Cameron enjoys Blair-like impunity as Britain bombs Syria

Cameron enjoys Blair-like impunity as Britain bombs Syria
Comment: It's not that the prime minister hasn't learned from history - it's that he has, writes Hilary Aked.
5 min read
08 Dec, 2015
Bombing is a display of futile violence by a former imperial power, writes Aked [Getty]

When Prime Minister David Cameron successfully convinced British MPs - including 66 Labour rebels who supported his Conservative government - to vote in favour of joining the bombing of Syria, some commentators opposed to yet another attack on a Middle Eastern country asked "has the prime minister learnt nothing from history?"

The assumption behind this question is that the political elite have the same understanding of history and the same normative framework as the rest of us. But this is a flawed view.

     The assumption  is that the political elite have the same understanding of history and the same normative framework as the rest of us

Most of the rest of the world understands that the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation was an unmitigated disaster, enabled by a lie.

It did not make people in Western nations safer: instead the chaos caused in the region - combined with civil war in Syria - fostered the rise of the Islamic State group a decade later. Even Tony Blair has admitted this.

It did not make people in Iraq safer; instead, hundreds of thousands died as a direct consequence of UK-US action, helping to explain - if it were not already obvious - why so much anti-Western feeling was generated and IS was able to take root.

By the standards of any interpretive framework which values human lives, therefore, that military adventure was a horrifically destructive mistake. But, somehow, Tony Blair still thinks he was right.

More importantly, he has never been disavowed of this notion by being held to account. In fact, he was re-elected as prime minister in 2005. And, despite the blood on his hands, he has never been hauled in front of the International Criminal Court.

Instead, he continues to be given a platform in domestic and international policy and media circles.

The one small consequence Blair will face is verbal criticism in the Chilcott report, when it is eventually released - after years of delay - sometime in 2016. But, in the meantime, Cameron has already led Britain into another war.

One day a Chilcott-type inquiry may be held into Britain's decision to join the bombing of Syria. Five, ten or fifteen years from now, Cameron may be mildly reprimanded for exaggerating the extent of opposition forces on the ground (as MP Julian Lewis put it, the "bogus battalions" he estimated at 70,000 will be his "dodgy dossier"). But little will come of it.

And this is the real lesson that Cameron has learnt from history: impunity. That, just like Blair, he will get away with murder. No matter how many are killed, bombing Syria is, for him, effectively consequence-free.

The many who will die and be injured in aerial bombardments, or drown in failed attempts to reach Fortress Europe, fleeing attacks from all sides have no power to influence his career.

Cameron has said he will not even seek a third term - so perhaps instead he will follow Blair into the world of consultancy and "philanthropy". He will write a memoir about the "tough decisions" he made "to protect our country".

But who within "our country" is he protecting? When the blowback comes to Britain it will be "His war, Our dead". If anger at the UK for effectively siding with Bashar al-Assad, while turning away refugees, engenders a repeat of the deadly 7/7 attacks, there will be more migrant workers than Eton-educated members of the elite among the dead.

Even indulging the fantasy for a moment that bombing the city of Raqqa to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State group will reduce, rather than increase, the risk of attacks in Europe, it will almost certainly end more lives overall than it will save.

     This is the real lesson that Cameron has learnt from history: impunity. That, just like Blair, he will get away with murder

But we can't forget - especially so soon after the selective mourning of Paris and Beirut - that some lives are worth more than others. This is another lesson Cameron has learnt well from the long dureé of British history, perhaps the only consistent lesson that imperialist paradigms can teach: non-white lives don't matter.

A quarter of a million dead elsewhere in the world need not be of concern. The only factor that needs to be taken into consideration - the only lives worth preserving or grieving - are "ours". Hence the timing of British and French intervention: at the point at which white bodies feel under threat, but long after IS first began to rampage and slaughter across Iraq and Syria.

Cameron has also learnt from recent history that with the help of modern technology, today's wars - the asymmetric conflicts of "the war on terror" - can be fought in a way that outsources almost all of the risk onto the enemy. Drones make killing clean and painless for the executioner.

The UK's involvement in bombing Syria is not about making the world safer, for anyone. It is a display of futile symbolic violence by a former imperial power, in keeping with a very British tradition: myopic and devastating military engagements, justified by falsehoods.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.