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Let’s not forget that Russia is still the lesser evil in Syria

12 October 2016

12:52 PM

12 October 2016

12:52 PM

It’s a funny feeling, I have to say, to find myself, again, on the same side as the Stop the War Coalition. But you know what? Looks like neither of us is going to be turning up for a demo outside the Russian embassy to protest about its actions in Syria, as the Foreign Secretary was recommending in yesterday’s Commons debate on Syria.

‘Where is Stop the War Coalition at the moment?’ Boris Johnson demanded, in an apparent attempt to outdo the anti-war lot in humanitarian outrage. He did, however, seem a bit more reserved about one suggestion raised in the debate, that the UK should actually police a no-fly zone in Syria, which Andrew Mitchell, who initiated yesterday’s debate, seems to favour. So…Britain shooting down Russian planes in Syria…mmm.

The vice chair of Stop the War, Chris Nineham, observed on the Today programme this morning that there is an effort right now to see Russia as the sole villain in Syria. Well, quite. One looked in vain yesterday for anyone in the Commons, including the Foreign Secretary, sounding off against Islamic State, or brooding on the difficulties of squaring support for the Kurds opposing IS with our alliance with Turkey. Or sounding off about the problem of being on the same side as Saudi Arabia on this one, and what we should make of Iranian involvement in this sectarian war.

Or indeed any reflection on the reality that this is a civil war in which the odious President Assad – the barrel and cluster bombs merchant – is being opposed by a coalition of rebels, some of which we wouldn’t touch with an iron girder in normal circumstances (the US signally failed to clear al Nusra fighters out of the rebel coalition) and lots of whom routinely use civilians as human shields in places like Aleppo.

The Russians seem to have been responsible for bombing a humanitarian aid convoy, which is plainly deplorable – but, rather more to the point, they, the Syrian Army and the Kurds are the forces actually driving Islamic State back from the areas it occupies in Syria (while, obviously, attacking the rebels at the same time).

My own view is that our priority in Syria should be the elimination of Islamic State, which has perpetrated genocide against, for instance, the Yazidis, and which signatories to the Geneva Convention are under an obligation to prevent and punish – except we haven’t. If that means regarding the Syrian army, their Russian allies and the Iranians as the lesser evil and acting accordingly, well that’s the inexorable logic. The awful thing there is that this leaves me in pretty well the same position on Syria as Donald Trump. But you know, he’s allowed to be right on one thing.

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