Stop the War have managed to make Boris Johnson a sudden beacon of virtue – not easily done. They have also forced me to take his side on something, which makes me rather grumpy.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons that he would like to encourage people to protest outside of the Russian embassy in London on account of the atrocities committed by that country in Syria. Now, we could ask Boris why he as foreign secretary of one of the world’s most powerful countries feels that calling upon protestors is the best means of achieving a foreign policy end, but nonetheless, I was glad to hear full throated condemnation of Russia’s latest actions – which let us remind ourselves involve intentionally targeting civilian targets – from the FCO.
Stop the War’s reaction has revealed all that has gone wrong with that organisation. Started in 2001 to oppose any silly invasions occurring in the wake of 9/11, they were proved correct on Iraq. Unfortunately, the lesson taken away from that inside the organisation seems to have been that any intervention by western powers anywhere is bad – and any intervention by any counter-western power such as Russia is automatically good. How this world view stops any wars is beyond me, but I digress.
After Boris’ call to action, STW have said that they do not think protests “would make a blind bit of difference”, a strange statement that seems to negate their entire raison d’etre (if protests don’t work why bother involving oneself in a protest group at all?). They have also said they exist to petition the UK government, not foreign ones (which makes a nonsense of their protests outside of the US embassy in years past as a result).
Of course, everything that Stop the War says and does would be of minor significance were it not for the fact that one of its major moral sponsors and a significant mouthpiece for the organisation is the current leader of the opposition. So we have Seamus Milne saying that discussing Russian atrocities “diverts” from any mention of what the western powers are supposedly doing in the region. Putting aside the practical problems with Milne’s take on all this, let’s simply deal here with the moral implications. From the Labour comms director’s statement, we can only conclude that atrocities are admittedly happening inside of Syria and that he thinks both Russia and the US are committing them, only in his opinion the US ones are somehow worse. So why would the solution to that then be to not talk about any of them at all and to suggest by inference that this will all somehow work itself out of its own accord?
The only way that Stop the War’s stance on Syria makes sense is if you accept the following things as truth; as rules even: 1). The West should never get involved militarily anywhere for any reason 2). Russia has the right to do what it likes in Syria and the West cannot even comment as this breaks rule one 3). What happens to the Syrian people is ultimately not a concern of those of us in the West; we ceded all rights to such a thing by invading Iraq 4). even if the Syrian people think that western intervention is desperately necessary, this still does nothing to negate the all powerful rule one.
The third of those assumptions is the most difficult for STW and its supporters to actually live with in practical terms. While we are not meant to get involved in any way in Syria, it is still somehow our moral duty to accept the fall out from what happens there, increasingly as a direct result of Russia’s actions, namely to accept as many refugees as come our way. While I myself would argue for accepting refugees in spite of our seeming lack of desire to get involved in the conflict other than to exhort protestors to park outside of Russia’s London embassy, I wish Stop the War and those at the top of the Labour Party could see how others might find that position utterly ridiculous. The cliché “you reap what you sow” has never felt more apt.