The Blog

Labour's Road to Damascus - The Case for Intervention in Syria

When the choice to support action against Isis is laid before Labour MPs, they should vote to back it. As a country, we should vote against Assad, and against collusion with Russia's wars. We should vote for Syria.

Four babies died in the Aegean this week. They died together, refugees from a Syria they never knew, in the cabin of a boat that had overturned. Five women and two children died with them.

Winter is coming, and the seas are getting rougher. People who need to get out of Syria are taking the risks that are killing them.

Imagine climbing onto a boat in winter, knowing that storms are rolling in and that you are taking that risk not just for yourself but for your baby. And that you have no choice but to take that risk because your government is trying to kill you.

Syrian refugees are running with their children because they have no choice but to run.

Syria is becoming the conflict on the edge of Europe that shames the world. Ten million people there are outside their homes this winter. They will die of cold, and they will die in conflict, and they will die of disease.

They are dying of cold, and they are dying on conflict and they are dying of disease, and it is while they have been dying - while Russian weapons are being used against civilians in Syria - that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee decided there is no basis for British intervention.

That is little better than looking away from Syria altogether.

There is absolutely a basis for intervention, and Labour should be making it.

Most of the refugees are fleeing regime bombing, just as most of the dead have been killed by regime bombs.

Moscow's eyes are on Assad - their man in Damascus. Moscow will never accept, can never accept, that Assad's writ should run through 30% of the country. On paper however, the reason is different. Russia is in Syria to hit back at Islamic State, who have made gains in the interior of the country.

It is that difference between declared and real motivation that explains why time and time again we have seen Russian missiles strike not where they are supposed to strike, but up to 200km away. Why time and again, we have seen strikes not against Isis targets, but against the independent actors, civilians and anti-regime forces who want to see Assad gone.

It is Isis who have benefited from Russia's strikes, taking ground previously held by rebel forces.

Russia is playing a game of poisoning the well. Let Isis have Aleppo and Hama first, and then who will stop us? How will the world say no to re-extension of the writ, when there are not three main groups but two, and one of them a terror-state?

The terror-state that Russia's intervention has aided.

The conflict in Syria is a collusive conflict, in which the north is being systematically weakened, in preparation for it one day to be reclaimed.

The humanitarian implications - the implications for refugee flight - are unthinkable.

The UK should not be drawn into Moscow's games. We should act as we should always act, only in the interests of the Syrian people, and the refugees caught up in this terrible conflict.

Right now, that means strikes. Strikes to pin Isis in the desert - and to stop this appalling cult taking the path that has been opened for them. Strikes that Russia cannot oppose - because Russia say they too are in Syria to fight Isis.

The limited, politic strikes that we know make a difference.

Over the summer Isis struggled to pay their foreign fighters. Isis uses mercenaries, from a dozen global conflicts. Strikes on their cash convoys - the convoys transporting the millions of dollars that they take from the oil fields, stopped the cash coming, and for a while, limited the harm.

That is the type of intervention that David Cameron should propose, and Labour should back. Intervention to secure the north a breathing space over the winter, to defer the worst impacts of the coming humanitarian disaster, and secure an opportunity to hold Russia to account.

It is not the strikes against ISIS that are the point, but the real war that we should be fighting on behalf of Syria. The clever war, based not on bombs but on smartphones and the proof of civilian deaths, and the harsh glare of the world's attention.

Thanks to the tools developed by brilliant investigative journalists like Eliot Higgins and his Bellingcat foundation, we have more information than we have ever had from a country in the middle of conflict. We can pin down almost every strike, gather social media footage, collate tweets, and text messages, and pictures posted to Instagram. We can tell the world what is happening.

We can show Vladimir Putin that the jets, the 'volunteer forces' and the barrel bombs have consequences, and that for every civilian death that drives a hundred more refugees overseas - he will be accountable.

This is the new reality of modern conflict and the reason that Isis bans mobile phones. We can see, and show the world, Syria's conflict through the eyes of Syrian civilians, and of all the people who pay the current cost.

And we can make sure footage - like the plume of smoke at the Russian base in Damascus on the day that Vladimir Kostenko died, finds its way to Moscow.

Kostenko was the first Russian soldier to die in Syria. Moscow says Kostenko committed suicide. Kostenko's parents think Moscow lied, and you have to wonder, why are Moscow scared?

Because there is no such thing as a proxy war now. We fight in transparency - provided that the world is prepared to look on.

If Syria is Putin's latest foreign adventure, we will make him take his adventure home.

And it works. Every time we have shown Putin that he will face the world's attention, he has backed down. First he said he would support talks, then elections, then that the barrel bombs would stop.

Standing up to Putin has worked, and it will work again. But it only works for as long as Moscow feels Syria has the world's attention and our commitment to resolution. Right now, British support for action in Syria is the way to show that commitment.

The government says that in the wake of the Foreign Policy Select Committee report, their policy has not changed. A vote may yet be held in parliament.

When the choice to support action against Isis is laid before Labour MPs, they should vote to back it.

As a country, we should vote against Assad, and against collusion with Russia's wars.

We should vote for Syria.

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