Bombs and hubris: The Case Against Syrian Air Strikes... And For

AGAINST: A Knee-jerk armed reaction IS unlikely to do Syrians many favours 

When debating whether or not to bomb Syria, we’re often told that ‘doing nothing is not an option’. Averse as I am to the scaremongering that typically accompanies this statement, it’s something I can agree with. Likewise, I’m aware that a group whose aim is to destroy all non-believers are unlikely to join us at the negotiating table. However, the West can’t just bomb ISIS out of existence. The opposite of ‘doing nothing’ isn’t to do just anything. This isn’t a binary scenario where we either bomb Syria, or else turn our backs and shove our fingers in our ears. Air strikes can work, but unless they form part of a wider democratic strategy, they’re doomed to become just one more rotation of an endless vicious circle.

Bombing ISIS does have its logic. It could prevent them gaining new ground, thereby denying them the space to recruit and train new jihadists. Targeting their oil supplies would dent them financially, while sustained losses would counter their claims of being some unstoppable force and significantly weaken their appeal.

However, unlike al-Qaeda with its training camps, ISIS are largely integrated into the communities they’ve taken over. This makes it difficult to target them without also targeting civilians. This wouldn’t just worsen the refugee crisis; let’s not forget, ISIS’ modus operandi is convincing vulnerable people of the immorality and corruption of the West. If you’ve just seen a British bomb flatten your home and kill your parents, you’re unlikely to take much persuading. We can’t drop a bomb in isolation then stroll away. The potential for further radicalisation is overwhelming, not just in Syria but also amongst disillusioned Muslims at home.

WE CAN’T KEEP LETTING A NEO-IMPERIALISTIC, ‘WE’RE THE SAVIOURS OF THE WORLD!’ COMPLEX FOG OUR EVERY JUDGEMENTIn the three weeks since the Paris attacks, have we suddenly found new information that will allow us to more effectively target ISIS with no collateral damage? Will our bombs magically achieve what US, French and Saudi bombs have largely failed to do? Or are we simply rushing in, flexing our military might for the sake of it? Knee-jerk armed reactions might hamper ISIS, but they also hamper humanitarian efforts, and are unlikely to do Syria or the UK many favours in the long run.  

Looming over any debate is the shadow of Iraq. One misguided intervention doesn’t mean that we should sit on our hands forever more, even in the face of legitimate threats. However, to claim that we’ve learnt lessons about the futility of unwarranted invasion and the danger of destabilising regions with no plan for their future, but then be so trigger-happy when a similar situation arises, is the height of hubris. As a major world power we have responsibilities, but we can’t keep letting a neo-imperialistic, ‘We’re the saviours of the world!’ complex fog our every judgement.

This isn’t a simple case of Western Good Guys vs. Extremist Bad Guys. Even if air strikes could stop ISIS in its tracks, there is still the equally brutal Assad regime to contend with. Contrary to Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate rebels united and waiting to jump to our assistance, the various factions and loyalties in Syria make it impossible to pretend that the conflict is anything other than dauntingly complex. In the face of this, then, what is required is not ill-thought-out, faceless attacks from above. What is required is in-depth local knowledge, and a coherent plan for helping Syria to stabilise itself away from both ISIS and Assad. In short, what is required is something sorely lacking in modern foreign policy - a genuine focus on the long-term.

Harry Mason

FOR: We have a clear strategy. These bombs will make a difference

“Arms are permissible when there is no hope except in arms.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Assuming you are reading this in liberal, secular Britain and happy to be so, then like it or not you are at war with this thing which calls itself Islamic State.

It doesn’t care whether or not you want to be. It doesn’t care about your deeply-held belief in due process of law, your absolute aversion to taking life or your doubts about further Western intervention in the Middle East.

IS is at war with everything that is not IS. And it will never be otherwise.

Negotiating with it is no more possible than negotiating with Ebola and, like that virus, IS must be denied hosts by any means necessary or it will spread.  There is nothing that can be done for those already infected. Perhaps they will live to walk away. Most likely not.

What it does care about, what it is prepared to do you know already. This article is not about to rake over the grisly catalogue of its individual crimes. You know. You’ve clicked those links over warnings that what you find ‘may be disturbing.’ God wasn’t it though? Perhaps you think the video will stop one day, that light will dawn. It won’t.

These psychotics who summarily burn, rape and murder in the name of the merciful and compassionate God of the Koran will never be summonsed. They’ll never see the inside of a courtroom. They’ll never do time.

A refusal to attack IS in its Syrian heartlands will make you, in Britain, no safer. You may choose to believe if you like that the blood-letting in France last month was punishment, down to the fact that French aircraft can cross the border between Iraq and Syria and we in Britain will be safe as long as ours don’t.

But you know that is nonsense. Paris bled because IS saw a chance to make it bleed.

London, Manchester or Birmingham will bleed just as surely if it sees a chance there.  The debt we owe to our silent security services for preventing this is already huge.

our closest allies are begging us to bring the bombs

Anyway, that border between Syria and Iraq was drawn by Britain and France. To IS it is nothing, a line in the sand put there by crusaders.  It should be nothing to the RAF either.

Perhaps you take the view that a few more bombs won’t make a difference.

Well, leaving aside that our closest allies are begging us to bring the bombs, and that we have a United Nations mandate to neutralise the terror threat of IS, and that we are permanent members of the Security Council consider this: we have exceptional bombs.

We have bombs even the Americans would like to have if their military industrial complex would just allow them to buy British.

Anyone convinced that God is on his side is going to die in a state of deep if very transient theological confusion when targeted by a Tornado with a full load of Brimstone missiles. These things never miss. Even the designers are baffled by how good they are.  A Storm Shadow can find you underground under two metres of concrete from five hundred miles away.

Oh these bombs will make a difference.

We have a clear strategy, despite what you may have heard from the opposition benches in the Commons. To illuminate and degrade IS and to target its deranged membership with laser accuracy. Alone this won’t end them, but it will stymie their expansion and buy time for others to do so. As it is already doing in Iraq.

The failure of reconstruction in both Afghanistan and Iraq was real. But those failures cannot allow us to stop trying to succeed in Syria, even if we have to go beyond bombing and send the military back in. On the ground.

The West has the capability to destroy IS in a matter of days. Sooner or later, absent a miracle, it is going to have to go in and do just that if a region of absolute strategic importance is not to spin out of all semblance of control.

History may well look back and wonder what on Earth took them so long.

David Cottle

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