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As Syrian Intervention Looms, Can We Trust David Cameron on Foreign Policy?

28/06/2013 11:24 BST | Updated 27/08/2013 10:12 BST

The members of the 'Euston Left', journalists such as Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch, the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and the ubiquitous neoconservative and former deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, have vociferously made the case in the last few months for a 'Western intervention' in the Syrian civil war, apparently to reduce the death toll and export that great gift: liberal democracy.

One question that has consistently been ducked by the warmongering interventionists, who range from encouraging arms sales to jihadis to openly calling for the abandonment of all negotiations, is this: Can we trust David Cameron when it comes to foreign policy?

Some have argued unconvincingly that because the pile of bodies in Syria is higher than 'this stage' in Iraq, it should be self-evident that a bit of militarism and light bombing would actually save lives. That pro-war liberals are still using the Iraq logic in their arguments shows how disconnected from reality they are, and how naive they are when it comes to the nature of the Iraq venture, its consequences, and its typicality as an act of humanitarian barbarism.

They ignore how it was the United States, by arming and funding Shia death squads who ethnically cleansed whole regions of Iraq, that drove that death toll up. They ignore the white phosphorous dropped on Fallujah during the woefully ill-titled 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. The Iraq Body Count, seen by the Guardian as the most accurate estimate of violent deaths, puts the figure at over 110,000, whilst incorporating non-violent deaths sees the figures spiral towards over a million, and at least four million refugees. All of this destruction so the George W. Bush could agree a dealt with the Iraqi government in 2007 that commits Iraq to facilitate and encourage "the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments."

The nakedly self-serving nature of that humanitarian intervention turned humanitarian catastrophe was capped with a 2008 agreement for the British fossil fuels company Shell to own 49% of Iraq's national gas company.

Surely after the Iraq debacle, and the £37bn spent by Britain in Afghanistan only to begin holding talks with the Taliban, both wars which David Cameron supported, we shouldn't need a reminder of how the prime minister prioritises interests abroad.

The current repression being visited on Bahrain's pro-democracy activists is made possible by the UK, who sold 'crowd control' items to Bahrain including CS hand grenades, which have been used in the crackdowns that have killed 72 people so far. Cameron also allowed the sale of crowd control weapons to Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, where British companies again profited from the suppression of democracy. Before the uprising in Libya broke out, David Cameron had flown to the country flanked by arms dealers. This was David Cameron's record before the Arab Spring broke: a contractor for the dictators.

But didn't the intervention in Libya work? Isn't it a better place now? This is often how the argument runs. Whilst the no-fly zone and bombing may have prevented some casualties (as well as causing some) the outcome has been far from the liberal democratic panacea the interventionists promised. Richard Seymour has noted how Libya, as a classic oil-rich rentier economy, had close ties between the Gaddafi regime and the oil business. Those figures are now the ones packed into the National Transitional Council, running the state.

Forces loyal to the National Transitional Council have carried out ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Tuaregs, and Amnesty International has criticised the deportation of 25,000 people from Libya since May 2012. This is supposed to be the 'good' intervention, but it never works out as well as the interventionists claim it will.

The reality is that Libya has been as 'good' for Cameron and the hawks as Iraq. The uncooperative Gaddafi and Hussein regimes were removed, and more pliable clients put in place. This is the motivation behind Western intervention. Control of natural resources and access to markets. That the Labour party joined Bush's war is a another black mark against the foreign policy history of a party that has never been anything close to socialist in its international ventures.

Now we will hear the same arguments over Syria. Bashar al-Assad will inevitably be compared to Hitler, as if Western intervention in World War Two was in anyway related to the Nazi holocaust (the RAF declined to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, stating it would divert valuable resources). The Munich comparison will be made again, and anyone who dares suggest that a re-run of Iraq, Afghanistan or any other Western imperial project would not be in the interests of the Syrians, will be denounced as a Chamberlain.

Now, given David Cameron's record as I have outlined, is he really the man to trust with the 'liberation' of the Syrians? The question is not so much, will Cameron be able to impose a stable, liberal democracy in Syria, but rather, does he actually want one?