Labour should support UK bombing of Da’esh (ISIS) in Syria to help hold the line while an interim political settlement is negotiated

After much soul-searching and wobbling, I have come to the conclusion that Britain ought to heed the call in UN Security Council resolution 2249 on countries with the capacity to do so to make every effort to eradicate Da’esh (ISIS) terrorism from the territory it occupies in both Iraq and Syria by every necessary means, including force (I paraphrase, but without distorting). In arriving at this difficult conclusion I was influenced by irritation at the many dubious assertions in his weekly Guardian column by the usually reliable Revd. Canon Giles Fraser (full disclosure: although not a churchgoer or believer, I used to know Giles Fraser slightly when he was vicar of St Mary’s, Putney, and I like and respect him).

So I submitted the following (slightly edited) letter for publication in the Guardian:

Giles Fraser’s piece on Syria (You won’t win a war against Isis if you don’t know what the peace looks like, Comment, 27 November) is sadly below his usual standard. His claim that “demonstrably things are no better” after world war 2 and what he calls ‘the war on terror’, is demonstrably false: without the first we would probably still be living under a murderous fascist dictatorship, and without the second there would by now have been tens of thousands more killed, injured and bereaved by terrorist attacks in our own towns and cities than the minuscule numbers who have actually suffered from them, compared with the number of terrorist attacks planned and foiled.  He says we have no vision of what peace might look like, ignoring the Vienna peace process actively promoting an interim settlement between the Assad régime and the main opposition groups. His comparison of Iraq 2003 with Da’esh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq now is feeble: Iraq was not then occupied by an Islamist régime deliberately carrying out terrorist attacks on western cities or even threatening to do so.

Giles Fraser asks us not to “call this a war and dignify Isis with the honorific status of being an enemy army”, having a moment ago called it a war, and apparently unaware that Daesh is indeed a heavily armed enemy army that occupies and governs wide areas of Iraq and Syria, one which can’t possibly be defeated otherwise than by military force.  And he asserts that “We wouldn’t bomb the suburbs of Brussels to eliminate the Isis cells stationed there”:  oh yes, we would, if Belgium had been occupied by an enemy terrorist organisation and couldn’t be liberated in any other way (ask the widows and widowers of Caen).

The fact is that Da’esh-occupied territory has been substantially reduced by military action on the ground by Syrian government and opposition and other forces supported by western and now Russian air power:  and that if the western coalition, already including the UK, suddenly stopped bombing Da’esh in Iraq and (without us) in Syria, Da’esh would rapidly expand again and might well end up controlling Baghdad and Damascus. That would require incomparably more costly military international action (in terms of blood and treasure) to eradicate it than if the western coalition and Russia continue to prevent Da’esh expansion by supporting the ground troops at war with it, pending an interim peace deal between the main Syrian groups and the formation of a multinational force in blue berets that can “prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh [in Iraq and Syria]” plus “Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups [,…and] eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria” – in the words of UN Security Council resolution 2249 of 20 November, adopted unanimously.

Opponents such as Canon Fraser of bombing Da’esh to hold it at bay until there are sufficient forces available to defeat it completely have yet to suggest a credible alternative programme of action; and as long as we continue to play our part in bombing Da’esh in Iraq, there seems no ethical, legal or practical problem about extending our action to Syria.  To refrain from bombing Da’esh for fear of provoking terrorist reprisals in London or other British cities would be to surrender abjectly to terrorist blackmail, and is anyway unlikely to succeed: 9/11, the worst attack on the west so far, took place before the western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya, and can hardly be represented as retaliation for them.

A much shorter version of this letter (abbreviated by myself at the Guardian’s request) is published in the Guardian’s website as the fourth letter in (it of course contradicts the Guardian’s heading) and it’s the last letter in today’s print edition, where it takes a contrary view to those expressed in all the others.

