Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, is now international affairs spokesperson for the Scottish National Party. He recently spoke to Sophie Shevardnadze on RT’s SophieCo on matters relating to Russia and to the war on Syria. Thanks to some persistent probing from Sophie, the interview comes as a revelation to those who see the SNP as Scotland’s anti-imperialist alternative.
Alex Salmond was a powerful voice in opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the Scottish National Party, with Salmond as party leader, voted with the UK Government and Labour Opposition to bomb Libya in 2011 (the present Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was one of a 13 MPS who voted against). When it came to the vote in the House of Commons on whether to bomb in Syria in November 2015, the SNP voted as a block against the motion.
Given his record on Iraq, one might have expected that Salmond would on the one hand oppose imperialist wars on principle, and on the other be sceptical about claims made by the UK and allied governments in respect of the reasons for going to war. Not so. Salmond presented on SophieCo a view of the Syrian conflict that is quite startling to those who see him as some kind of anti-imperialist on the basis of Iraq and of Scottish independence, since in fact it fits perfectly with the NATO narrative on the Syrian war and Russian involvement.
Salmond’s primary thesis is that ‘Syria has … a multi-faceted civil war’. Now anyone with an interest in UK foreign policy, even if just following the mainstream media, should know that this is patently false. There was never a popular uprising in Syria: for example, it was widely reported even in Time that the ‘Day of Rage’ planned to take place across the Arab world on 4 February was a complete fizzle in Damascus, with only a handful of people turning out. The huge demonstrations in Damascus at that time were for the government, not in opposition to it. Furthermore the ‘uprising’ was always intended to be violent – given the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Syrian people, it could not otherwise succeed. At the big demonstration in Dara’a in March 2011 seven policemen and four demonstrators were killed – who could possible swallow the story of a protest brutally suppressed by government forces, when more policemen die than demonstrators? Presumably there were peaceful protesters at the beginning, but the great majority quickly backed off, with the result that all the ‘opposition’ groups now in operation are extremist criminals.
Salmond implies that Russia is the only foreign power intervening in Syria.‘I would argue that Russia should not be [intervening in Syria] and it’s perfectly reasonable for the international community to express that whether through sanctions or other action.’ Salmond must be aware of the dishonesty of this position. He will know that NATO was running training camps in Jordan from an early stage – certainly there were reports in the media from as early as February 2012. The UK alone has spends millions, probably billions, on supporting terrorist groups in Syria; the government is now planning to train more ‘moderates’ in Syria, in full knowledge that men and weapons will end up with extremist groups. The UK is the primary funder of the al Nusra media project, the White Helmets.
Sanctions against Russia, ie the Russian people, are seen by Salmond as an appropriate response, as a legitimate way of expressing disapproval. Presumably he is encouraged in this view by the devastating effects on Saddam’s Iraq, which caused the deaths of half a million children, but also made it easier for the West to invade in 2003. (The current sanctions on Syria, which include cancer medication, likewise have horrific implications for Syrian children.)
At present the US, in co-ordination with Iraqi forces, is conducting operations to take the city of Mosul from Islamic State. However, Salmond denies any double standard in the way the West views the siege on Mosul vis-a-vis the siege on Aleppo. Iraq has a ‘legitimate government’ whose ‘main opposition is the Daesh death cult whom we all oppose’ and which ‘has asked for international support’, and there is ‘an efficient ground force which makes action in Mosul practical‘. Syria, however, is a ‘multi-faceted civil war: … international action is legitimate against Daesh, but international action or national action to take sides in a proxy conflict is not, and the consequences for civilians we see in Aleppo have to be faced up to’.
Salmond’s answer to Sophie seems rather like what one might expect from Sir Humphrey Appleby, however presumably (and I’m struggling here) the difference between the sieges of Mosul and Aleppo all hangs on Salmond’s desperate assertion that Syria is a civil war. Thus, collateral damage in a battle in Mosul against the legitimate target, ISIS, is acceptable, but Russia causing civilian casualties in a ‘civil war’ against al Qaeda extremists is not, even though these extremists are executing civilians in eastern Aleppo, and shelling civilians in the west of the city on a daily basis, causing horrible casualties.
