I Vow To Thee My Country - That You Got It Badly WrongThere's no doubting that the situation in Syria is immensely complicated. Two ex-members of the military who are Conservative MPs voted against their Party and opposed a bombing campaign of Syria. An ex-member of the military who is a Labour MP opposed his Party line and voted in favour of bombing. Perhaps the most telling individual vote was that of the Chair of the Parliamentary select committee on Foreign Affairs, Conservative MP John Baron, voted against bombing (as he did in the vote on bombing Libya).
You'd hope your delegated political representatives would have some handle on the intricacies. But in the recent day long Parliamentary debate and vote, the level of political and strategic analysis was in short supply, replaced by moral and emotional pleas on one side or the other. Or the debate was partly hijacked by the Prime Minister's rather inflammatory assertion that to vote against the proposed campaign equated you to a terrorist sympathiser and consequent demands by outraged MPs for him to apologise for such a statement.
But I'm going to try and pick the emotions and moral outrage out of the debate and offer some crystal clear rebuttals to the arguments made in favour of bombing Syria. Of course readers may not agree with either these arguments or the position to oppose bombing and that's fine. But I hope to show that that the points offered during that debate are not enough to clinch any argument.
The main argument was that bombing Syria increases the security on Britain's streets. Actually it does the very opposite. Those in Syria are not the threat to us here at home. Rather it is from UK citizens already living here. You may say that such homegrown terror is co-ordinated from Syria. But it doesn't have to be. Recently a fourteen year old boy from Blackburn was jailed for mentoring a would-be terrorist in Australia. The nature of global communications means you don't actually need a command and control centre to co-ordinate your terror campaign. Of the Paris terrorists, no more than two had returned from Syria. To fight for ISIS's cause does not entail seeing service or training in Iraq or Syria. There will not be ISIS fighters coming back from Syria at this point in time to perpetrate a terrorist act on British soil. If any potential UK terrorists have seen service there, they are already back in the UK (and you have to ask questions of our intelligence service as to how they have been able to sneak back in).
So the terror threat remains ever-present. Why therefore do I say that the vote for bombing makes the UK less secure? Look at the way Islamic terror operates. They cannot sustain a campaign against any single country. So there have been individual attacks in Canada, Australia, France, Lebanon, Turkey. And of course the Russian airliner shot down in Egypt, a very rapid response to Russian bombs falling on ISIS areas. In the case of the Western targets, each time their participation in the air war against Islamic State is cited as the reason. Terrorists want to send a message and with only one chance to do so (such is the nature of suicide missions) they have to stage what they see as a spectacular. By voting to bomb Syria, the UK has just placed itself in line for a similar response from ISIS and it supporters. Britain will need to be taught a lesson is the logic. Or the logic or reprisal. Terror acts in the UK have always been a possibility, but with this vote I believe it has now become an inevitability. Not just me either, for only today UK intelligence services report that the vote has increased the likelihood we would become a target. Have they only just realised that? Or did they they know this all the time but fail to inform the Prime Minister? Or maybe he just ignored that advice.
Ah but we are already fighting the Islamic State by bombing Iraq were some of the arguments advanced during the debate. For the sake of a few hundred yards across a border that ISIS has abolished what is the difference? Well seems to me you can't have it both ways, if you want to deny the legitimacy of ISIS and re-establish the territorial legitimacy of both Iraq and Syria, then you have to continue to recognise the integrity of those borders.
The next argument was that France has asked for us to step up to the plate and assist them in the light of the atrocities in Paris. Added to that is that the UN basically gave a green light to go to war on ISIS. The argument is advanced that we in Britain must not only support our friends and allies, but we cannot allow others to do the job of protecting us while we stand to the side doing nothing. And yet that is exactly what we and the whole of the West has been doing by allowing the Kurds to bear the entire burden of facing ISIS on the ground. Since ISIS' dramatic expansion of territory, we have apparently been perfectly happy to have others provide our protection and security, so that argument just does not hold water. Now there are perfectly strong reasons why Western troops should not be committed to Syria and Iraq, since that will just escalate everything in the region and provide a rallying call to the ISIS cause. But don't then posit that we take care of our own security.
