If you think Jeremy Corbyn is a man of principle for opposing air strikes on Syria, you need a history lesson

It may well be that many of you agree with his stance on Iraq. But do you also agree with his stance on Kosovo? On Bosnia? On Kuwait? (For an alternative view on the Syrian air strikes, click here.)

Paul Renteurs
Saturday 21 April 2018 14:25
Syria air strikes: How events unfolded

Not usually one for lengthy expositions of my own views, I find that I'm increasingly frustrated with quite a lot of nonsense that quite a lot of people are bandying around about what was done in Syria earlier this week.

First: the purpose of the air strikes. Nothing Theresa May has said about the decision she took has indicated, or even thinly suggested, that she or any of our allies have intervened to change the regime in Syria, or tip the balance in the long and brutal civil war there, or show Russia who's boss.

It wasn't even claimed that this strike would prevent Assad from launching further chemical weapon attacks. All that the strike is intended to achieve is to ensure that if –perhaps when – Assad thinks about using these weapons again, he won't be under the impression that he can do so without consequence. We reserve the right to punish tyrants, dictators, criminals and madmen like Assad from behaving in this way. Full stop.

Second: the legality of this action. Humanitarian intervention is an increasingly widely recognised basis for armed intervention. It was the basis for intervention in Kosovo in 1999 to stop the slaughter and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people there (Jeremy Corbyn opposed this action too, you shouldn't be surprised to hear).

It was the basis for intervention in Sierra Leone to rescue UN peacekeepers and bolster the UN mission in that country.

As for the role of parliament, it's worth adding two further points. First, as a matter of international law, it matters not a jot whether parliament is consulted. Either the use of force is a breach of Chapter VII of the UN Convention or it is not, and it isn't any more or less a breach if parliament has voted for it.

And in the absence of a written constitution, it's perfectly clear that there is no custom which dictates that parliament is the body that decides on military intervention.

Third: are we the ones to be doing this? A lot of people are shouting about imperialism and hypocrisy. We are, after all, still selling weapons to the Saudis which are being used to slaughter innocent people in Yemen.

I happen to agree that we should stop selling these weapons. But does anyone want to say to the mother of a child whose lungs have just been melted out with chlorine gas, "I'm terribly sorry for your loss. This really is horrific. But I'm afraid we can't do anything about it because we have an interest in selling arms to Saudi Arabia"?

You're not just spectators in this, folks. If you want to have a say in this then you had better be prepared to think about these things as though you are the one making that decision and give that explanation.

Fourth: Jezza. Jeremy Corbyn has said before how his opposition to Iraq, though it achieved nothing at all, was one of his proudest moments in politics. And it may well be that many of you agree with his stance on Iraq. But do you also agree with his stance on Kosovo? On Bosnia? On Kuwait?

How about the first Gulf war, when we intervened to respond to Saddam Hussein's attempt to annex a neighbouring state by force? Of course, it wasn't just us that intervened. The UN mandated that armed intervention.

Did Jeremy, who now says we need to work through the UN and get UN authority before intervening, honour that resolution by the UN? Nope. In fact, not only did he not support the use of force on that occasion, he tabled motions in parliament to condemn the resolutions that had been passed by the UN!

Of course, this was all a long time after Corbyn's opposition (before he was elected) to the "Tory plot" that was the mission to the Falkland Islands to prevent the British citizens there being invaded by a country run by a military junta. Look over his career and you will not find any tyrant, sadist, despot or psychopathic madman who Jeremy Corbyn has supported military action against. In that context, what does being a “man of principle” really mean?

Not every armed intervention is Iraq, and the fact that Trump happens to be doing it as well isn't a good enough reason for not doing it. Saying we need a political solution is easy, and almost meaningless. Do I feel safer with more missiles flying in the air? No. But that's not the point. I do feel that the rules against torturing your own people are stronger now than they were last Monday. For now, I'll take that.

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