Needless to say, there is no acknowledgement whatsoever of the war crimes committed by NATO forces in Syria, including coalition strikes that have result in the deaths of hundreds of Syrian civilians. And while Salmond claims to be a great fan of ceasefires, he makes no mention of the NATO bombing of Syrian troops at Deir ez Zor, killing over 80 and allowing ISIS to advance, which did nothing for the ceasefire in place at the time.
Salmond’s description of the war in Syria as a ‘proxy conflict’ is odd, a Freudian slip even: the only proxies in the Syrian war are those sponsored by the West, fighting the legitimate forces of the Syrian Arab Army, and properly invited allies.
‘To the extent where the international action is targeted against Daesh – then fine’. But not international action by Russia against al Qaeda and its offshoots, not against al Zinki that sawed the head off 12 year old Abdullah Issa, not against the Free Syrian Army which is responsible for untold atrocities in Syria. This echoes the position of the US State Department, who recently acknowledged that fighting al Nusra/alQaeda, the principle terrorist group shelling western Aleppo, is not a US priority in Syria.
Perhaps the most curious statement in this interview was Salmond’s response to a more general question on foreign policy. Salmond enthuses about ‘SNP initiatives for the participation of women across the MENA region’, seeing no conflict with his legitimisation of some of the most gender-oppressive extremists in the Middle East.
However a major focus of SNP foreign policy is, it appears, the Kurds. ‘We’re working hard with the various Kurdish groups who have a long-term association with Scotland to try and bring these groups together … And to try and bring the various Kurdish strands of opinion together themselves – it strikes me as an important aspect.’ With what outcome? Is Salmond having talks about the establishment of a Kurdish State, created from the wreckage of Iraq, Syria, then Iran and possibly Turkey?
In sum, Alex Salmond is heavily promoting aspects of the NATO position on Syria: it is a civil war; the warring forces include bad terrorists (Islamic State/Daesh), and good terrorists (al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, al Zinki etc etc etc) as well as the government; Russia is a war criminal, the NATO countries not. In this interview, at least, he does not suggest that the West should be helping the ‘democratic opposition’ (al Nusra etc). On the contrary, he appears to be in complete denial about all external help given to them, in terms of funds, armaments, the lucrative ISIS oil trade, and manpower.
Subsequent to a recent discussion in the House of Commons on Aleppo and the much-mooted no fly zone, Alex Salmond appeared on Sky News. A clip showing the bombing of eastern Aleppo appears to have been shown prior. Salmond opposes the no fly zone, but the sole reason given is that it might lead to a hot war with Russia. One reads from this that if a nuclear power were not involved, Salmond would support a no fly zone for Syria, as he did for Libya.
In this interview Salmond does appear to acknowledge al Nusra as an extremist entity, while at the same time supporting the concept of a ‘moderate opposition’, here described as ‘moderate democrats of some factions of the Free Syrian Army’ [sic]. Salmond does not of course name these factions – he cannot, because they would soon be exposed as being exactly the same criminals as the other gangs in Syria. This is a replica of the State Department’s bizarre logic and myth-making: there is a ‘legitimate, moderate opposition’ which eats with al Nusra, fights with al Nusra, commits the same atrocities as al Nusra, but which the West needs to protect at all costs from Russia, which has the bad taste to consider them terrorists and kill them.
Salmond is applying nothing that should have been learned from the wars on Iraq and Libya, from the lies that were told to justify them, and from the disastrous consequences for the people of those countries. It is impossible to believe that Salmond is totally ignorant of the true facts of the Syrian conflict – one can only deduce that he supports in principle forced regime change in Syria, whether it be through the use of terrorist proxies, propaganda, sanctions or bombing the Syrian Arab Army, in order to further the aims of the NATO/Israel alliance in the region.