Posts Tagged ‘Lee Butcher’

There’s more to helping Syria than air strikes

02/09/2013, 12:37:09 PM

by Lee Butcher

Parliament has spoken. Cameron’s rushed attempt to convince the nation of the need for intervention in Syria has failed. The reason and culprits will be debated for a long time to come yet. Whether intended or not a signal has been sent out to our international partners that if they want our support they are going to have to provide compelling reasons for doing so; in failing to do so Barack Obama and David Cameron have damaged their cause, for that they only have themselves to blame.

While I will not dwell on the possible reasons for the failure of that vote, the issue of chemical weapons is worth briefly addressing if for no other reason but to question the consensus that something must be done because of their use. The talk of the near century old norm to stop their use rests on rather dubious historical ground. A recent and notable example is Britain’s support for Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran between 1980 and 1988, a period which saw him deploy large scale chemical attacks against the Iranians and against civilians in Halabja.

As cynical as that policy was there is little evidence that it was followed by a sudden outburst of chemical weapons use by other powers because we failed to oppose him. On the moral grounds of action, it is worth questioning a morality which regards being killed by a bullet or a bomb (a cause of death responsible for over 100,000 people) as being better than being gassed. This is something which the supporters of this action will have to address themselves. As far as helping potential chemical victims, an alternative suggestion worth considering can be seen in this opinion piece from the New Scientist magazine.

The Labour party ought to now consider where next for engagement with the Syrian crisis and what Plan B from the government we can support. In seeking a limited response to the use of chemical weapons the government have opened up heartfelt moral concerns about the on-going suffering in Syria. Those who have voiced such concerns must realise last week’s vote, even if won, would not have addressed them. Their concerns inevitably widen our view on the crisis.

The government, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander should embrace this new found interest in Syria. Now that military options are limited we should see this as an opportunity to focus our minds on what else can be done for the Syrian people. If that occurs last week’s vote may well have a positive outcome for Syria.


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For the sake of Syria, tread lightly

27/08/2013, 03:39:39 PM

by Lee Butcher

In a sudden about turn Britain may well be heading into its second small Middle Eastern war since the Arab spring. It would appear that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale, a means of purveying death clearly far worse than the many others inflicted upon the Syrian people in the past two years.

What occurred in that attack in a Damascus suburb was an atrocity, indeed, perhaps even a crime against humanity? Our urge to help is a positive one, but it is an urge that needs to be controlled by sober analysis.

As in all cases of conflict and human rights violation the devil is in the detail. On Thursday the Government will have to detail to parliament what it feels we and our allies can do for the Syrians, and what our planning is for the ramifications of any actions that result. If that case cannot be made convincingly the breaks should be firmly applied to any march to war.

A number of reservations should be foremost in the mind of the parliamentarians. Firstly, what is the scale of our involvement? An Iraq style invasion is almost certainly out of the question, but will any involvement be limited to chemical weapons caches, or will it take the form of Libya and be a wide ranging operation against Syria’s air force, armour and artillery and will it include targeting communications and logistics infrastructure? If the latter than we can perhaps call it an enforcement measure against a certain form of warfare we disagree with, if it is the former the aim is clearly regime change.

That latter aim presents a number of problems, all of them already highlighted. If Assad goes who takes over? What contacts with and what confidence do we have in the rebels? In order to avenge one atrocity (the results of which no amount of military action can now remedy), and presumably in order to stop likewise happening again, we must consider any potential, and unintended, consequences.

Should the balance of power be tilted in favour of the rebels the international community needs to become concerned about those groups who remained largely in support of Assad, most notably the minority Alawite group. If by stopping one group being massacred we enable another group to be targeted the overall humanitarian impact will be neutral (that is to say, just as horrific as the present).


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A response to Labour’s military interventionists

23/07/2013, 06:51:04 PM

by Lee Butcher

Kirsty McNeill and Andrew Small’s contribution to Progress Online on “the interventionist dilemma” reopens an important but neglected debate within the party. The pre-eminence of the ‘interventionists’ (as they term it) within the Blair and Brown governments were key to how the last government acted out in the world, and the consequences that had for those on the receiving end and for the party’s popularity at home.

The silence on this matter of the party since returning to opposition has seen discussions about the future, or otherwise, of interventionism within the party largely neglected. This is partly due to the convention of opposition parties sticking close by the government on such matters, and partly to avoid reopening the barely healed wounds of Iraq. Such a debate ought to be had before returning government. On this I would agree with McNeill and Small, there however is where my agreement with their analysis ends.

