And who shall I say is calling

The postman was late.

My dog pooed in the street.

Local schools face budget cuts.

The Windrush generation have their citizenship rights threatened, and

Terrorists are everywhere.

And the link?…It’s all the fault of the Russians.

Such is the state of meltdown in national politics that paranoia and misinformation form the principle ‘avoidance’ weapons the Tories now have for deflecting attention from the mess they are in. As Judgment Day approaches in the Brexit debacle, government deflections will become all the more bizarre.

So it is that we are asked to believe not just that Putin is a thug and a tyrant. His stooges are apparently able to hack into my dog’s digestive system, disrupt UK mail services and sabotage Britain’s social infrastructure. For a government in crisis, the great value of social paranoia is that it confuses reality with fantasy.

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,

Once we cease to distinguish between what we are responsible for and what we’re not, government escapes the responsibility for anything; especially if it can shift the blame onto an external enemy.

It is with real sadness that I offer this as the backdrop to the charade of Syrian bombings.

Let us be clear. Nothing about the West’s bombings amounted to a strategy. Nothing was ‘nipped in the bud’. 400,000 Syrian’s have already died in the 7 year conflict. Five million people are refugees and 13.5 million need humanitarian assistance. The Syrian carnage will continue until there is a diplomatic solution.

And who by avalanche, who by powder,

No Syrian ‘capacity was degraded’ by the destruction of empty or abandoned facilities. Commentators within the region point out that the bombing specifically avoided any ‘political’ hits. There was no targeting of Assad’s Presidential Palace or of the Syrian Security HQ. No Iranian interests, Hezbollah assets, Syrian Army key capabilities, or Russian deployments were degraded. No Syrian helicopters – the apparent source of the chemical barrel bombs – were destroyed.

At best, the bombing was a symbolic gesture, at worst a dangerous one. Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” statement made it clear this was the end of US involvement. It is a long haul from any Syrian peace strategy.

British MPs who sang the Prime Minister’s praise for not consulting parliament betrayed the responsibilities the public bestowed on them. Failing to recall Parliament for an ‘in principle’ debate and vote was an act of political weakness, not strength.

Syria is a war that cannot be won by bombing. Peace negotiations never reached a stage where they could be said to have stalled. Sending an Armada of British diplomats – or seizing large swathes of Assad’s (or Russian) assets – would have made more sense than jumping into Trump’s fickle interventionism.

And who by fire, who by water,

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,

Putin made Russia look foolish or cynical (or both), trying to claim that the use of chemical weapons was a western fabrication. The civilian casualties spoke for themselves. More difficult, however, is the question of who fired the chemical weapons?

Assad has to be the main suspect, but Jaysh al-Islam (the main jihadist group fighting out last ditch battles in ‘their’ enclave of the Ghouta district) also has form, in its use of chemical weapons in Aleppo. In their toe-to-toe battles with Assad’s Special Forces, either side could have lobbed in the chlorine. Civilians are the only innocents caught up in the carnage. Everyone else is using the 7 year war for wider geo-political purposes.

Assad wants to destroy any internal Syrian ‘democracy’ movement. Putin isn’t bothered by democracy. He just wants Western disunity and a route to the sea for Russian gas. Turkey wants a right to bomb Syrian Kurds. Saudi Arabia and Israel want a war with Iran (or at least a proxy one with Hezbollah in Syria). Trump’s Secretary of State (John Bolton) wants a war with anyone. And Theresa May just wants to be told which way to bomb.

A world that cries out for giants is being led by pygmies.

And who by brave assent, who by accident,

Who in solitude, who in this mirror

Britain used to have reputation for its diplomatic understanding of the complex dynamics of Middle East politics. Thatcher squandered this. Blair then made a mockery of it by fostering the belief that regime change was a legitimate part of UK foreign policy. Britain’s biggest liability, however, was his gifting of UK foreign policy to America’s neo-Cons. Trump merely takes this from fanaticism into folly, and May duly follows.

We seem to have learnt nothing from the debacles of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Superior firepower delivered ‘victories’ that turned into ever unfolding defeat. Asymmetric warfare delivered asymmetric retaliation; where random acts of terror followed random bombing raids.

So where do we turn? One starting point could be to ask both the Norwegian peace negotiators and the former Weapons Inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baredi, to take a lead. The Norwegians have been brilliant at what Britain used to be best at – finding diplomatic solutions.

Who for his greed, who for his hunger,

However much I dislike him, this will probably involve leaving Assad in place in exchange for a degree of secular democracy that the initial protests called for. Jihadists could not be part of such a deal but everyone else has a stake in rebuilding a secure existence somewhere beyond the rubble.

The role of Blix and El Baredi would be to set up an Inspectorate to replicate what they did in Iraq: dismantling chemical weapons stocks (and the case for war). Their criticism of how the UN has been neutered is absolutely valid. But if leverage is needed to remove Russian and Syrian obstacles it would be far better for the West to target the financial assets of Russian oligarchs and the Syrian Royal family. These are predominantly bunkered down in the City of London not in empty buildings in Damascus.

My guess is that Jeremy Corbyn would be far happier to back raids on the wealth that underpins the war, rather than on empty buildings that don’t. Britain could even pledge to put the seized money into Syrian reconstruction and refugee support.

Who by very slow decay,

Sadly, the government has no more interest in Syria than in the bigger issues it avoids. Global debt is twice the level it was in the 2008 crash. Climate change is cascading ‘freak weather’ events at us at a pace we’ve never seen. ‘Old Energy’ demands the ongoing subsidies that block any chance of meeting carbon reduction targets. And Brexit delusions are set to become their own car crash as the full failure of government negotiations becomes clear.

This is why external enemies become important. It is why the Tories will increasingly foster paranoia, social division and confusion. Their ‘unity’ and ‘national interest’ calls will be rooted in fear and lies. So, whatever the war drum, and whoever we’re asked to blame next (for problems rooted elsewhere), first ask

And who shall I say is calling?

If the answer is Theresa or Donald, put the phone down. The only people being targeted is us.

Alan Simpson

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