In short, I believe that supporting local ground forces by participating in the bombing of Da’esha in both Syria and Iraq, as now authorised and encouraged by unanimous decision of the Security Council, serves a useful and essential purpose in minimising the territory under Da’esh control and preventing its expansion while an interim political settlement is worked out under UN auspices and a multinational ground force is assembled to root out this vicious gang. In fact I don’t see any realistic alternative to doing so. The situation is radically different from those that prompted the Afghanistan, Iraq and Libyan interventions. Since it’s the right and necessary thing to do, we should not be deterred by Da’esh threats of retaliation against our own towns and cities – such attacks are likely to be attempted anyway, and we should never submit to blackmail.   But I acknowledge that some of the counter-arguments are tenable and I respect those who take the opposite view.



12 Responses

  1. obiterJ says:

    Hello Brian – it would be good if you could write up another Ephem about the Vienna process.  It gets minimal mention in the press but is is clearly mentioned in the government’s case (published this week) for extending bombing to Syria.  There can probably be no guarantee that the Vienna process will produce a lasting settlement and it is clear enough that the “power that be” do not see Assad as part of the future and that might, in itself, prove to be the elephant in the room.  One must also have some doubts about the claim that there are 70,000 fighters willing to take on ISIL in Syria.  I don’t doubt that there will be many but 70,000?  Where has the figures come from? Who will coordinate their actions?  Whatever doubts exist, the Vienna process has to be worth pursuing.  Meanwhile, the line has to be held in Syria so that ISIL do not expand further. The UK should play its part in that. There is little military logic in confining air attacks against ISIL to Iraq alone. The RAF’s precision capability is a necessary addition to the anti-ISIL armoury.  I think the “Is it legal” question has been answered. It is Article 51 and/or UNSCR 2249.  The government seems content to rely on Art 51 and the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC is in agreement that it is a basis for action (with a few caveats).  See his evidence to the Foreign affairs committee.  I hope you can do a write up about the Vienna process.  It will be a useful addition to the discussion.  Sincerely, ObiterJ.

  2. David Campbell says:

    I hope your judgement isn’t being distorted by dislike of Corbyn,  Brian, rather than understandable irritation with the Rev Fraser. On this issue, Corbyn’s right. There are too many warplanes over Syria, not too few.

    In Iraq, we have a strategy, of sorts. We support a legitimate government, and cannot allow it to be swept aside. It has little prospect of reoccupying lost territory until it adopts a more inclusive political strategy. The main thrust of our efforts should be to encourage this.

    In Syria, we haven’t a strategy, as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee demonstrated. The Geneva “process” might just produce a government of national union. We should do everything we can to prevent these negotiations being sabotaged. If they succeed, we’ll be in business. There will be more effective ways of supporting the new government than sending in the Royal Air Force.

    As to the French, we would be better allies if we encouraged them to to moderate their behaviour. Their bellicosity makes them look ineffective. It dignifies ISIS. Revenge bombing kills civilians. It exacerbates the cycle of violence.

  3. Brian says:

    Brian writes in response to David Campbell: It’s predictable, but depressing, that the first reaction in the first comment here expressing disagreement with my argument for Britain to extend its existing participation in the bombing of Daesh (ISIS) to Syria should be to impugn my own motives for arguing that we should. Alas, this is typical of a certain group of opponents of bombing Daesh in Syria. Moreover the categorical statement that “On this issue, Corbyn’s right” does nothing to advance the debate.

    It’s quite wrong to say that in Syria we have no accompanying diplomatic or political strategy. Britain has been and remains actively involved in the UN talks and negotiations since June 2012 or even earlier — see my separate comment. Your reference to the “Geneva process” suggests that you have not been following the later meetings in Vienna, of which the most recent was on 14 November and which are a continuing process. The idea that Britain on its own can or should attempt to develop a “strategy” for bringing peace to Syria or for defeating Daesh is pure post-colonial hubris. There’s a big international military and diplomatic effort in progress in which the UK is not by any means the biggest or most influential player, especially as long as we fastidiously hang back from joining the air campaign against Daesh in Syria — again, see my separate comment.  Any interim settlement between the Syrian factions and régime will need to be backed up by continued containment of Daesh within Syria, to which the bombing of Raqqa and other Daesh targets by the US, France, Russia and others (in the shameful absence of the UK) makes an indispensable contribution. RAF participation in that would strengthen, not “sabotage”, a political interim settlement, and pave the way to a major international military effort to eliminate the Daesh occupation of territory in Syria and Iraq, as called for by UNSCR 2249.

