in a transparent manner.”[364] Bowen told the Times the missing money may represent “the largest theft of funds in national history.”[365]

Wouldn’t it have been better to ring up Saddam Hussein and say “Here’s $1,000,000,000 up front and $100,000,000 per year for life on the condition you clear off and don’t come back” ?

According to the UK National Audit Office, the UK spent £850 billion on the bank crises in 2009 alone.

The long term effect of airstrikes

When the airstrikes begin, such as they did at the start of the second Gulf War, and as is desired by US, UK and French leaders against Syria, large numbers of government buildings are attacked, resulting in the deaths of large number of civil servants in the country being attacked.

(The legality of targeting civilians is another question worth considering another day: link1, link2, link3, link4, link5, link6.)

The elimination of these civil servants has the desired effect of damaging the military organisation of the target country: supplies are not ordered, shipments are not arranged, payroll does not happen, communication is disrupted: information does not get escalated and orders do not get distributed, intelligence is not analysed.  In this way the machine of war is halted despite the troops and armour being intact because the troops have no food or bullets, the guns have no shells, the tanks have no fuel, the aircraft have no targets.  It is a seemingly ‘humane’ way of disabling an opponent or one party in a civil conflict.

The reality is, the combatants are left intact while the civilians are killed, maimed or forced to flee, adding them to the numbers of refugees.  Amongst those refugees will be the pacifists, the civil rights specialists, the conscientious objectors and the fearful who left the country during the crisis.

How very ironic is it that those who speak for our armed forces say killing civilians instead of soldiers is more humane?  That makes it quite clear where their allegiances lie.

If the external influence is effective, and the targeted government falls, then who will form the civil service of the new administration?  Certainly not the corpses and the cripples and the refugees of the deposed government.

It will be recruited mostly from the victorious liberating army, that group of ‘rebels’, ‘terrorists’, ‘insurgents’ and ‘insurrectionists’ that became redefined as ‘freedom fighters’ because their winning suited our political convenience.  An army including reactionaries, the vengeful, hot-blooded young anarchists, psychos, criminals, malcontents, sufferers of post-war stress syndrome and anyone who decided to pick up a gun and kill their police officers, armed forces members and government officials despite them being fellow citizens.  It is from these ranks the new government’s officials will be constructed.  Those who can answer the questions:

What did you do in the war, Daddy?


How many did you kill?

Experienced administrators from the previous government, those who left because of their conscience, the displaced – these people are least likely to get their old jobs back.

So is it any wonder that when we interfere with another country by applying airstrikes that the incoming government is itself full of turmoil with police recruits shooting their colleagues, suicide bombers, corruption, instability, ongoing car bombs and ultimately another revolution?

Perhaps if we stopped killing their filing clerks, accountants, data analysts, IT staff, secretaries, junior supervisors, PAs, human resources officers, trainers, typists, middle managers, and office cleaners then maybe their future governments might be competent, organised, capable and stable.

The outcome of using airstrikes are:

  • the deaths or injury of many fit, intelligent, taxpaying, civilians;
  • the armed forces and their matériel are left intact;
  • ongoing national incompetence for many years;
  • the need for greater external influence in maintaining stability;
  • those who may have a bias towards peace and reconciliation become personae non gratae;
  • a continuation of civil disorder and violence;
  • the likelihood of major armed conflict in the future.

So what are the real agenda when airstrikes are used?  Anyone would think it was advantageous foreign policy, commercial interests and the maintenance of the arms industry.  It certainly is not humanitarian reasons.

Airstrikes: the victims are civilians

Airstrikes are a tempting solution for large Western government to use against lesser states as a means of reprisal, punishment or warning. What are the targets and who gets killed?

Targets of planned airstrikes include military command headquarters, military intelligence buildings and sources of power such as power stations and oil refineries.  Blowing up these buildings is done as a warning or to reprimand the leaders of foreign countries, but the leaders do not reside in them.  In the former they are typically occupied by civil servants (civilians) with a number of seconded military personnel (so non-combatants at the time) and the latter are occupied by civilians.

So successful airstrikes kill receptionists, cleaners, clerks, administrators, IT staff, accountants, canteen workers, overnight security guards, office visitors, facilities management staff, technicians as well as the operational staff on site.

How does that provide justice for anyone?  Especially when disrupting ‘the command, control and communications network‘ actually means blowing up a TV station, killing 16 people and injuring 16 more.

The good news is that we are better now at targeted bombing than we were back in the WWII days of carpet bombing.  For example, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, there were only 90 or so incidents in which civilians being killed, with an average of only about 5 or 6 civilian deaths per incident.

Statistically speaking, civilian casualties were lighter than any other conflict involving modern mass air power.

Bombing refugees once or twice, is considered bad form – good job Yugoslavia wasn’t in the UN at the time.

Unsuccessful airstrikes – those where we thought we knew who we were killing from thousands of miles away – are even less pleasant.

The 1993 revenge attack on Iraq for trying to blow up George Bush Senior involved firing 23 cruise missiles – costing between US$13m and US$33m – at the Iraqi Intelligence Service HQ.  It destroyed three houses and killed eight civilians.  Not a very effective use of taxpayers’ money; the Israelis can achieve the same thing with bulldozers.

7th May 1999.  NATO bombs supposedly aimed at the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement were actually hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three people and injuring 20 more.

As for drone killings, well, do your own search to see how effective they are at killing civilians.

The targets are not evil tyrants, tanks, artillery, missiles, or armed soldiers.  They are buildings containing mostly civilians.

Even if the airstrikes hit the intended targets, it is civilians that get killed.  Are you OK with that?