The arguments for and against bombing Syria are complicated and anybody who considers the arguments will come to the conclusion that, regardless of whether thinking the bombing is right or wrong, it’s a very difficult call to make. This is why it is so infuriating that David Cameron yesterday declared that anybody who opposed the airstrikes was a ‘terrorist sympathiser’. Somehow, I doubt that Nicholas Hénin, a French journalist who was held hostage by Jihadi John and opposes airstrikes, is a terrorist sympathiser. Hénin said, ‘Mohammed Emwazi was one of my captors. He is the one who murdered my friends’. He is the very last person you could accuse of having sympathies with ISIS’s cause. Yet, this is precisely what David Cameron accused him of, along with everybody else who opposes airstrikes, in the parliamentary debate on whether the UK should engage in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
There have been left-wing sentiments that are equally malicious. You will not be hard-pressed to find people on the left who are happy to comment that Hilary Benn’s father would be spinning in his grave if he could see the impassioned speech for bombing that the shadow foreign secretary made yesterday. It’s hard to see where the ‘kinder politics’ that Jeremy Corbyn has supposedly brought to the Labour Party has been adhered to. One theme of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership period has been accusations that people who disagree with him are ‘Red Tories’, but foreign intervention has never had a neat position on the left-right spectrum, and it’s easy to forget that some of the biggest opposition to airstrikes comes from the likes of Peter Hitchens, and that the Iraq War was opposed by both Hitchens and Farage. Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper, and Ben Bradshaw were among the Labour MPs who voted for the airstrikes against Syria.
There has been plenty of bunk from both sides with regards to how clear the case for or against bombing Syria is. From those who support the bombing, we are led to believe that foreign intervention will necessarily lead to the defeat of ISIS, in spite of the fact that previous western intervention in Iraq and Libya has not only failed to purge those countries of Salafi-Jihadism, but in fact has exacerbated the religious tensions in those areas; there is even a question as to whether ISIS would have been able to rise at all without the intervention in Iraq. The lack of a plan for after intervention suggests that there is no reason that the outcome should be any different to the outcome in either Iraq or Libya. In the words of John Gray, writing in the New Statesman last week, ‘it is easy to destroy a state, but much harder to create one’. If there is one lesson to be learnt from previous intervention, it is that destroyed states, and destroyed livelihoods, allow destructive ideologies to fester.
Likewise, reading any left-leaning newspaper or article would lead you to believe that these airstrikes will certainly lead to the deaths of innocent civilians, but the RAF strikes against Northern Iraq have, according to official reports, resulted in the deaths of 330 ISIS members but no civilians, so there is some question as to whether the claim that bombing ISIS in Syria will inevitably lead to civilian deaths is definitely true. The claim that all forms of military action are wholly unsuccessful is also mistaken, as the airstrikes against Iraq have been a large reason that ISIS have been kept from taking more of Iraq, and in the past many feared that ISIS could even take Baghdad. Similarly, the idea that supporting local troops and militias on the ground can lead to no success is wrong. The Kurds have, in the past few weeks, taken Sinjar from ISIS control, and that Hezbollah have largely been successful in fighting ISIS at the Syria-Lebanon border. There is also a certain level of ridiculousness that the same people who have called for Blair to be arrested given that the Iraq War was illegal by the standards of the United Nations are now perfectly content to ignore the recommendation of the UN that ISIS be defeated by any means possible.
An idea has permeated into British political culture that the ‘other guys’, i.e. those who have opposing views to whatever views you happen to hold, have not reached their decision by carefully and compassionately considering both sides of the debate, but rather out of self-interest or even hatred. I do not know who can watch Hilary Benn’s speech and claim that he does not genuinely believe that the morally right thing to do is bomb Syria, and I do not know who can listen to Jeremy Corbyn and conclude that he is a closet ISIS supporter. It is likely that Cameron does not actually believe that Corbyn is sympathetic to ISIS, but rather knows that the public is teetering on thinking that he is, and wants to play up those fears. The Conservatives’ campaign against Corbyn as a threat to security has been met with derision and disbelief by the Corbynite Twitterati but has struck a chord with the general public, especially given that few know the context of his comments about our ‘friends in Hezbollah’.
My view on the bombing of Syria is this: the last thing that we want is another Iraq, or another Libya. Although a bombing campaign is fundamentally different from putting boots on the ground in a country, it is a fair assumption that, without new methods of fighting in Syria, we cannot expect different results to those in Iraq or Libya. There is no evidence to suggest that the plan for after the intervention has been given a sufficient amount of thought. A sensible option to me seems a piece of legislation that requires every pound spent on bombs, troops, and weaponry to be matched by another pound on rebuilding after the intervention has ended. The plan in Syria is not detailed enough that intervention can be justified, and until that plan has been fleshed out, bombing is a bad idea. However, ISIS are a destructive force, and, as long as they exist, people will suffer, and suffer immensely. A plan for intervention could be a positive thing, but this plan for intervention is not. All other options should also be exhausted before bombing in Syria; have we really given any effort to cutting off ISIS’ sources of funding? Until we have a concrete plan, it seems to me that we do not have a strong enough case to bomb Syria, but there are no simple solutions to the problems in Syria and the lack of nuance in the arguments from many on left and right make it all the more likely that the approach we do take will lead to disaster.