    In response to ObiterJ:   Thank you for this. I entirely agree that the future role (or lack of one) of Assad in any future broadly based Syrian administration, even an interim one, is already a real problem, and will continue to be one as long as western negotiators continue to cling to their regrettably obstinate precondition for a settlement that Assad must be excluded from it — although there have recently been some signs of limited flexibility on this point. It’s not hard to imagine an eventual compromise under which Assad’s Alawites will play a part in an interim administration while it’s agreed that Assad’s own personal future role, if any, should be decided at a later stage, perhaps after Daesh has been defeated and eliminated, by the Syrian people themselves, not by either Putin or Obama (or his successor), although even this may be difficult for the anti-régime Syrian groups to swallow. I fear that the role of the Kurds and their clearly effective soldiers, anathema to Turkey, may prove to be an even tougher nut to crack. But at least there’s an active international process involving a very large number of countries (including the UK) and international organisations trying to resolve these matters, under UN auspices — although you wouldn’t know it from the UK media, with a few rare exceptions.
    I have offered a brief summary of the Geneva and latterly the Vienna peace processes, in response to your request, in a new comment at

    In response to Mr Corbyn on the Andrew Marr Show, 29 November 2015 (today): The argument that instead of joining the bombing of Daesh in Syria (or as you prefer to call it, “bombing Syria”), we should concentrate on diplomatic peace-making, suggests that we are incapable of doing both, which is obvious nonsense, since we are currently actively involved both in bombing Daesh in Iraq and in the Geneva and now Vienna settlement negotiations (see my separate comment). Your fleeting reference to “Geneva II” indicates an awareness of these negotiations but also suggests that you have not been following the more recent international talks in Vienna in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), in which Britain and 19 other countries and organisations are actively participating. It was said (by LBJ) of the late Gerald Ford that he was so stupid that he was incapable of farting and chewing gum at the same time. Any reasonably competent British government should be, indeed is, perfectly able to pursue inter-related military and diplomatic aims at the same time.

    Your call for “a cease-fire” instead of bombing is puzzling. Are you suggesting that we, or the west and Russia, should be negotiating a cease-fire with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL)? What possible concessions could or should the west offer to Daesh that might persuade them to suspend or terminate their campaign of violence against their fellow Muslims in the region and against the western liberal democracies in general? Should we agree to ban from our own countries gender equality, girls’ schools, pop music and mini-skirts?  If all you mean is a cease-fire between the different Syrian pro- and anti-régime groups, we have been actively involved in UN-led talks with precisely that objective for several years and will no doubt continue to contribute to them, as will those of our allies who are already participating both in talks leading to inter-Syrian cease-fire negotiations and in the containment of Daesh by targeted bombing.

    In defence of your emphatic promise that divisions  within the Labour party on bombing would continue to be discussed, you said that the purpose of politics was discussion. No, Mr Corbyn, the purpose of politics is to promote the interests and safeguard the security of the people of our country and the promotion of peace and security internationally – functions whose first precondition  is winning elections and taking office in government.  Endless inconclusive discussions are for academics, the media, us bloggers and back-bench ideologues.

    In answer to Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer, 29 November 2015:  Most of what you say about the state of the Labour party is, alas, incontrovertible. But I would take issue with your description of the decision on how Labour MPs should vote on extending RAF bombing of Daesh to Syria as “a grave and momentous issue”. On the contrary, for Britain it’s a matter of relatively little consequence. Whatever parliament decides about UK bombing of Daesh in Syria will have virtually no effect on the bombing of Daesh-occupied areas, including the Daesh HQ in Raqqa, by those of our allies who are already carrying it out. Britain is already taking part in the international bombing of Daesh in Iraq without any vast domestic campaign of outraged semi-pacifists demanding that we stop it. If we extend that existing bombing campaign to Daesh targets across the border in Syria, we are unlikely to increase the total number of bomb or other missile attacks in the area, since whatever we do over Syria is likely to reduce what we do in Iraq pro rata – it’s just more likely to be effective in Syria because the Daesh ‘capital’ is in Syria, not Iraq. Since UNSC resolution 2249, no question of legality arises from a decision to extend the bombing to Daesh targets in Syria. It’s true that our contribution to the Syrian air campaign against Daesh would not be decisive, but that’s a reason for never contributing to an Oxfam campaign for disaster relief overseas, and it could be said of almost any country’s contribution to an international military effort except that of the US and possibly Russia. As a military and diplomatic ally of those helping local ground forces to contain Daesh by giving them air support, as a participant in the diplomatic talks aimed at an interim political settlement between Syrian groups, and as a permanent member of the Security Council in which we have just voted for a resolution calling on all countries with the capacity for doing so to support efforts to defeat Daesh and eradicate it from the Syrian and Iraqi maps, we have a clear duty to do everything we can to respond to that call, and that must include helping to contain Daesh in Syria. But we must face the reality that whether we decide, after all this agonising and soul-searching, to do so or not to do so, the eventual outcome will be the same. Every little helps and we should do what we can. But the issue for us is neither grave nor momentous in the great international scheme of things, and we should not flatter ourselves that it is.

