29 April 2017

Jeremy Corbyn is not the only hypocrite on Syria


In 18 months as the Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson has always had a back-up question ready at Prime Minister’s Questions – just in case Jeremy Corbyn actually does his job and addresses the obvious issue. This week, we learned that Robertson has never had to use it.

By an astonishing coincidence, we also learned this week that Tory staffers have been ringing into the BBC and complaining about its editorial balance. More precisely, they want its news programmes to devote far more time to Corbyn (£).

Even at this early stage, the Tories’ plan to turn the general election into a referendum on the Leader of the Opposition rather than the Prime Minister is going swimmingly. That’s largely because when you try to describe the depths to which Corbyn’s performance has sunk, you rapidly run out of adjectives.

To give just one example, this week he insisted that we need to halt any military action in Syria to “allow the inspectors space to work, allow them to make sure we know who did the terrible chemical weapons attack”.

Here’s a hint: it was Bashar al-Assad. There is not a single shred of doubt about that. To claim otherwise, given the weight of evidence, is to keep the company of those who spout spurious conspiracies about 9/11 and jet fuel not melting steel beams (and funnily enough…).

But here’s the thing. The overwhelming focus on Corbyn – his obduracy, his incompetence, his downright stupidity – obscures the fact that others on the Left, beyond the Labour Party, share versions of his views that are only mildly more respectable.

Take Robertson’s SNP colleague, Alex Salmond. Salmond is, though you may have been forgiven for not noticing, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman in Westminster. And on Syria, his position is almost identical to Corbyn’s, if expressed with slightly more eloquence.

Britain should not be America’s poodle. Bomb-happy Boris should be ashamed of himself. Instead we should, like civilised people, wait for the verdict of the United Nations – and thereafter of the International Criminal Court.

It all sounds terribly reasonable. But there are just a few problems.

For one thing, Salmond and Corbyn’s good friend Vladimir Putin has vetoed the very investigation that they are calling for.

But that doesn’t matter. Because there’s already been an investigation. Even setting aside the notorious 2013 attack in Ghouta, UN experts have found that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons on multiple occasions (ISIS used them too, but we’re already bombing them).

So unless Salmond is arguing that only this latest war crime is a genuine atrocity, and the others were just a case of laddish high spirits, events have already met his threshold for action.

And what about the ICC? Here, Salmond comes over especially pious. It is such a shame, he says, that the barbaric Americans do not support the system of international law. If only they did – why, then Assad would soon be in the dock.

Except that Britain and America have already tried to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC – because of the whole “crimes against humanity” thing. And do you know who blocked it? Russia and China.

What this boils down to is that Salmond is either a fool or a knave. Either he is stupid or lazy enough not to realise that the very tests he is proposing for military action have already been met. Or he is cynical enough that he knows they have, but to carry on making self-satisfied comments about American warmongers anyway.

There are good arguments for intervention in Syria. And there are good arguments against. But what we get from the Left instead is a blend of rank hypocrisy and moral cowardice.

In just over a month’s time, Jeremy Corbyn will be decisively rejected by the British people. But as the Syria debate shows, the political pathologies he embodies are hardly limited to just one host.

This article is taken from CapX’s Weekly Briefing email. Sign up here.

Robert Colvile is Editor of CapX. The paperback version of his book 'The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster' is out now from Bloomsbury