There is an assumption that runs throughout their article that British intervention overseas is not just desirable, but is of critical value to ourselves and to the rest of the world. They make a rather curious assertion that because of American withdrawal from foreign commitments a future Labour government will need to immediately budget for doing so ourselves. Though they do not explicitly say so, one would ask if this would be done on a unilateral basis. This view would seem to be contradicted by an example they cite, Libya, which was done with close co-operation with France. The evidence would strongly suggest that if it is not the Americans we accompany into such pursuits it is our European partners. To believe that the United Kingdom can aspire to going it alone does not take into account the size and strength of our armed forces and what they are capable of achieving. This has been made plainly clear by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

If McNeill and Small get their way and Prime Minister Miliband instructs Chancellor Balls to budget for increased military spending while critical spending at home is being squeezed, they will quickly find they lack the support of their Labour colleagues in Parliament and vast swathes of the electorate. For all the recent support for the military, spending on wars abroad remains unpopular when schools and hospitals are falling to pieces.


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The trouble with ‘45

03/07/2013, 05:35:56 PM

by Lee Butcher

Emerging phoenix like from the ashes of 2010 is proving somewhat more difficult than initially expected by some in the Labour party. The shattered economy, left ruined by the fiendish bankers, found the party holding the can and going down to a historically poor election defeat.

The usual fissures in the party have opened up and among the unsurprising and entirely unoriginal bickering between left and right about who is to blame, and who will resurrect the party in time for 2015, a certain wistful gaze over the historical shoulders of the movement has began.

The ‘right’ may have stopped looking back when arriving at Mr Blair’s lofty shoulders but the loosely defined ‘left’ have taken it upon themselves to cast their gaze back further into the distant past coming to a halt at the heady days of July 1945. Ken Loach’s nostalgic documentary outing, soon to be a regular repeat on Film 4, was the cultural firing gun of this endeavour.

A country whose recent past had left its economy close to bankruptcy and social ills crying out for remedy; 1945 and 2015 have never felt so similar. These observations are not entirely incorrect and any wise head in the party would do well to ask what Clement Attlee’s band of post-war “revolutionaries” has to teach us.

The problem is not that it is the wrong question to ask, the problem is that the answers returned are incomplete. As with all matters historical and political, the devil lay firmly in the detail.

As the proponents of such a view argue Attlee & Co. faced a fiscal crisis worse than our own and went on to dramatically increase public spending. They did it, so can we! They are entirely correct, but that enthusiasm can only be dampened when it comes to how they did it.

Britain’s economy, then as now, was in great trouble. Bankrupt is the term employed by most post-war historians to describe the Treasury’s books. George Osborne may have been rendered dumbfounded by a certain predecessor’s note informing him of the fiscal situation, Hugh Dalton must have been rendered incandescent at the sight of most of Britain’s cities laying in ruins.

In response to the fiscal legacy left by the work of the Luftwaffe’s finest, and the unbearable burden of maintaining over one million men in uniform scattered across the world, and the government picking up the bill for thousands conscripted to keep the essential industries running, Attlee and Dalton came to much the same conclusion as Messrs Cameron and Osborne; we need to cut spending.


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Why seeing is believing on life for the Palestinians

27/05/2013, 10:20:20 AM

by Lee Butcher

A delegation of Labour party members returned last week from a five day tour of the Palestinian West Bank. The campaign group Labour2Palestine have now sent 100 party members to the troubled country to see for themselves the on-going hardships faced daily by the Palestinians.

It is a fair question to ask why party members should choose to do so, and why it is important for the Labour party to have informed members that can speak knowledgeably from firsthand experience on this subject.

The party’s attitude to this ever recurring topic has been largely unchanged since a weary Labour government in 1947 left the country to their own devices with more than a sigh of relief. Since then the left of Nye Bevan has moved from enthusiastic support for Israel to a commitment to Palestinian solidarity, and the right of Bevin and Attlee has moved from Arab sympathy to enthusiastic Israeli support. Entrenched ideology runs deep within our party on this matter.

The 5 days I experienced in Palestine demonstrated to me that the realities of hardship and persecution faced by the Palestinians ought not to be abstracted as we done over our history. The realities cannot be fully realised in the briefing papers of international bodies, government departments or spun by campaign groups. They have to be witnessed to be understood.

Military occupation is a sensory experience; twenty foot high walls, observation tours, ever present armed soldiers, the intimidation of questioning by a teenager holding a gun, cages that serve as “checkpoints”, the acrid smell of Israeli tear gas that pours over unarmed protestors; all of this I and my fellow Labour party members witnessed in the West Bank.

Emotion is difficult to escape when you visit refugee camps, established in 1948, where the residents tell you of having access to water once a month from a single communal pump as very young children play in the streets festooned with uncollected rubbish. Where a young man tells you of the night when armed soldiers, arriving at 2am, seized him and his younger brother (only 15 years old) after which they faced military interrogation for days, without access to lawyers or their parents, eventually being convicted of throwing stones by a military court and spending four years in jail as a result.


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