  4. Brian says:

    In his comment in this thread, ObiterJ has asked me for an Ephems post about the ‘Vienna process’, namely the international talks that have been going on since 2012 or earlier in Geneva and latterly in Vienna with the aim of bringing about an interim settlement and cease-fire between the various Syrian factions, excluding those involved in terrorism but probably including the Assad régime or some of its representatives.  I don’t think such a factual account is appropriate for a new blog post, especially while debate on this post continues, but I am happy to provide here a sketchy summary of the process so far, as I understand it, with a few website addresses for more detailed articles on the subject.  The following account is drawn mainly from articles on the Web.

    An “action group” conference (now referred to as the Geneva I Conference on Syria) was held on 30 June 2012 in Geneva, initiated by Kofi Annan, the then UN peace envoy to Syria, and attended by the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, a representative of China, the then British Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, William Hague, and Kofi Annan. The Geneva II Conference on Syria (also called the Geneva II Middle East peace conference or simply Geneva II) was a United Nations-backed international peace conference on the future of Syria with the aim of ending the Syrian civil war by bringing together the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to discuss steps towards a transitional government for Syria with full executive powers. The conference took place on 22 January 2014 in Montreux and on 23–31 January 2014 in Geneva. It was coordinated and managed by the then UN peace envoy to Syria following Kofi Annan’s resignation, the highly respected Lakhdar Brahimi, in cooperation with the United States and Russia. The second round of negotiations took place on 10–15 February 2014.

    On 5 May 2015 the UN began consultations with Syrian government and opposition officials in search of enough common ground to restart peace talks. The UN’s special envoy, the experienced mediator Staffan de Mistura (with whom, among many others, I worked when he was a senior member of the UN team coordinating international famine relief to Ethiopia in the 1980s) said more than 40 groups had been invited to attend one-on-one meetings over the following five to six weeks. Iran and Turkey were also invited, but “jihadist militant groups” were not.

    At their meeting on 14 November 2015 the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), whose 20 members include (as well as the UK) the US, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the Arab Leagie, Turkey, China and the UN, stated their commitment to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the 2012 Geneva Communique “in its entirety”. The ISSG agreed on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices with a target date of 1 January 2016.  The ISSG repeated that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh) as well as the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, and “other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, as agreed by the participants and endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be defeated.”

    A bare recital of this record of persistent efforts by the UN and a wide range of governments and international organisations to work for an interim peaceful settlement involving all the non-terrorist Syrian groups is a complete answer to those opponents of British bombing of Daesh targets in Syria who denounce David Cameron for allegedly failing to work up a “strategy” for bringing peace to Syria as a pre-condition for any decision to extend our bombing, currently confined to Daesh targets in Iraq, to Syria.  Britain has participated from the start, and continues to participate, in a huge international effort to develop just such a strategy.  It can only be done on an international scale, managed by the UN, and — as is proving necessary — lasting over years rather than weeks or months.  The notion that Britain can think up its own separate ‘strategy’ in isolation from the continuing international negotiations and in competition with them is simply naive.

