Syria and Mr Corbyn: the case against inaction

Syria and why we must intervene….

I have been asked to offer an opinion on Syria by Jeremy Corbyn.

The case against further involvement has been made and I know many of my friends feel intervention is wrong. FaceBook and other Social Media are not the best place to review the noble history of the pacifist and isolationist political traditions but it is not the only noble tradition or indeed the only moral case that might be legitimately made….

Already Mr Corbyn’s office has triumphantly declared 75% of those responding back his policy. It is of course like all such endeavours for approbation a self selecting audience. This is no way to run a party; or to suggest one might run a country or most nakedly to suggest is a reasonable way to make policy in a serious political institution. It is a tactic borrowed from the lexicon of demagogues down the ages and that is should be the mantle of a leader of the Labour Party is a cause for embarrassment. I doubt  it will change much but it will if it continues change Labour into a an unrepresentative, unelectable rump of rabble rousing bully boys.

That I lament….as a party man since 1971 I am now forced to consider ending my membership because I believe the march the party is taking is essentially away from democratic socialism and its ally social democracy towards the closed minded demagoguery of Jacobinism that thrives in self-selecting cliques of activists. They will use members as a battering ram to impose their own ideas and ideological agenda on the party. It will exclude institutions which it wishes to exclude on writ and whim confirmed by plebiscite of members. It will turn the party into an adjunct of a Committee of Public Safety which it dominates that casts opponents as enemies of the revolution. Eventually it will drag the Labour Party to destruction.

Here is an extract of what I have sent in response ….it will be ignored as this is not an attempt to engage and persuade but a tactic to enforce whatever the leader happens to think is right…or others who tell us this is what the leader really wants….

Dear Mr Corbyn,

Thank you for this email. I do not feel it takes full account of the entire situation in Syria or more widely in the Middle East and as your email does not set out the criteria for a contrary case I feel it seeks endorsement rather than engagement. Nevertheless, I offer the following:

1.Syria can no longer be regarded as a functioning state in any legal sense. Not only is it in civil war but the various factions fighting are now also proxies for the interests of others including great powers like Russia and the USA and also other regional powers like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Wishful thinking will not alter that reality; rather it defines the terrain for future policy. It also inevitably means there are no easy options for policy-makers but only a series of difficult choices. Therefore greater and smaller powers have legitimate interests to defend.

2. In these circumstances, we as a sovereign nation have a legitimate interests. We are now also directly affected by the consequences of the collapse of ordered society in Syria – we are affected by the refugee crisis (as is the whole EU) and we are affected by the operations of a terrorist organisation ISIS that claims right to create a Caliphate by force of arms and the right to murder European citizens in order to achieve that end.
In fact as the strain of the refugee crisis alone undermines the stability of the EU the events in Syria consequently directly threaten our national interest. That provides sufficient legitimate grounds to intervene both politically and militarily. However, the ISIS element and the fact we are also a founder member of the UN and a Permanent Member of the Security Council adds special additional responsibilities which justify interventions by us in concert with our allies.

This is not disputed in so far as the case for non-participation in allied airstrikes rests largely upon the notion that we still own some moral entitlement to intervene politically and diplomatically. Whether there is raison d’etre for such assumption on our part without us having willingness to make a greater commitment of military resource is itself ethically questionable as we are fully aware such diplomatic interventions will in those circumstances be in fact devoid of meaning as they will have no practical chance of success. The grand gesture of taking the high ground morally without fighting for it militarily. It is the sort of victory Caligula declared he had won over Neptune – empty of meaning and full of rhetoric.

3. We previously took a decision not to directly intervene militarily in Syria. That decision has patently failed. That is grounds for us to reconsider the previous decision in the light of its failure either to limit the conflict or to resolve the insurgency of ISIS into Iraq and now into other states including Turkey and Jordan.

4. Russia is now directly involved and her determination to keep the Assad regime – a regime that should be brought before the Human Rights Court for violations of it signatory obligations regarding use of chemical weapons and indiscriminate use of cluster bombs in civilian areas – which together constitute crimes against humanity – is a matter of highest moral importance to the wider International Community.

Force of arms is now being employed to keep this criminal regime safe by a great power that recently has been permitted to annexe the Crimea in a manner highly reminiscent of the fascist states of Italy and germany and the Imperial state of Japan in the 1930’s. That amounts to appeasement in so far as it only serves to encourage other states with similar ambitions to take the view that the UN Conventions cannot be enforced.

As in Yugoslavia this cannot be left to stand.

