Boris Johnson: Still No Lessons Learnt
'The elite want to undermine Stop the War. They don't like bring proved wrong again and again' - Andrew Murray
Boris Johnson wants a demonstration outside the Russian Embassy over the bombing of Eastern Aleppo in Syria.
Not that he is calling such a protest of course – that might be a step too far even for a Foreign Secretary as new to the rigours of diplomacy as Johnson.
No, he wants the Stop the War Coalition to call the demonstration in support of the government’s fumbling approach to the Syrian crisis. Our refusal to do so, for reasons I will address shortly, has led to a renewed wave of attacks on Stop the War.
We have been described as “traitors”, “fanatics fighting on behalf of Britain’s’ enemies” and even “cheerleaders for the Luftwaffe” and so on. But one thing has not happened – there has been no picket of the Russian Embassy, organised by our abusers or anyone else.
Since Stop the War has absolutely no power – nor desire – to prevent others organising such a protest, it is revealing that neither Mr Johnson nor the Boris-backers have actually done so.
This surely highlights that the point of their fulminations is not so much to challenge the Russian government as to belabour Stop the War (and our former Chair Jeremy Corbyn by proxy) – and divert attention from the futility of the British government’s posturing over Syria.
It is perhaps understandable that the elite want to undermine Stop the War. The establishment doesn’t like bring proved wrong again and again more than anyone else does.
Our warnings against the Iraq invasion of 2003 have been entirely vindicated by the Chilcot Report. Our more recent opposition to David Cameron’s intervention in Libya has also been substantially endorsed by the recent report by the House of Commons Select Committee.
As for Stop the War’s critique of the Afghan War, perhaps establishment agreement would be otiose fifteen years in. The fact is that had British policy been informed by Stop the War throughout this century Britain and the world would be a better place.
However, there is nothing in the Conservative government’s approach to Syria that suggests any lessons have been learned. People who understandably wish to demonstrate about the Syrian crisis could find enough reasons to do so closer to home, in the present government’s approach.
They could, for example, protest outside the Home Office against the official reluctance to admit more than a handful of refugees fleeing the terrible war, a fact which alone mocks the humanitarian pretensions of the Johnson gang.
A demonstration outside the Defence Ministry would make sense too. Britain is already bombing in Syria, to what effect – beyond guaranteeing a great power "seat at the table" in any future regional carve-up - no-one seems to know.
Or they could protest outside Boris’s own department since the obtuse British diplomacy of the last five years, insisting that the departure of Bashar al-Assad from office is a precondition of any talks to end the conflict, has contributed so much to its prolongation.
Working towards the day when the Syrian people can freely choose their own leaders is one thing. To seek to impose external choices in advance of peace talks has proved a recipe for endless war. Aleppo today is paying the price.
While outside the Foreign Office, protestors could also call attention to Britain’s all-out support for the Saudi aggression against Yemen, scarcely less brutal and costly in civilian lives than the assault on Aleppo.
It is obvious to everyone by now that the agony of Aleppo, like the wider Syrian conflict, can only be brought to an end by a negotiated ceasefire and peace agreement, which should include removing all external fingers from the Syrian pie and leaving the people at liberty to determine their own future.
Imposing a “no-fly zone” absent such an agreement would gratify armchair neo-conservative strategists, but would escalate rather than diminish the multi-front Syrian conflict, with ordinary Syrians paying the price.
Boris Johnson is not only involved in protest-planning, he also appears to be flirting with such an escalation. He has threatened further British military action in Syria, “more kinetic options”, this time directed against the Russian military.
This irresponsible rhetoric may amount to no more than the posturing of a man unused to dealing with weightier matters than the picture round in Have I Got News For You. But if he is to be taken seriously, and adult supervision does not arrive in time, it would mean the start of a great-power conflict in the Middle East, pitting the US and its allies against the Russians for control of skies where neither side has any legitimate business.
So we have a Foreign Secretary threatening a new Middle East war and we should demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy? It is not surprising that the Foreign Secretary would enjoy that. But why anyone else should fall for it is mysterious.
It would in fact be a betrayal of Stop the War’s main purpose. We aim to do what it says on the tin. The wars we want to stop are the ones the British government insists on fighting, generally in defiance of law, truth, decency and the lessons of experience.
Let’s suppose we take Johnson’s advice. British people demonstrate at the Russian Embassy. Russians return the complement outside the British mission in Moscow. Does this help anyone in Aleppo, or does it rather contribute to an August 1914 psychosis? Stop the War is not in the business of assisting in the promotion of a war fever merely so the commentariat – let alone the Foreign Office - can feel better about itself.
We stretch out our hands to all those in Russia, the USA, Turkey, Iran and France opposing their own governments military interference in Syria, none of which have brought anything other than more suffering and loss of life for the Syrian people.
And if in Britain today there is a more powerful resistance to military interventions than at any time in our neo-imperial history then blame Stop the War if you will. It is our badge of pride. But our critics might also reflect that each and every such intervention has turned out to be a complete and utter calamity, in humanitarian terms as much as any other.
Andrew Murray was Chair of the Stop the War Coalition from 2001 to 1011 and 2015-6.