A short case against the bombing of Syria.
Let me start by saying that I would like nothing more than to see IS destroyed. Daesh and the theocratic ideologies like it are a bane upon this earth. I am not anti-war in many ways: I think that there are worse things than war, and sometimes that war may well be the right course.
Western military intervention can also be the right course. Even a company with as few morals as Halliburton occasionally does the right thing- they helped to rebuild the water supplies in Iraq following the Western intervention.
And unlike Jeremy Corbyn, I do support the air strikes in Iraq against Daesh and I am proud to say that I support our efforts to defend the elected government there, whatever our previous interventions may have brought to the Iraqi people.
But, I hold that involvement in Syria may turn out to be the worst internationalist decision we have made this half of the century. The media has been silent ever since we decided to begin air strikes in November; too busy making up stories about tensions between Hilary Benn and Jeremy Corbyn (there’s no truth to the idea that Benn is challenging Corbyn for leadership of the Labour party) to actually cover the air strikes in Syria in any detail.
I’m a fan of Hilary Benn on most days and I thought his speech was very well laid out, passionate, and articulate. All in all, it was a good speech. Unfortunately, it was also a terrible argument. For those of you who didn’t see it, it centred on a few arguments, the two most noteworthy of which were the idea that we have a duty to help France as an allied country, and secondly, that the bombing campaign in Iraq was a success, and ergo, the same logic can be applied to Syria.
I’ve never seen or heard a good logical argument that we have a duty to help the French in Syria- I have always been of the opinion that the 13 countries already bombing to eradicate Daesh, including Russia and the USA, are probably enough help, even if this bombing campaign made any strategic sense.
And so the conservatives tell me that Our bombs are unique, and limit collateral damage.
However, not bombing for symbolic purposes seems to me to be the best way of limiting collateral damage. Is this not the case? A bomb that is not landing is a bomb that is not killing an innocent civilian. Unless the US and Russia are planning to withdraw and let us use the new smart bombs alone, I see little point in our involvement.
After which the argument usually becomes but the French would do the same for us! How would you feel if we asked France to help us against an ideology that attacked us, and we refused?
I really loathe arguments that use the “How would you feel if” phrase. They are based on pure emotion, with no logic involved. Someone who has been attacked (whether an individual or a nation) rarely has a cognitive hold on the correct course of action- retaliation is part of basic human nature- logic and reason require a step back: Away from the emotion.
And it goes without saying that killing for symbolic purposes is the act of an immoral fool.
For Hilary Benn to act like Syria and Iraq can fairly be compared is not only disingenuous, but a full blown logical fallacy; an A Fortiori argument (or “Argument from a yet stronger reason”), using the good case for military engagement in Iraq to justify the bad case for involvement in Syria.
Does anyone seriously believe that we shouldn’t respect the border between Iraq and Syria because ISIS doesn’t recognise it? I keep hearing this argument and I’m utterly blown away by how little sense it makes.
In Iraq, the government has been flailing, but reasonably stable and without serious opposition ever since the Talabani government came into power. In Iraq there are two possibilities- the democratically elected government or ISIS. The situation in Syria is much more complex, and Hilary Benn was either, ignorant, disingenuous, or deceitful to not acknowledge this in his speech.
It’s worth pointing out another difference between myself and the general anti-war movement here. Alone, the argument that people might die in the bombing campaign is not enough to argue against it- in order to defeat an enemy like Daesh, there will be casualties. It is a sad fact, but only the irresponsible and the ahistorical think that an enemy like this can be defeated without casualties.
I also know that bombing does not generate terrorism. Daesh recruit whether an area is being bombed or not.
If we are bombing, they tell the civilians that we bomb because we are crusaders, and portray themselves as the defenders of true Islam. If we don’t bomb, they tell the civilians that we don’t care enough, that “the west doesn’t care enough about you to help you fight Assad or to defend you from us.”
In terms of recruitment, these Islamist thugs will pull in support either way.
However, this bombing serves no practical purpose- IS are adaptable as a guerrilla force, using human shields where they can- and this is the issue which I feel makes it particularly immoral: unless you think that there is some chance of a defeat against Daesh, then it seems utterly pointless to bomb and cause civilian casualties, purely so we can say that we have symbolically “helped” France.
The balance of power.
We have been promised by Assad that he will hold free elections once Syria is “secure”, in return for military assistance against Daesh. However, anyone who takes his word on this has never studied a dictator before.
Once Daesh are gone, Assad has no reason to keep his promise- he can simply prolong his dictatorship by claiming that the country is still in crisis until the end of his lifetime. And with Russia’s backing, he knows that the international community cannot stop him. He considers himself untouchable. Make no mistake: this deceitful dauphin is a dictator of the very worst kind.
