Legal Does Not Mean Wise 65

To bomb ISIS in Syria is now legal in international law, with authority granted by the Security Council. (I subscribe to the argument of my ex-boss Brian Barder on the interpretation of SCR 2249). Whether it is wise or not is a quite different question.

Even John Simpson on the BBC yesterday admitted that many innocent civilians had been killed in recent bombings of the ISIS occupied city of Raqqa. Though being the BBC, while reporting correctly that the United States, France and Russia are all bombing Raqqa, they contrived only to mention civilian deaths in a sentence about Russian bombing. That bombing creates terrorist blowback has been proven beyond any rational dispute. So if ending terrorism is truly the aim, it is a curiously counter-productive means of going about it.

There is also the question of mission creep. In Libya, the security council mandated nothing but the enforcement of a no-fly zone, to prevent the possibility of a massacre in Benghazi, which was precisely as genuine a danger as Iraqi WMD. Quite illegally, the UK participated in a massive western air to ground attack including on populated areas, under the pretext of disabling any possible threat to western aircraft enforcing the no fly zone. The aim, quite illegal, was regime change. This is how “the no-fly zone was enforced” by western bombing of Sirte.

The danger is that a bombing campaign will cause this kind of devastation of civilian areas, as indeed is now happening in Raqqa, but also as in Libya will be carried far beyond the authorised objective, and extended against the areas loyal to President Assad. This risks confrontation with Russia – a danger that has been starkly illustrated since I started sketching out this article by the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey.

Libya illustrates starkly the last and largest problem – that you cannot control what fills the vacuum. The governance of Libya is now a disaster. The ultimate irony was that the people of Benghazi demonstrated their gratitude at being saved from “massacre” by slaughtering the American Ambassador. The truth of the matter is that, despite the dreadful records of both Saddam and Gaddafi, the manner of their removal resulted in a situation where life was undoubtedly better for the vast majority of the population under the dictators. Which is a massive testament to Western incompetence.

David Cameron appears to have no idea whatsoever what will replace ISIS in the areas under its control. We know that he does not want the Syrian state under President Assad to take control. The area is not Kurdish, so they are not an option. Hezbollah is regarded as an Iranian proxy. The West’s attempts to create moderate pro-Western Sunni rebel forces have been a pathetic failure. The Saudis and other Gulf states have funded a variety of rebels, including much of ISIS and other groups which have an equally insane agenda. If any of the Wahabbi groups besides ISIS could be strengthened sufficiently to hold major territory, they would undoubtedly be found to be just as enthusiastic at persecuting Christians and other minorities and beheading people.

Someone has to control the physical territory, and Cameron has no viable alternative for this at all. Talk of funding and training moderate groups is whistling in the dark. The USA has already put far greater resources into this than the UK ever could, and the result has been complete failure.

Having delivered Sikunder Burnes to the publisher, I have started research on a life of Lord George Murray, working title The Man Who Terrified London. It is in fact true that some Scottish aristocratic families deliberately allocated members to each side in the 45, to ensure continued family control of the estates. But such instances are very rare, the Frasers of Lovat being the most notable. Most family splits, like among the Murrays of Atholl, were genuine and painful. My favourite example is the MacDonells, who were all Jacobite but decided that Glengarry himself, a hopeless alcoholic incompetent, would do more harm to the Hanoverians by remaining on their side. There is an excellent simile here to the Saudis, where numerous minor royals and all their business contractors are pumping money into ISIS and other extreme Wahabbi groups, while the King and Crown Prince pretend to be pro-Western and anti-ISIS. That is when they can spare a moment from their aerial massacre of the Houtha, or sentencing children and poets to death at home. The situation in all our Gulf “allies” is the same.

It is of course instructive that there is no sense at all in which Trident missiles are helpful in this dilemma. It is worth repeating out loud every time we consider a defence or foreign policy dilemma “Trident is useless in the particular situation”. We should say it all the time. We are spending an inconceivable sum on a system which is no earthly use.

But bombing is just as useless. It can achieve nothing whatsoever except pointless death. It will make Cameron look macho and win some jingo votes, enabling the corporate and state media to whip up a frenzy of hate against non-militarists. I suppose that is a useful purpose for the establishment. There is no other useful purpose.

