The zenith of all political naivety must be to expect a politician to be consistent in his or her supposed beliefs or positions. Quite formulaically, politicians reach for awe inspiring moral heights of propriety, rhetoric and common sense when they are far removed from the levers of political power. But as soon as the levers fall into their lap, by some weird political alchemy these same politicians suddenly begin to espouse opinions they had seemingly opposed before their ascension to power. In layman’s terms, they say one thing out of office and do another when in office.
Within a timeframe of a mere nine months as Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the United Kingdom i.e. Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson has provided a textbook case of a politician adopting two diametrically opposed positions on each side of the variable of political power.
Before assuming political office, he devoted at least two articles to the current jihadi war on Syria. In an article written within the context of the British parliament’s vote to extend the bombing of ISIL/ISIS from Iraq into Syria in late 2015, Johnson argued for some kind of working relationship with the Russians. While regaling his readers with the usual diatribe about what an odious person the Russian President Vladimir Putin is, he went on to advocate a unity of purpose to rid Syria of ISIL/ISIS:
“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.”
Moreover, Johnson acknowledged that it was only the Syrian Arab Army which has the will and the means to take on the Islamic fanatics of ISIL/ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria:
“We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies. We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaeda.
Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.”
It is quite clear from this article that Johnson was promoting unity of action with Russia and the Syrian government even if he coated this advocacy with standard humanitarian interventionist caveats on the supposed criminality of both the Russians and Syrians.
In another article written after the Syrian Arab Army and its allies had liberated Palmyra from ISIL/ISIS in March 2016, once again shielding his remarks behind the aforementioned caveats, he euphorically heaped praise on the Syrians:
“There may be booby traps in the ruins, but the terrorists are at last on the run. Hooray, I say. Bravo – and keep going.”
The victory of Syrian Army in Palmyra was presented as a victory for human culture:
“The victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on Earth… And yes, that is why I am glad that they have been driven from the site.”
Johnson then acknowledged the Russian role in the liberation of one of greatest cultural sites in the world:
“If Putin’s troops have helped winkle the maniacs from Palmyra, then (it pains me to admit) that is very much to the credit of the Russians.”
Fast forward to his current elevated position as Foreign Secretary, we find a totally different narrative. Gone are the days when Johnson praised Russia and Syria. In his new incarnation, Russian airpower and the Syrian Army, which originally had been ‘thanked’ for “taking back large parts of Homs” from al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and which had compelled him to “rejoice” upon the removal of ISIL/ISIS from Palmyra – leading him to urge them to “keep going” in their military progress – have now morphed into nothing but an Assad “killing machine”.
Writing in the London Times on 7th September 2016 – the same day London hosted an event by the political Syrian opposition, the so-called ‘High Negotiations Committee (HNC)’, Johnson now claims that it is no longer to the Russians “credit” that they are supporting President Assad, because they are
“employing their military might to prevent him [Assad] from losing and to keep him in power.”
The Russian military presence in Syria is now characterised as
“seemingly indefensible conduct.”
Johnson further endorses the HRC’s hope of President Assad being replaced by
“a new country in which there are checks and balances in government and in which the rights of women and minorities are respected”.
Besides the UK, the other most vocal supporter of the HNC is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) whose Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubair was also in attendance for the HNC event. In an interview with the BBC al-Jubair stated that a new Syrian government
“should include everybody, it should be a democracy. That’s the type of system that the Syrian opposition will be putting on the table.”
No doubt, just like Saudi Arabia’s government! Surely, if Saudi Arabia wanted democracy for Syria, it should set an example and begin with democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia? The reality is that the KSA has never supported democracy, and a plethora of sources suggest that it is the leading supporter of al-Qaeda ideology in the world.
Obviously Johnson is not the first politician to sing one tune before assuming political office and another after. He is actually in good company. Indeed, in revolutionary company. Professor Noam Chomsky has put forward a basic and interesting argument that the Bolshevik revolutionary and dissident Leon Trotsky’s true colours emerged in the early years of the new Bolshevik state:
“Whatever he may have said during periods when he didn’t have power, either prior to the revolution or after he was kicked out, when it was easy to be a libertarian critic, it was when he did have power that the real Trotsky emerged.”
Chomsky goes on to list the authoritarian policies of Trotsky in power: destroying worker organisations, factory councils and soviets; “subordinat[ing] the working class to the will of the maximum leader”, wiping out forces in Krondstadt after they were no longer needed to defeat the Bolsheviks’ enemies, etc., etc. Chomsky concludes that this
“was the essential doctrine of Trotskyism in power, whatever he may have said before and after.”
As such, we now see the essential Boris Johnson, the Johnson in power, for what he really is: a hypocrite and a chameleon who has two totally different perspectives depending on whether he is holding office. His pre-foreign secretary position is antagonistic towards the jihadi war on Syria and indeed advocates a unity of purpose with Russia and Syria, while his current position does nothing but legitimise and facilitate the jihadi war on Syria. He further adds a cheery on top of this hypocrisy by advocating democracy, rights for women and minorities for Syria while simultaneously standing next to the foreign minister of the medieval, al-Qaeda supporting Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.