War without end

Clive Lewis MP, shadow minister for energy and climate and veteran of the Afghanistan war, says it is time to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes over Syria

I have to admit I too failed to respond in a timely manner to the awful attacks in Beirut earlier this month. Around 40 people were killed and almost 200 injured. These deaths were also claimed by ISIS. Whilst it’s right and proper we pay due attention to the plight of our nearest neighbours, we must never forget the plight of those further away. But do we, hand on heart, believe if a second terrorist attack had happened on mainland Europe on the same day as Paris, with similar casualties to Lebanon, it would have received more coverage? If the answer is ‘yes’, and I believe it is, then this raises some uncomfortable questions. 

Does that mean we and our media value all human life equally? Or are some lives more newsworthy, more valued, than others? To what extent are the news values of the BBC, Sky, and newspapers – i.e. the prominence or not they give to a story – shaped by our collective values as a society? And how much do their news values, in some way, shape our own?

It’s an age old question, one complicated by mainstream media ownership that makes a mockery of the notion of a ‘free press’. Ultimately, how we and our allies respond to the atrocities in France, will in part, answer some of these questions. The ‘War on Terror’ is now approaching its 15th year with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.

Henry Kissinger, no stranger to bloody foreign wars, once said: “The task of the leader is to get his/her people from where they are to where they have not been.” Perhaps it’s now time for our leaders to lead. To acknowledge that Einstein was right, that the definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. How many more last throw of the die, how many last, Field Marshal Haig-like pushes must there be before we come to our collective sense? The response to the horrors of Paris must be different. It must be part of a comprehensive, long- term international and regional strategy that crushes ISIS with economic, diplomatic and yes, as a last resort, military action.

It also means an internationally agreed settlement on Assad’s regime. Easier said than done, but the price of failure, as we have seen over the weekend after the Paris attacks, is far too costly. That means working with Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others to stop the war by proxy and cutting-off arms and finance to the numerous factions. It means committing to spend billions of pounds on economic and educational development in Africa and the Middle East. No one could ever describe the $1.6 trillion spent on the war since 2001 as ‘value for money’. Better then surely to spend future resources on peace and stability.

Next comes tackling the moral inconsistency of western support for Saudi Arabia – one of the biggest exporters and funders of terror – and other brutal Gulf regimes. Condemning Saudi Arabia doesn’t by implication mean we must condone Iran. Quite the opposite in fact. However, how can we lecture Russia on its support for the theocrats in Tehran when we give succour to the monarchists of Riyadh? Finally, there’s the weeping sore of Israel and Palestine. Surely any lasting, comprehensive peace strategy for this region must include a peaceful solution here?

But where is the vision? The leadership? The big picture, strategic approach to foreign affairs the world is crying out for? Climate change is upon us. The pressures that will now pile upon humanity, as we progress through the 21st century, are plain to see. Now is not the time for ‘insanity’, not the time to keep on repeating the mistakes of the past. Now is the time to learn from them.

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