Bombing ISIS in Syria may now be legal. That does not make it useful or wise.

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65 thoughts on “Legal Does Not Mean Wise

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  • Habbabkuk (scourge of the Original Trolls)

    “The wee Turk appears. Monty Python time. The day of the snake. It would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic. They are all destroying their own economy’s. Lunacy.”

    The above is from Ken2.

    Indistinguishable in style from RobG’s offerings.


  • Habbabkuk (scourge of the Original Trolls)


    “I take heart that I am seen as a challenge to the trolls.”

    Get the historical record straight, dear.

    You and your fellow Old Trolls were treating this blog as your private property and using it as your wall newspaper. That’s why you are known as the Eminences, the “Establishment” of this blog if you will.

    Then I and a few stout fellows came along and challenged many of your views. Proud to be the true dissidents.

    You didn’t like that at all and have never got over your shock at seeing your pensée unique shredded.

    We are not going away.

  • Tom Welsh

    If the Western leaders were not all filthy racists, hypocritical money-grubbers and power-mad (if not both), they would never for a minute consider trying to replace a foreign nation’s government with a regime of their own devising. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when men like Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill believed implicitly in the God-give superiority of the Noble White Aryan Race (or the “English-Speaking Peoples” in Churchill’s more tactful phrase), this kind of political act was understandable. They were crass racists and made no bones about it. But today’s leaders manage to ooze political correctness and “concern” while murdering more dark-skinned people than Roosevelt and Churchill ever managed between them.

    Even such a psychopathic prig as Maximilien Robespierre understood that,

    “The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have one’s laws and constitution embraced. It is in the nature of things that the progress of Reason is slow and no one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
    One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force”.

    It’s upsetting to reflect that our present-day leaders are less enlightened than Robespierre.

  • Mary

    The Trident debate is a desultory and depressing affair. There are two Labour MPs on the front bench and less than a dozen others scattered elsewhere. The Tories including Fallon and his ministers number less than two dozen. The SNP are there in force but there is nobody with whom they can debate. Some democracy.

    Fallon is now replying.

  • Mary

    An opposing view on the legality of going to war.

    Email to BBC’s John Humphrys about the legality of UK air strikes in Syria
    November 24, 2015, 12:58 pm

    As a daily listener of the Today Programme and as someone who has emailed you occasionally before, I am writing about your interview this morning with Maria Eagle, the shadow Defence Secretary.

    During the interview you said to Eagle: “You talked about legality. Well that is now dealt with. We had a vote in the Security Council on Friday, a unanimous vote in the Security Council, which everybody accepts gives legal protection for this action.”
    1 hour 37 mins in:

    In contrast the Guardian noted on Saturday that “The resolution fell short of providing a legal basis for military action and did not invoke the chapter of the UN charter authorising the use of force.”

    I’m sure you agree going to war is one of the most important issues that the government and British people can take. And the legality of that action is therefore also very important. With this in mind, would you consider making a clarification to listeners that the UN vote does not authorise military action in Syria, when you discuss Syria on air next?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    and comments thereon

  • Mochyn69

    Bravo, Craig!

    A Life of Lord George Murray!A complex and perplexing character.

    I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for those dooomed Jacobites, and me a lapsed died-in the wool Presbyterian and all that.

  • Napoleon XIV

    Brian Barder’s interpretation is batshit insane. But it’s insane in a predictable way, precisely in line with the NATO bloc’s doctrine for subverting rule of law.

    Note what Barder doesn’t mention:

    – Article 46, which stipulates Security Council planning for use of force;

    – Article 47, command authority for that ultimate unmentionable, the Military Staff Committee;

    – The part of Article 53 that says:
    “no enforcement ACTION shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council”

    – Or even the part of Article 42 that says:
    “Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, IT may take such action.”

    In Barder’s version of the UN Charter there’s evidently a classified annex that says, “The Security Council may invite everybody to go do whatever you want. UN members shall go ahead and blow shit up at will.”

  • Habbabkuk (scourge of the Original Trolls)

    Napoleon XIV

    “Brian Barder’s interpretation is batshit insane.”

    Is Craig therefore also insane for accepting it?

    By the way, your efforts to prove your point are specious in the extreme.