5. The second question is militarily whether our intervention in Iraq makes any strategic sense without dealing with Syria. Again, patently the answer now is no; we have tried and we have failed and our other allies are already involved in Syria. France has invoked the EU mutuality interest clause – akin to the one for NATO allies. If we accept ISIS attempts to make itself a state and ISIS claims the right to make that state from Syria and parts of Iraq that alone enables us to act legally and militarily. ISIS organises and recruits via the Internet and inculcates suicide as a legitimate means of conducting its so called holy war or jihad. The determination of ISIS to foment war in these illegal terms under conventions of international law puts both nation states at risk and indiscriminately places their citizens at risk. We cannot deal with one aspect of ISIS in say Iraq or Paris without dealing also with the other in Syria or Libya.

There are serious inadequacies in the government response and these we should address: particularly the role of the UN; the participation of NATO allies; and the consideration of the airstrikes as part of a wider military strategy;and stabilisation of Libya and other African states. This is a struggle for the survival of pluralist democracy against any enemy willing to use the tolerance of multiculturalism in order to wholly destroy it and impose upon it its own closed ideology of intolerance. Make no mistake it uses violence and systematic physical abuse and moral degradations of those who fall into is control as means of sustaining itself. It owns no ethical or moral purpose beyond its capacity to murder, destroy and dehumanise. It is evil.

This means it is imperative to get the US to reactivate the Middle East Peace Process as part of a concerted effort to bring regional peace. These things however we can persuade the US government and others to do if we are part of the entire effort in Syria.

Your email also concerns me since it presupposes that the PLP and Shadow Cabinet you appointed are an unsuitable body to make these decisions on the party’s behalf and on behalf of Labour voters more widely and also of their constituents’ best interests.

This decision making by plebiscite dangerously reduces policy to simplicities as it also reduces Labour MPs to little more than glorified delegates of the “activists” within the party membership – who frankly are merely an interest group far far smaller than even the Labour Party as currently constituted including Unions affiliated to it and their members – let alone even the 9 million Labour voters at the last election. Policy is not made by motions and by twitterstorms. Moreover, this procedure disregards the other non-Labour voting constituents of whose interests Labour MPs are also constitutionally guardian. Representative democracy kept you in your position in Parliament even though you remained detached from party policy and discipline in your long career on the backbenches. Suddenly it seems you want to bully others by using the same tactics of bullying once you denounced. We in the party deserve rather better of you than this.

Finally, the analysis of the situation in Syria set out in your email so over-simplifies the complexities of the situation that it is in danger of posing a false choice to party members – new and old – which I am sure is not its intention. There is to be limited military action by the allies and this does not constitute a declaration of war. Our military exist to protect our interests in such circumstances. We cannot even commit them them to UN Peacekeeping without placing them at risk. It is why we honour them and respect them.

Your email also presupposes party members might be suitably informed on the basis of your statement to make the decision you ask of them. I suggest to you they cannot be and for the various reasons set out above this in essentially a matter for your leadership and that of the Shadow Cabinet.

For these reasons (and there are many more) I personally urge you to put the interests of the country over the party and also unite the party showing decisive leadership which coming from you would in fact make the success of intervention much more likely because of your well known and long held views about military inventions.

This is akin to the crisis in Yugoslavia rather than the intervention after 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should join our allies in seeking to eliminate ISIS and Assad from Syria. Failing that the PLP must be given a free vote.

Yours sincerely,

John Murphy

John Murphy

—–Original Message—–
From: Jeremy Corbyn <>
To: John Murphy <>
Sent: Fri, 27 Nov 2015 20:17
Subject: Your views on Syria

On Thursday David Cameron set out his case in the House of Commons for a UK bombing campaign in Syria.

We have all been horrified by the despicable attacks in Paris and are determined to see ISIS defeated.

The issue now is whether what the Prime Minister is proposing strengthens, or undermines, our national security.

I put a series of questions in response to the Prime Minister’s statement, raising concerns about his case that are on the minds of many in the country. You can read my response here.

There could not be a more important matter than whether British forces are sent to war.

As early as next week, MPs could be asked to vote on extending UK bombing to Syria.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister made a convincing case that British air strikes on Syria would strengthen our national security or reduce the threat from ISIS.

When I was elected I said I wanted Labour to become a more inclusive and democratic party.

So I am writing to consult you on what you think Britain should do. Should Parliament vote to authorise the bombing of Syria?

Let me know your views, if you are able to, by the start of next week:


Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party

This entry was posted in Politics and related subjects. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.