    There’s a wealth of detailed information about all these international peace-making efforts on the Web (but not much in the UK media, for some mysterious reason — too ‘boring’, perhaps?).  Those interested in knowing more might usefully start by visiting —;;

  5. Tom Berney says:

    I admit I do not see any easy way to deal with ISIL and I agree that there is no possibility of negotiation with them.  However, like many others I am aware that we have been bombing Iraq on and off for more than a decade (and Afghanistan  too for a large part of it)  – longer if you include prior to the invasion of Iraq. What exactly do you see as the benefits that has wrought for either the people of the region or the containment of terrorism in the West?  What convinces you that killing even more innocent people is going to bring about a better situation this time?  I understand about 8,000 targets have already been bombed in Syria. Should we just level entire cities? Caen style I think you said.


  6. ObiterJ says:

    Dear Brian, Thank you.  That’s precisely what I asked for.  The lack of awareness of the non-military processes is astounding.  People seem to think it is just about bombing and nothing else. I instinctively question claims that war is necessary – (jaw jaw / war war) – BUT the extension of bombing to Syria makes sense and it is necessary that the UK plays its part (along with the other nations).  It should strengthen our involvement in the Geneva process.  Interestingly, I don’t think that a parliamentary vote is LEGALLY necessary.  The disposition of the Armed Forces of the Crown is within Royal Prerogative powers.  When Cameron lost the previous vote on Syria he was asked by Ed Miliband whether the government would act under prerogative powers and Cameron replied that he would return to the House of Commons if necessary.  It is because of that promise that the vote is required.  Thanks again for the information about Geneva.

  7. David Campbell says:

    I’m sorry I teased you about Corbyn, Brian. No malice was intended and I would be surprised if anyone but you thinks there was. I reject entirely your accusation of neo-colonial hubris. That, surely, applies more plausibly to those following the Mandate precedent of bombing tribal villages. In arguing that HMG needed a “strategy” I was quoting the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Perhaps their report could be added to the other helpful links you’ve provided.

    You may find my opinions less threatening if, without retreating on substance, I rephrase them. I think we need less force and more diplomacy. That’s the nub of the issue. I used the word “process” (and put it in inverted commas) to describe our current diplomatic activities because I do not believe there is anything like enough political clout behind them. Nor, I think, do you, because you see so clearly how damaging our preconditions over Assad have been. But I’m guessing, because your commentary fails to carry the discussion forward. When I said I we should do everything we could to prevent the diplomatic process being sabotaged, I was referring to the way our preconditions sabotaged  Annan and Brahimi, not to RAF bombing (I’m surprised you didn’t find this obvious). But I do, in fact, think our obsession with force is extremely unhelpful. Cameron and his Cabinet seem to have an unhealthy fixation on joining the fight. They find diplomacy an irritant. Hammond’s defensiveness with the Select Committee bears this out.

    Thus far the House of Commons has imposed restraint. Some of its members may be impressed by the government’s cautious – and belated – publicity for diplomacy. Some may think, as you do, that resolution 2249 has changed the situation. Others may see the publicity as spin and the resolution as a fudge. If you think Scottish opinion matters, I would suggest you to look behind the number of SNP MPs. Behind that monolithic facade, Scottish opinion is divided. Nevertheless the SNP have read the mood correctly, as they usually do. On balance, Scotland is against extending the bombing. Prudence suggests we should factor this into HMG’s calculations. It would be neo-colonialist not to.

  8. Oliver Miles says:

    Thank you for opening the batting on this fast moving and important debate (even though I agree with you that “grave and momentous issue” is overdoing it). Also for pointing out that arguments on both sides are tenable, and promising to respect those who take the opposite view. I wondered if you slipped a bit from your own standard when you describe the absence of the UK from the bombing of Syria with a throwaway “shameful”.

    David Cameron in Parliament on 26 November made the case well for joining the bombing. My own worries as you know have been legality, effectiveness, and political consequences. The legality issue has been more or less settled, although we will hear more about it in the future, as we did over Libya.

    Effectiveness remains a stumbling block. Nobody suggests that airstrikes alone will be effective. I am impressed by the position of the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said last month before the elections that Canada would remain a strong member of the coalition against Daesh but would provide more humanitarian aid in Iraq and Syria and more training rather than bombing missions. After he was elected Canada said it would withdraw its fighter jets, but that surveillance aircraft, transports and an in-flight refuelling plane would remain with the coalition forces. So far Canada’s new position has not been criticised by other members of the coalition.

