UK & Russia cooperate on ISS, but not on ISIS - why?

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
British astronaut Tim Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra, members of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) © Dmitry Lovetsky
At the ISS (the International Space Station), Britain and Russia cooperate. But here, down on Earth, there's not much, if any, cooperation on fighting ISIS - despite Russia's repeated calls for the two countries to work together.

It's been a strange week. On Tuesday, the first “official” British astronaut Tim Peake was fired into space in a Russian Soyuz rocket along with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra.

 

Just one day after Russian technology helped take Tim Peake to the ISS, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was at it again, ludicrously accusing Russia - which has inflicted more damage on ISIS in just a few weeks than the US and its allies have done in over a year of bombing - of actually helping the Islamic State in its Syrian operations.

The good news is that Hammond the Hawk - the man who charmingly called the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 over Sinai a “warning shot” for Moscow, is now looking quite isolated.

It‘s a mistake to think that the entire British establishment shares his 1950s Cold War attitude toward Moscow. There's been quite a shift in recent weeks, with a number of politicians, eminent military figures and establishment-friendly journalists coming out and openly saying the UK should be allying with Russia to fight ISIL/ISIS.

Here’s Admiral Lord West, Britain’s former First Sea Lord:

The most important thing is that we’ve got to defeat and destroy ISIL – they are the most dangerous thing to all of the nations in the world. I describe them as ‘the wolf closest to the shed.’ We must destroy them and then think about getting security and peace to Syria. But the first thing is to destroy ISIL. And we can only do that, I believe, if the whole coalition is involved with Russia and also Iran, and, I am afraid, also with Assad.”

West was echoing the words of Lord Richards, the former head of the British armed forces, who called for a change in UK strategy in countering ISIS in September 2014.

"My judgment is that you do have to come to some accommodation with them [the Syrian government]. Russia, ironically could play a very important role in that and Iran. There are the bones for a grand strategic solution to the Middle East here, if we can get together with people who we viewed as rather hostile."

One of the most high-profile political figures to call for a change in policy toward Russia is London Mayor Boris Johnson, a leading candidate to succeed David Cameron as Conservative Party leader. “This is the time to set aside our Cold War mindset. It is just not true that whatever is good for Putin must automatically be bad for the West. We both have a clear and concrete objective – to remove the threat from ISIL. Everything else is secondary,” he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column two weeks ago.

By calling for an anti-ISIS alliance with Moscow, Johnson is taking a very different position from his great rival for the Tory leadership, the uber-hawk Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who has strong neocon connections.

Prominent journalists and media figures who have praised Russia’s anti-ISIS fight include Piers Morgan. When Russia intervened in Syria in September, Morgan penned a piece for the Daily Mail, entitled: “Thank God there’s a strong leader willing to stand up for America’s interests in the Middle East - shame it’s not Obama.”

ISIS thus threatens every one of us,” Morgan wrote. “But Obama seems utterly neutered on how to arrest their charge, muttering meaningless platitudes and putting on his best ‘We have to do something, folks’ face. Putin is no such shrinking violet. He understands the very real menace ISIS poses and he knows how best to deal with it.”

Of course these articles calling for closer London-Moscow cooperation on fighting ISIS contain the obligatory attacks on President Putin - it’s one of the unwritten rules of the game in the western media that if you do want better relations with an “official enemy” state you still need to tell readers how awful the other side is, otherwise you’ll be condemned as an “apologist” or ”appeaser,” by the new McCarthyites who patrol the media and internet in their hunt for foreign policy heretics.

Even so, we shouldn’t underplay what is happening. We are witnessing an establishment split in Britain - with the neocons and hard-core Russophobes now being challenged by foreign policy “realists” from within the political and media elite and not just from without.