  • Macky

    Craig; “(I subscribe to the argument of my ex-boss Brian Barder on the interpretation of SCR 2249)”

    And by so doing reconfirm once again exactly why pro-Establishment trolls are not only tolerated here, but actively encouraged.

    Brian “I’m not a lawyer” Barder obliviously quotes the wording of the Resolution, which has the crucial qualifying legal stipulation of “in compliance with international law”; International law dictates that parties must be invited by the current leadership of a sovereign state to participate in action on their soil. Russia was invited in such a way – the UK/US/NATO have NOT been.

  • Mary

    A comment from Oliver Miles on the Barder piece in question. Doubts?

    Oliver Miles

     23 November, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I fear you are right – fear, because as you say it has changed the situation facing MPs (why do you say “Labour MPs”?) deciding how to vote when the Prime Minister produces his case for extending airstrikes, now promised for Thursday. Those who understand what is happening in Syria will find it more difficult to stand up against the patriotic tide.

    I wonder why the resolution did not mention Chapter VII. It would not have been necessary to make any specific action mandatory, but a mention would have made it clear beyond doubt that those who want war may have it. Perhaps the Russians or the Chinese were unwilling? That doesn’t really explain it, given that they agreed to vote for the resolution as we have it.

    With intense frustration I observe the ukase in your final paragraph, intense because any useful discussion of the other aspects of the question needs to begin now. If we ever see the Chilcot report I am confident that it will show us not only that we went into Iraq on a lie, but that we did so with supreme incompetence and lack of a proper plan. This time?

    Mr Miles, ex UK Ambassador, is not afraid to speak out which he does frequently.

  • Ruth

    Your opinion that Benghazi was not in danger from Gaddafi’s forces which had surrounded the town is completely wrong and appears to be just one of the points people against UK involvement come up with again and again.

    I have spoken to people in Benghazi at the time and they had no doubt that there would’ve been a massacre. Gaddafi hated the troublesome Benghazi and had frequently gunned down and publicly hanged its citizens. In 2011 Gaddafi’s forces had already started to bombard the city when the French airforce arrived.

    People who are/were against French/UK participation miss the point. The West ONLY took out Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi not to save the people but to save the revolution which the West had instigated. If Gaddafi had taken control of Benghazi, which he undoubtedly would have, he would’ve won.

  • Ben-Outraged by the Cannabigots

    “We are not going away.”

    We don’t want you going away or changing your position. We like you the way you are; sectored and isolated as a semiconscious and unworthy opponent. It’s our guilty pleasure….

  • N_

    @Craig, @Mary

    One very important point in the UN Security Council resolution 2249 (not the UN press release) is being missed here:

    it calls for member states that “have the capacity to do so” to “take all necessary measures“, on Daesh-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, to “coordinate” to prevent or suppress terrorist acts carried out by Daesh, AL Qaeda and “other terrorist groups“.

    Here is the nub of paragraph 5 of the resolution:

    states should “take all necessary measures […,…,] to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts […], and to eradicate the safe haven

    Four out of the five permanent members of the UNSC have already bombed Syria.

    How are they going to answer the call of the UNSC and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts by Daesh?

    When the fucking sun freezes over, maybe?

    Will the Zionazi agencies Mossad, Aman and Unit 8200 – and the same could be asked of MI6 – give the Russians all the intelligence they’ve got about the bringing down of the Russian plane over Sinai?

  • bevin

    It will be interesting to see how Cameron deals with the argument that, by bombing Syrian targets, the RAF runs the risk of being shot down by Turkish fighters or US equipped ISIS ground forces.
    Or will he be able to assure the House that the Turks only attack Russian planes?

    It is extraordinary that anyone would make the argument that the UN Security Council resolution allows Britain to bomb Syria regardless of the wishes of the Syrian government.

  • N_


    “The West ONLY took out Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi not to save the people but to save the revolution which the West had instigated.”

    Revolution, my craphole. Unless that’s an unusual way of spelling “business contracts”.

  • Jonny

    I always love your columns Craig. I seldom disagree with them. The current situation is almost custom made to make Labours Jeremy Corbyn look isolated, even though he appears to be the only politician prepared to actually think about how to make the situation better, rather than worse. It’s a shame.

  • N_

    @Bevin – “It is extraordinary that anyone would make the argument that the UN Security Council resolution allows Britain to bomb Syria regardless of the wishes of the Syrian government.

