Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: If Theresa May is so concerned about the plight of Syrians, she should mind her own business

Could Prime Minister's decision to join attack on Assad's regime be result of fake news, asks Alban Maginness

The decision by Prime Minister Theresa May to attack Syrian military installations was dictated by her desire to please President Trump and her equal desire to distract attention from the appalling performance of her Government. The bombing of targets in Syria by the British was a high-risk action bordering on the reckless, and could have had profound consequences - even war with Russia.

It was a serious mistake on two grounds. First, she was toadying to the volatile US President, who has no strategy for resolving the situation in Syria. To slavishly follow Washington's military actions without the approval of the United Nations was contrary to international law.

Secondly, May should have consulted Parliament as to her plans and upon what legal basis she sought to take military action, which, in effect, was an act of war against another country.

Her claim to take action so as to prevent further humanitarian suffering is not a sufficient legal ground for her military action. And consulting Parliament after such attacks is ritualistic window-dressing.

Jeremy Corbyn, quite wisely as the leader of the Opposition, urged restraint until verifiable evidence was available to establish the truth of what had occurred. He has rightly said that the attacks were "legally questionable", because the Prime Minister had not sought "Parliamentary approval" for them.

He posed the pertinent question as to what would happen if the US was to shoot down a Russian plane, or vice versa. He pointed out the acute danger of increasing tensions and clashes in Syria.

What commentators and journalists are now querying is why would Syria have carried out this alleged chemical attack on rebels in Douma, given the fact the rebels themselves had reached a ceasefire agreement to leave the town for another rebel-held region?

The rebel fighters, together with their families (in their thousands), were being bussed to the other region just one day before the alleged chemical attack took place. To carry out a counter-productive strike when they were clearly winning seems extremely odd.

The Russian suggestion that the attack was staged by another Islamic rebel group to discredit Assad should not be dismissed as mere propaganda.

In the murky contemporary world of fake news, there is no certainty of the truth. Both a former British commander of troops in Iraq and Peter Ford, a former British Ambassador to Syria, have expressed their doubts as to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad.

To rush into military action, given the uncertain situation in Syria, was to have taken a huge and unnecessary risk with international peace.

The Syrian civil war is a deeply complex conflict, where no side can claim the moral high ground. It is an enormous tragedy for the long-suffering people of the country.

The Syrian civil war is reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. The multi-faceted Syrian conflict commenced in 2011 and, like the Spanish one, it is a war between brothers and a war of conflicting religious and political ideologies.

The Spanish war was also, in part, a proxy war between the Soviets and the Nazis. Syria is now also a proxy battlefield involving Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Russia and the US.

The Russians backed President Assad and the Americans backed the so-called "moderate" Islamic rebels. Russia's intervention has turned the war militarily in Assad's favour and, within about a year he will control most of his country. His victory may not be welcomed by the West, but he is the lesser of two evils.

The civil war has ended up driving out millions of Syrians as refugees to surrounding Arab countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan, and even Turkey. It has also resulted in the massive exodus of Syrians into the European Union.

That has had a major impact on European politics, pushing it firmly to the Right.

This in turn has led to serious internal tensions within the EU and, in particular, the rise of Islamaphobia acorss the Continent.

Britain, France and the US have a scandalous history of meddling in the Middle East, from the end of the First World War onwards.

This has been fuelled principally by their self-interest in oil and gas. They have also cynically exploited the religious hostility between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

All of this has had huge negative consequences, including the break-up of Libya, the civil war in Yemen and the present Syrian conflict.

In particular, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 shattered the relative stability of the Middle East, leading to the enormous volatility that still threatens international peace today.

The best thing that the West can do for Syria and the Middle East is to butt out - and mind their own business.

Belfast Telegraph

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