Jumping in to the cause of our allies is hugely problematical as well. Since the collapse of Communism, NATO s no longer facing a united bloc of foes. I would argue that it has ceased to be of use, rather it increases the likelihood of war and conflict rather than head it off. An attack on one NATO country is deemed an attack on them all. If Francoise Hollande had called for NATO to attack ISIS for bombing Paris, we would have been duty bound. I find it significant that he didn't quite go that far, because he knew what it implied. You can argue that although Russia has been stripped of its former allies of the Eastern Bloc, it still remains a threat to the West as Putin continues to provoke by his actions. Yet NATO proved incapable of preventing Putin's actions in Ukraine, partly prompted by Ukraine's stated desire to turn away from Russia in favour of the EU and NATO. But the key to the NATO argument is the behaviour of NATO member Turkey. Turkey is following its own agenda in the region. It shot down a Russian fighter. Whether it was correct in law or not, if Turkey had declared itself under attack from Russia, again we would all have been duty bound to jump in and escalate hostilities well beyond the local militias and terrorist groups. Again you may argue that it was only the threat of NATO doing just this that prevented Russia from reacting more strongly to the downing of its fighter. And that may be true, but with Turkey being a loose canon, who is to say that it won't do something else that this time provokes irresistible response from Putin? Turkey also has been aiding ISIS fighters by providing sanctuary across its border and is almost certainly involved in ISIS's trade in oil and other assets that funds their State and continued military activities. Not a very united front or consistency of action on display from NATO here.
David Cameron asserted that there are some 70,000 anti-Assad rebels who could be used to fight ISIS on the ground. This is an utterly absurd notion and frankly a most worrying one if our Prime Minister has the level of understanding to believe this is gospel. Take a look of a map of the various forces in Syria courtesy of BBC
The rebel forces are nowhere near ISIS strongholds except in a couple of areas near Damascus. Plus they are solely concerned with fighting Assad's forces. They are not going to give up that primary aim to turn they efforts against ISIS, unless you first remove Assad and that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. Also of those 70,000 troops, how many are Jihadists and Islamists? Do you really think the fighters of the Al-Nusra Front are people we want to be dealing with? They are extremists too. I'm curious whether there is any thinking about rewarding the Kurds with an independent Kurdistan as they have been calling and in some cases battling for for years prior to this particular conflict? How would that be received in Turkey I wonder? Turkey regards its Kurds as more of a threat to the state than ISIS
Which leads on to the wider question, of just what is the long-term vision for the area? We have been fed a few clues, that it wouldn't include Assad, that the Islamic State would be dismantled. And what territorial borders would be established? As with so many of the states created out of former Ottoman colonies, the borders created for the likes of Syria and Iraq are somewhat arbitrary and don't reflect the various tribal and ethnic divisions of the populations there. Also there are scant traditions of democracy in the region, so again, how does one go about establishing such a thing from so low a base? Hasn't worked in Libya, is clinging on by its fingertips in Afghanistan... Destroying the Caliphate, which seems to be the one thing all the allies have agreed on, will not remove the threat of islamic terrorism. Instead it will spread it like a virus. As said earlier, they do not need a command and control centre in a specified territorial space. After the insurgency in Iraq was supposedly put down, the insurgents just slipped away and returned to blend in with their fellow citizens until ISIS collected them altogether into a new menacing force. The same is likely to happen again. Also IS is just as much an idea, an aspiration as it is a territorial reality. If I can resort to a crassly inappropriate phrase, it is a genie free from its bottle never to be recaptured. A Caliphate functioning under Sharia law will remain an aspiration for many Muslims and next time it could be in Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia or Yemen. ISIS are currently making great strides in Afghanistan. In Libya. The place does not matter. It will not fade away if this one in Syria and Iraq is destroyed.
1) Bombing Syria makes us less secure here in the UK not more
2) This is not about an abnegation of the responsibility to protect ourselves and relying on others
3) Formal military alliances make it more likely to draw us into full war rather than less
4) There are no 70,000 Syrians on the ground who can take on ISIS
5) There is no plan of what to do if and when ISIS falls
6) The Caliphate as an idea is here to stay and will remain a recruiting tool to the flag beyond the destruction of the Islamic State itself