    It does allow that. Craig is right. Might you be taking your desire for reality?

    The use of force by a member state against another state is permitted when authorised by the UNSC or in self-defence; otherwise it’s contrary to the UN Charter. Using force against rebels on a state’s territory when asked by the member state’s government to do so is also legal, and is not against the said state.

    How many of tomorrow’s newspapers are going to mention that the UNSC has called for member states to coordinate their actions to prevent and suppress Daesh terrorism?

    The Turkish government doesn’t seem very intent on coordinating with the Russian effort, does it?

    The UN Security Council has never stopped any great power from carrying out military action when it has decided to, and in any conflict between great powers – which this is soon going to become – the UN is irrelevant. They’re a bunch of overpaid parking-fine dodgers.

  • N_


    But you also make a good point:

    will [Cameron] be able to assure the House that the Turks only attack Russian planes?

    How about someone (like Jeremey Corbyn) asks him the following question:

    What does the British government propose to do to answer the UN Security Council’s call to COORDINATE its efforts against Daesh terrorism with the other member states that are in a position to fight Daesh, such as Russia?

    Turkey shooting down Russian warplanes fighting Daesh is the opposite of coordination.

  • doug Scorgie

    Habbabkuk (scourge of the Original Trolls)

    24 Nov, 2015 – 9:56 am

    “I’m glad you’ve got in a mention of Brian. He is a good man.”

    Sadly you’re not Habbabkuk.

  • doug Scorgie


    24 Nov, 2015 – 12:28 pm

    “The oil is bought directly from ISIS by tribesmen at well below market price. They take it in tankers to anybody who will buy it. Assad is one of their best customers at the moment, our sanctions mean he relies on it.”

    Do you have any evidence for that Fred?

    I suspect not.

  • Ruth


    ‘Revolution, my craphole. Unless that’s an unusual way of spelling “business contracts”.’

    UK/US had very favourable business contracts with Gaddafi

  • James O'Neill

    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]. I agree. Mr Barder’s comments are legal nonsense. It frequently happens when non-lawyers try to impose their interpretations on documents that are carefully framed for a specific legal purpose. The key element in Resolution 2249 of 2015 is the phrase “in accordance with international law.” It so happens that the International Court of Justice has ruled on at least two occasions (Nicaragua v US; Israeli Wall Case) on what is meant by Article 51 of the UN Charter. Any resolution of the Security Council has to be read ion the light of the Court’s interpretations of Article 51.
    The SC did not authorise military action against ISIS in Syria because the right to invoke Article 51 depends, in this case, on the attacks emanating from another State. ISIS is not a State. This interpretation is also confirmed by the statements of the Russian government who were one of the unanimous members voting on resolution 2249. They still insist, correctly in my view, that actions by foreign governments in Syria (and this means primarily the US, France and Australia) are illegal under international law. Russia’s actions are legal because they are there at the invitation of the lawful sovereign government of Syria.
    If Mr Barder was correct, Russia would on the one hand be voting for a resolution and then making statements contrary to what it had just purportedly voted for. That would be a nonsense.

  • Tony_0pmoc

    Just One of The Bravest and Most Beautiful and Intelligent Girls in The World. She has been doing it for years…This is her giving her point of view in 2012. Yes, she was anonymous, and I think she should stay that way – but she has been traced and interviewed by The Daily Mail – under her real name. What bravery is this??

    By SyrianGirl

    “Why The NWO Hates Syria”


    Published on Dec 17, 2012

    8 reasons why the NWO hates Syria
    No Rothschild central bank, NO IMF debt, No Genetically modified food, Oil and pipelines, Anti-secret societies, Anti-Zionism, Secularism, Nationalism.

    News & Politics
    License Standard YouTube License

  • Sora Lochielet

    OMG you are going to do Lord George Murray!!!! He’s my hero, I kept meaning to research him myself (I’m a historian) but life kept intervening. He was the true brains behind BPC’s campaign and if only BPC hadn’t taken the huff in Derby and listened to him instead, things might have turned out very differently.

    Do keep us informed about that book! I take it you’ve read Katherine Tomasson’s (ancient) book about him?

    Sorry for not engaging with the rest of the article, I’m just too excited.

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