I want to see Daesh completely obliterated, but we must carefully consider the consequences of our involvement. The Syrian people are primarily concerned with the removal of the dictator Bashar Al-Assad. Let’s not forget that the civil war actually began in 2011, when Assad’s forces slaughtered 1000 civilians.
In terms of the methods used to kill, there is little doubt that Daesh are the worst imaginable (although Saudi Arabia are also competing for the top spot), holding horrific public executions for reasons that are trivial matters to anyone but the most barbaric theocratic thugs. However, for every one civilian that Daesh has killed, Assad has killed five. Not many people realise that Assad has a higher civilian casualty rate than ISIS.
Would I stop all military pressure on ISIS? Of course not. These thugs and drug induced criminals need to go. But bombing in Syria runs the risk of winning the Civil War for Assad.
We have backed the 70,000 fighters of the Syrian Free Army, spread thinly across Syria, in accordance with David Cameron’s wishes. However (ignoring the questionable figure of 70,000 fighters which has come under considerably scrutiny) the SFA have no reason whatsoever to focus their attention on Daesh, if it wins the civil war for Assad. So many of them may yet simply refuse to help us, and join any number of the other groups fighting in Syria, if they believe that the balance may tip in their favour.
The other groups in Syria include, but are not limited to:
– Thuwar Al Sham battalions
-The Homs Liberation movement
-The Syrian Turkmen Brigades
-The Grey Wolves
-The Muslim Brotherhood of Syria
-The Al-Nusra front (An Al Qaeda associated group)
-Jabhat Ansar Al-Din
-The Islamic Muthanna movement
-The People’s protection units
– The Women’s protection units
-The Syrian Union party
-The Syrian Democratic Assembly
– The Kurdistan Workers party
-Al Sanadid forces
-The International Freedom Battalion
-The United Freedom Forces
-Reconstrucción comunista (Communist forces)
-The Shammer tribe militias
– The Al-Shaitat tribe militias
– Assad’s military and forces loyal to the government
It’s absolute insanity to bomb Syria when our withdrawal objectives, as much as our allies, are so unclear- which of these groups will support us?
Which opposing groups can the SFA deal with?
How many of these groups are willing to work with each other?
With regards to the latter question, the evidence so far seems to point to the idea that most of these groups are unwilling to work with each other.
The Syrians will be none too happy if all we do is restore the dictator Assad back to power. Many of them want ISIS gone, but not at the risk of getting Assad back. Why would they halt their assault on Assad (whom many of them see as the real threat) so that they can restore him to power? These fighters have little or no reason to help us.
Many of the people cheering Hilary Benn’s speech on the subject of Syria were opponents of the 2003 Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan and the Libya intervention. However, they seemed to conveniently forget that Hilary Benn voted in favour of military action in all of these cases too. If they had, they might have wondered about his internationalist judgement, rather than simply being swept up in how emotionally he spoke.
The U.N. did not, contrary to popular ignorance, authorise the UK to bomb Syria. In order to, they would have had to pass the resolution on Syria under chapter seven of the UN charter, which they could not get from the Security Council. The resolution to use all means to defeat Daesh means nothing, if it does not specifically have U.N. backing, and authorisation for bombing.
Our close relationship with the Saudis is also questionable- given that the Saudis use crucifixion as a punishment, and Assad kills more civilians than Daesh, do we not also have an internationalist duty to put somewhere near equal pressure on Assad and Saudi Arabia, as we are currently putting on Daesh?
On top of the ludicrous number of different fighters inside Syria, the involvement of the international community further complicates matters. Russia continually pushes the boundaries on air space, while both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been accused of buying oil from Daesh. Our relationship with these countries is under serious threat over this issue, and it would only take one small disaster to provoke an international incident.
While I am not part of the Daesh conspiracy theorists, it is undeniable that Daesh has been discovered with British manufactured weapons. British, American, and Russian Special Forces are all involved in Syria. The mistakes of the Iraq war were horrendous- they took many innocent lives- but one misstep in Syria could provoke an international conflict. It’s a potentially explosive situation in so many ways.
Many military personnel, such as Sir Richard Shireff, have warned that air strikes against Daesh in Syria serve no logical military purpose. Proponents of the Just War theory have also voiced their opposition on the grounds of an abysmal lack of exit strategy.
Even Stephen Fry voiced his objections to the Syria air strike vote, and he was echoed by Charlotte Church, Sandi Thom, Piers Morgan, James Corden, Jemima Goldsmith, and many other respected figures.
This bombing campaign has no clear outcome, no popular support among Britons, is a threat to the people of Syria, and a danger to the international community.
Exit strategy is so important- any Iraqi citizen who was in Iraq after 2003 can attest to that fact. And, as I keep saying, we messed up in Iraq when we had a clear objective; a single enemy and no other international involvement. None of these advantages are with us in Syria. And our involvement may be decades long. That is why I think that this is so dangerous- that is why I think that the decision to bomb Syria will be a mistake we may even come to regret more than the Iraq war.