Labour has the power to prevent us getting into a conflict we cannot resolve. Jeremy Corbyn, for once, has got it right.
Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge to David Cameron on the bombing of Syria is unanswerable, and every Labour MP knows it. So too is his explanation of his position in his letter to his party. A British prime minister’s statement on the eve of war should never be taken at face value. We have heard these bombastic calls to foreign aggression – festooned with jingoist opinion polls – too many times. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, windy rhetoric and strategic waffle have substituted for rational argument. Cameron’s statement yesterday, full of talk of values, ways of life and examined consciences, was a classic of the genre.
Corbyn’s Labour enemies, consumed with hatred for his clique, were yesterday rerunning Suez. They were frantic, not about the bombing of Syria, but about being outflanked by a cynical Tory party on a matter of peace and war. Bombing Syria has nothing to do with terrorism, except possibly to increase the likelihood of it in Britain. It has nothing positive to contribute to Britain’s national security, which is not currently under threat. The idea that Isis might undermine British values is an insult to those values. That it might attain a caliphate in the Mile End Road is a fantasy of men shut up too long in a Cobra bunker.
The one remotely sensible objective of a resumed British engagement in the Middle East would be to restore a modicum of order to Syria and Iraq. But as long as the governments of neither state, nor of other states in the region, are willing to offer troops to this end, the chances of the west succeeding on its own are minimal – or at best likely to be temporary. There are some conflicts even Great Britain might be powerless to resolve.
Isis will eventually disintegrate on its own. Trying to crush it will win it support and require a land army on the scale assembled to liberate Kuwait in 1991. Cameron has specifically said he would not join such an army, though such pledges against mission creep are worthless. For the moment, there is no such ground force to make bombing strategically effective. All we are offered is a sickening bombing party, a gesture, a show of machismo, a gift to the arms salesman, a hot flush from a military briefing.
In the shambolic attic that is Corbyn’s political brain, sanity on military intervention shines with the light of clarity. He has backed down on too many proclaimed beliefs to abandon this one too. He should stick to his argument. As the Commons foreign select committee has declared (but lacks the guts to confirm), there is no case for this bombing. Corbyn’s colleagues know he is right and should back him.
With luck, that might stop Cameron from charging into yet another foolish foreign adventure simply to look good. When Britain tries to look good, it ends up looking stupid. And this time is would be Labour’s fault.