Emily Thornberry writes:
On this day, 15 years ago, I joined about one million others in central London to. We were not just part of the biggest political demonstration in British history, but the largest simultaneous protest event in the world, with . We gathered in Hyde Park and heard many famous voices speaking out against the war, from Labour politician Tony Benn to playwright Harold Pinter.
When Jeremy Corbyn took the stage, he too was a familiar face to all peace march veterans and Islington residents like myself, but less so to other members of the crowd. But his words. He asked why we could afford to spend billions on a war nobody wanted while children around the world were dying of poverty and starvation. And he warned of the risks in invading Iraq: “It will set off a spiral of conflict, of hate, of misery and of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression and misery of future generations.”
How terrifyingly right he was. And again when he made the same arguments in respect of Libya and Syria. In the 2011 debate on Libya, as a backbencher under Ed Miliband, Corbyn warned: “We have not thought through the implications of what we are doing.” I for one should have listened, rather than obeying thethree-line whip.
And as party leader, his speech in the 2015 Syria debate – pilloried by the Tory government and Labour critics at the time – now reads like the cries of Cassandra. Corbyn warned that with no credible Syrian opposition forces, no long-term strategy and no plan for a political settlement, the refugee crisis and civilian casualties would only grow, and mission creep was inevitable.
“Is it right,” he asked, “for us here in Westminster to see a problem, pass a motion and drop bombs, pretending we are doing something to solve it? That is what we did in Afghanistan,and Libya. To oppose another war and intervention is not pacifism; it is hard-headed common sense.” Instead, he said, all Britain’s efforts should be directed to producing a peaceful and just political settlement to the war. More than two years on, that goal is further away than ever, even though the justification for the US-led coalition’s intervention in Syria – denying Islamic State a haven – was achieved months ago.
Just in the past four weeks, we have seen unprecedented levels of escalation, aggression and land-grabbing by the competing foreign powers enmeshed in this terrible war. he US announces plans for an “open-ended” occupation of northern Syria; Turkey launches a brutal assault on Kurdish-held areas; Russian and coalition bombers trade devastating blows against each other’s proxy armies; Israel launches its biggest air strikes inside Syria for 36 years in response tosending a drone across its borders; and the Gulf states continue to feed money and weapons to the dwindling opposition and jihadist militias.
Needless to say, none of these acts have been justified by reference to international law or a UN mandate; they are instead what always happens when the world order ceases to apply and wars of intervention become a global free-for-all. That is not just mission creep, it is mission explosion. Ask the British government how our own personnel are involved in current efforts and you get obfuscation. Ask what they are doing to help stop this awful slaughter and you just get a shrug. The Tories have long since abdicated any pretension of principled global leadership.
And what is bitterly depressing about the situation in Syria is this: it may be the prelude to something unimaginably worse. Iran is nine times the size of Syria, with a population three-and-a-half times as big as Syria’s before the war. This month,accusing the Donald Trump administration of employing exactly the same playbook used before the Iraq war to manufacture a pretext for battle with Iran. It estimated coldly that such a conflict would be “10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs”.
This was not written by some anti-war campaigner like Seymour Hersh or Bernie Sanders, but by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to US secretary of state Colin Powell. Wilkerson warned simply: “I helped sell the false choice of war once; it’s happening again.” In other words, the only lesson Trump and his colleagues have learned from Iraq, Libya and Syria is not how catastrophic military interventions can be, but how best to market them.
Millions of us marched with Corbyn 15 years ago. And make no mistake – we may soon need to march with him again. Or better still, we can put him in office the first chance we get and finally have a British prime minister committed to the vision he offered that Hyde Park crowd: “To live in a world free from war.”