Any objective commentator or military expert can see the logic of the UK working with Russia and the Syrian government to defeat ISIS. In fact we can say that anyone who seriously wants to defeat ISIS militarily knows that a tie-up between London, Moscow and Damascus is a jolly good idea. The general public in Britain understand this too - just take a look at the letters pages of newspapers and the BTL comments which appear in response to articles on this topic. Brits know it wasn’t President Putin - or indeed President Assad - who ordered the brutal killing of British tourists while they were sunbathing on the beach in Tunisia last summer. And they know that neither Russia nor the Syrian government poses a threat to British civilians anywhere in the world. The British public wants to see ISIS defeated and they are questioning why our government doesn’t take the one step – i.e. an alliance with Russia and the secular Syrian government - which would greatly enhance that prospect.

The answer, of course, is the continuing presence of neocons and Russophobes in the high echelons of British Establishment and in the media.

For these groups, the number one priority remains regime change in Syria and the continued sanctioning of Russia. Defeating ISIS is not as important as keeping Russia in the cold and trying to get Assad and his secular government ousted.

Last year was a good one for these people. They exploited the terrible MH17 air disaster to maximum effect, pinning the blame firmly on Moscow - before any evidence emerged - and used the events in Ukraine, triggered off by an illegal western-sponsored “regime change,” to portray Russia as a dangerous aggressor hell-bent on westward expansion. But in 2015, things haven’t gone as well for the neocon faction.

By intervening against ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria in September, Putin effectively called the bluff of the US and their allies and showed to the world how phony the west’s fight against radical terrorist groups in Syria had been. Those who genuinely wanted to see fanatical head-choppers knocked back in Syria lauded the Russian actions - to the horror of neocon and paid-up anti-Kremlin propagandists who responded with the line that Russia wasn’t really targeting the Islamic State at all - a classic example of what psychologists call “projection” i.e. accusing your enemies of your own faults.

One leading British journalist who did see through the phony war on ISIS and the western double standards towards Russia’s Syrian intervention was Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. “I don’t think the British or American governments really want to fight the Islamic State. They just want to look as if they are doing so. I judge these people by what they do, not by what they say…. The White House and Downing Street both seethe with genuine outrage about Russia’s bombing raids on Syria. Yet the people Vladimir Putin bombed have views and aims that would get them rounded up as dangerous Islamist extremists if they turned up in Manchester. So why do British politicians call them ‘moderates’ when Russia bombs them?” Hitchens wrote in October.

In early December, after the horrors of Paris, Prime Minister David Cameron took the case for bombing ISIS to the House of Commons, but significantly did not say the UK would be cooperating with Russia. Although he won the vote, he most certainly did not win the argument. And it wasn’t just Labour supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who weren‘t impressed. Labour MP John Mann, one of Corbyn’s most vociferous opponents, also voted against the government’s motion and called instead for an alliance with Russia to “sort out the New Nazis.”

It is very obvious to me that we cannot stop ISIS if we, the French and the Americans do one thing in Syria whilst the Russians and Iran do another. There has to be one united effort to remove these murderers and a peace settlement for the rest of Syria alongside it,” Mann wrote on his website.

The anti-Russian line taken by Cameron and Co. is clearly not in the British national interest - which is why genuinely patriotic conservatives, experienced military figures and independently-minded politicians and journalists from across the spectrum are now openly challenging it. But can we realistically hope for a change in the UK’s official stance?

As the UK always follows the US, any shift in British policy towards Russia will only come if there's a change in Washington. Perhaps we’ve seen signs of that in recent days with John Kerry’s recent visit to Moscow and a softening of the rhetoric deployed against Russia. But even if nothing much changes in Washington in the next few months - and we certainly shouldn’t build our hopes up - it’s likely that in 2016 the anti-Russian faction in the British establishment will find it harder than ever to justify its Cold War position. If the UK allied with the Soviet Union and Stalin in WWII to defeat the Nazis, why can’t we do the same to defeat ISIS, is what more and more people from within the establishment - as well as the general public, are asking. And if the UK and Russia can get along very well in space, why not on land, too? These are two very reasonable questions which no British neocon or obsessive Putin-basher can adequately answer.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.