Content warning: article mentions airstrikes, chemical warfare
On Monday Theresa May announced to a packed House of Commons that bombing Syria was in the national interest of the United Kingdom. Classically, her sermon was based on the idea that the airstrikes were “the right thing to do.”
“We are not alone,” she bleated, “there is broad-based international support for the action we have taken.” The actions of the government had been rational, multilateral, and calculated.
In December 2015, British MPs voted overwhelmingly to bomb Daesh in Syria. At the time, David Cameron tweeted that MPs had “taken the right decision to keep the UK safe.” Then shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn banged the drum of war from the other side of the house – to the delight of the Tory benches.
Today, as in late 2015, many will buy into the idea that the “evil” of the Assad regime must be confronted. “Surgical strikes” on government infrastructure, it will be said, are legitimate and justified, it is the “right thing to do.”
when it comes to the war in Syria, corporate media coverage is at best selective and at worst deeply impartial
Given the horrors of chemical warfare and the imagery of human suffering (usually children) that drives the analytics of global media circuits, it is easy to conclude that some form of military intervention should be launched in defence of the defenceless.
However, when it comes to the war in Syria, corporate media coverage is at best selective and at worst deeply impartial. This has profound implications for the ways in which the conflict is viewed by the outside world, and for the construction of public perceptions of what intervention should look like.
The atrocities committed by pro-government forces have received international attention. The use of chemical weapons – most recently in Eastern Ghouta – have been widely condemned. The extreme violence of Daesh has been documented in great detail.
While it goes without saying that these atrocities are to be condemned in the strongest terms, it should also be noted that the media narrative of “victims,” in need of protection, shapes public opinion in important ways. In turn, legitimising the shaky government narrative of the “right to protect” on humanitarian grounds.
Skewed media coverage obscures the complex realities of the conflict as they develop on the ground. For example, the fate of Syrian Kurds following Turkey’s offensive in Afrin has stirred very little response from the international media. As a result, the Kurds are written out of the dominant narrative.
the population on the ground are engaged in a fight for food, shelter, and clean water – the bare necessities of everyday life
Likewise, the contradictory embrace between the United States and the mainly Kurdish radical People’s Protection Units (YPG) – a situation that finds the US fighting alongside a declared enemy of Turkey, a fellow NATO member – has not made the headlines. This is especially ironic, given the fact that at present, the US-YPG combine is widely understood to be the most effective fighting force in the region.
While the UK airstrikes in 2015 did little to disrupt Daesh and in the end were criticised as ineffective, in reality, the primary factor driving the virtual collapse of Daesh has been the highly effective combination of YPG ground troops backed by US air support.
The international dimensions of the Syrian civil war are, of course, critical to understanding how the conflict has unfolded over time. Yet, the all too often neglected facts on the ground offer a different picture. As of early 2017, the World Bank estimated that the conflict in Syria had damaged or destroyed approximately one third of the country’s housing stock and roughly half of all medical and education facilities. Water supplies are increasingly contaminated and diseases such as polio are reemerging.
Alongside the devastating loss of human life, then, the war is destroying the very infrastructure, institutions and systems that are critical for a society to function. With an unemployment rate of approximately 78 percent the survivors of Syria’s wars have very few options for survival.
The shocking truth is that more people are dying from lack of access to healthcare than from the fighting. While the corporate media glare fixates upon the “great power” politics of international intervention, the population on the ground are engaged in a fight for food, shelter, and clean water – the bare necessities of everyday life.
Close to 500,000 people have been killed, more than 5.6 million have fled the country and according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 6.1 million people have been displaced internally.
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to UK foreign policy, it is not the Tory war pigs that provide the rational, well informed view of the situation, but Jeremy Corbyn. While Syria has become the theatre for military action by regional and international powers, the suffering of the population continues unabated and the death toll continues to rise. When it comes to international intervention, “diplomacy, and not bombing,” as Corbyn rightly points out, “is the way to end Syria’s agony.”
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