Here are four words I didn’t expect to write: Jeremy Corbyn is right. He’s right on the question of whether Britain should bomb Syrian rebels, or whomever and whatever it is that’s going to suffer the misfortune of occupying the particular piece of ground to be subjected to a shower of British airborne ordnance.
Actually, come to think of it, I secretly – or at least quietly – agree with much of what Jeremy says. Or, to put it another way, I agree with him objectively but not subjectively.
I’m not a pacifist even though I lean in that direction; unless, that is, I’m confronted by someone obviously up to no good prowling around my house – or as I might have been in the Second World War, when jack-booted Germans were intent on imposing a Fascist regime on my country and eliminating a large ethnic portion of the community in the process.
Nor am I a vegetarian, or a teetotaller. I share his atheism. I’ll even admit to being queasy about Britain’s devotion to nuclear weapons, although I’ve listened to opinions that persuade me that the moral issue is at least arguable. Moreover, I’m a republican at heart, even if I can’t work up enough intellectual energy to be as ardent about it as he is.
The trouble is that when Jeremy is right it’s usually for reasons that have nothing to do with reality but are taken from a little red book of dogma. Like the one his shadow chancellor last week flung across the dispatch box in the House of Commons as part of his response to the Autumn Budget Statement.
Jeremy says he doesn’t want Britain to bomb targets in Syria because he thinks it’s wrong to bomb anyone. Fair enough. But he and some of his associates now in the shadow cabinet conspicuously failed to parade their pacifist principles during the Irish Troubles, when the victims were British citizens, and most of them not wearing a British military uniform. Nor did he seem in the least bothered a year ago when Valdimir Putin was killing Ukrainians for reasons that may have been clear to Corbyn and Putin but were unclear to everyone else – including, of course, the Ukrainians themselves.
Last week, Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor and now some kind of defence consultant for the Labour Party, defended the July 2007 London bomb attacks as the actions of people fighting for a cause in which they believed. Would he have said the same of the Gestapo, or of members of those special units with the unfathomable name assigned to rounding up Jews across Europe and consigning them to ovens? It wasn’t said then because the people in question were evil, in most cases quite mad, and intent on conquest.
Sounds familiar in the modern context, doesn’t it?
The problem with Corbyn’s prescriptive Leftism is just that, it’s prescriptive. And its principles are always applied selectively. There is no context. Context is just an excuse bandied about by running-dog capitalists and post-imperial adventurers.
What Corbyn and Livingstone can’t accept is that Islamist terrorists in Syria, or wherever, are not freedom fighters. They are religious extremists of a type every bit as odious, ruthless and mad as the Nazis and their fellow travellers of the last century.
Why, then, do I oppose bombing targets in Syria?
The answer is that it will achieve nothing. Western interventions in the Middle East and other countries within the orbit of Islam have so far proved to be disastrous – recently as in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, historically in a dozen other places, many now forgotten. Air strikes have proved to be inaccurate and so, ineffective, for all the claims to the contrary made in the name of technology. (Churchill’s phrase, “the lights of perverted science” comes to mind.) Allied soldiers have been killed in the thousands defending territory that reverts to a supposedly inferior enemy as soon as they’ve vacated it. Unpleasant dictators have been toppled, it’s true, but the vacuum of governance that followed them has been filled with nothing but chaos and bloody anarchy.
We in the western alliances have no more idea what really goes on in these countries than we know what goes on in distant planets that, perhaps mercifully, we’re yet unable to reach.
We’re considering bombing Syrian targets for no more reason than an emotional response to the Paris attacks. Or because President Obama wants us to play a fuller role, as the Americans always do. Or because, as one columnist put it, we don’t want to be “left out”.
Having been dragged into the Gulf War – how long ago that now seems – and into Iraq and Afghanistan, with few discernible advantages, we’re being invited, with every prospect of accepting, to do the same again.
President Hollande has asked for it. We feel his pain, or feel that we ought to. It would, ergo, be churlish and disloyal to turn him down.
Nor will we.