Make Britain Great Again: put Britain First

By April 12, 2017February 18th, 2021No Comments

America is our ally – but we must not be its poodle: MICHAEL BURLEIGH says it is sometimes the job of a friend to urge restraint

On the election trail, Donald Trump campaigned on an ‘America First’ ticket

As President with his missile strike on Syria, he has done exactly the opposite

However Trump’s reversal of policy risks a terrifying escalation in global conflict


12 April 2017

The hawks and ‘neocons’ on both sides of the Atlantic who supported our involvement in two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are clearly delighted.

On the election trail, Donald Trump campaigned on an ‘America First’ ticket which promised a new era of reduced US involvement in overseas adventures. As President, however, with his missile strike on Syria, he has done exactly the opposite.

And those ‘neocons’, many of whom are serving in the administration and still unrepentant over Iraq, or in powerful positions in the US Congress where Trump needs their support to push through legislation, are back in business.

The trouble is that Trump’s reversal of policy risks a terrifying escalation in global conflict. Of course we are their ally and should show support, but it is the job of an ally sometimes to urge restraint. Yet Britain is slavishly going along with Trump’s aggression in exactly the same way as when we were America’s poodle over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

There is, of course, no question that the use of chemical weapons on innocent children – or indeed anyone – is an abhorrent war crime.

And, yes, Trump made a powerfully emotive case for teaching the al-Assad government a lesson with a ‘one-off’ and ‘proportionate’ strike at the airbase from which US intelligence says the chemical attack was launched.

But far from being a ‘one-off’, matters have already escalated alarmingly, with talk of regime change horribly reminiscent of the invasion of Iraq as well as the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 which led to Libya’s collapse into complete anarchy.

Tensions with al-Assad’s ally President Putin have been ratcheted up as well, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday declaring that he was ‘toxifying the image of Russia’ and demanding fresh sanctions against the country – a demand humiliatingly rebuffed by the G7 group of nations at a meeting in Italy.

By declaring our unconditional support for the US in this way, we could easily find ourselves dragged into heavy American military intervention in Syria as we hang on to Trump’s coat-tails.

A highly influential Chinese commentator this week relished the prospect of the US getting bogged down in yet another Middle Eastern adventure: ‘If the US gets trapped in Syria, how can Trump make America great again?,’ he asked, before adding, ‘As a result, China will be able to achieve its peaceful rise. Even though we say we oppose the bombing, deep in our hearts we are happy.’

The truth is that Trump’s policy on Syria has turned on a sixpence. When Syria used chemical weapons in 2013, Obama declared he was ready to authorise a military strike against the country but would refer the matter to Congress, which did not vote for it.

At the time, Trump took to Twitter to warn him: ‘What will we get from Syria but more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs congressional approval’.

A striking incoherence has also characterised British policy towards Syria, particularly under Boris Johnson.

Last year, before he became Foreign Secretary, Johnson celebrated the al-Assad Army’s reconquest of ancient Palmyra as ‘a victory for archaeology’ after ISIS had destroyed many treasured Roman buildings during its occupation of the city.

Even two months ago as Foreign Secretary, Johnson recalled an Iraqi guide who, speaking of the late Saddam Hussein, told him: ‘It is better sometimes to have a tyrant than not to have a ruler at all.’

Yet now he is demanding regime change in Syria – even though all the evidence from our misbegotten adventures in Iraq and Libya show that regime change leads to chaos and carnage.

Johnson’s determination yesterday to get his G7 colleagues to impose enhanced sanctions on Russian generals involved in Syria was also illiterate – which is why it was rejected out of hand by Germany and Italy.

It would have surely put the Russian president’s back up to such an extent that it would have completely undermined US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow to persuade Putin to think again about backing al-Assad.

The fact is that, at the moment, we have seen no concrete evidence that al-Assad personally ordered this latest chemical attack – couldn’t it just as easily have been a rogue local commander [or more likely Sunni terrorists]?

And while demands for al-Assad to be deposed continue, there have been no viable suggestions as to who might replace him to ensure peace returns to the country. Unpalatable though it may appear, he seems likely to be the only person able to bring peace to that benighted country – albeit by crushing his enemies.

From this episode Johnson emerges as a lightweight figure, with little real influence and an erratic grasp of what truly is at stake.

To understand the risks of Britain’s involvement, we need to consider the cause of the civil war in Syria and why it has lasted a full six years and counting.

Soon after it started in 2011 as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, it degenerated into a deadly proxy war, involving Russia and Iran and Hizbollah Shiites on President al-Assad’s side, and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey helping the Sunni Islamist anti-Assad rebels. Many of these rebel groups are extremists – allies and proxies of al-Qaeda, which will grow stronger as ISIS weakens.

One perennial Western delusion throughout this conflict has been that there is anyone left resembling a ‘moderate’ opposition group to step into al-Assad’s shoes if he goes.

The slaughter has also been on both sides – we constantly read reports of at least ‘400,000’ dead but that actually includes anywhere between 114,474 and 163,753 combatants on the Syrian government side.

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