    The only effective military action will come from the region. At present that mainly means Kurds, Iranians and Iraqi Shia. Arab participation (Saudi, UAE, Egypt) in the airstrikes has faded and the readiness of the international force to do the heavy lifting has left the Arabs free to get heavily stuck in to a war in Yemen from which they will not easily extract themselves.

    Political consequences in the Middle East region will depend on many unknowns, notably how long this war lasts which to judge by recent precedents is likely to be many years. I would argue for caution: we are what we are, we have done what we have done, and nothing we can do will remove us from the list of targets of extremism, but I do not accept that our national security – security from extremist attacks – is best served by escalation of the British contribution to war.

    France was right not to join in the Iraq war, and to withdraw from Afghanistan when it did, and I am not aware that it has paid much if any price for its “disloyalty”. That does not mean that France is right now. Having taken a lead in anti-Daesh rhetoric and suffered a terrible retribution (which I accept could equally or almost equally well have fallen on us) emotions are running high. We should do what we can to demonstrate sympathy for the French, but that does not amount to a basis for extending our war.

    I was impressed by a comment in the Guardian by the French journalist Nicholas Hénin who was held as a hostage by Daesh for nine months. “…when I am asked how we should respond, I say that we must act responsibly.And yet more bombs will be our response. I am no apologist for Isis. How could I be? But everything I know tells me this is a mistake. Going to war without a plan or at least an exit strategy will end in tears.” He added “Canada withdrew from the air war after the election of Justin Trudeau. I desperately want France to do the same, and rationality tells me it could happen. But pragmatism tells me it won’t. The fact is we are trapped: Isis has trapped us. They came to Paris with Kalashnikovs, claiming that they wanted to stop the bombing, but knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks. That is what is happening.”

    The trap has not yet closed on us, because of the House of Commons and Cameron’s determination not to ask for another vote unless he thinks he will win. If he decides he will not win, these ideas will come into play, and we can do more than Canada on diplomacy.

  9. robin fairlie says:

    I can’t support the governments’ (or Brian’s) stance on Syria for the following 10 reasons:

    Cameron’s disgraceful sneer at the bulk of the Labour Party, plus the whole SNP, (not to mention seven of his own party) as “sympathisers with terrorists” shows that he doesn’t understand what the argument is about (or knowingly and maliciously wishes to distort it).
    The sudden discovery of 70,000 anti-Isis allies shows that Cameron is (to quote Max Hastings) “away with the fairies” – or struggling dishonestly to create another dodgy dossier (with the usual assistance of his discredited “intelligence” services) or both.
    Philip Hammond’s statement to a BBC reporter that last night’s vote left the UK safer than before shows an alarming degree of  complacent stupidity: whether or not we are less safe is a matter for debate; to assert that we are more safe is to take the public for fools, or to be deluded oneself.
    Cameron has comprehensively failed to articulate a strategy for defeating Daesh. Given his (current) refusal to commit troops, the only game in town is diplomacy; diplomats’ efforts are not helped by  the dropping of a few more bombs.
    It is argued that we should “play our part” in the anti-Daesh alliance. I don’t buy this: firing off missiles at god knows how many millions per throw seems an expensive way of convincing the Americans we are on-side  – and has no other effect.
    M. Beckett’s question in yesterday’s debate was an emotional red herring: if the Paris atrocities had occurred, or were to occur in London, I would expect the French government to consider, in responding, only the best interests of its own people, who have elected it, and to whom it is responsible.. If that meant singing God Save the Queen in all possible circumstances, but otherwise avoiding any military action, I would see no cause for complaint. (Not that the French went even that far in the Falklands affair, but there you are.)
    It is argued that the bombing in Syria and Iraq has, at the least, prevented Daesh from expanding further. That may well be – and if we were in any position to make a game-changing contribution to this prevention, that would be a serious argument. But we are not: our participation in Syria will be mere gesture politics, conducted at considerable expense (paid for by the poor and the disabled, never by the rich) for no predictable outcome.
    We are engaged in a struggle for the hearts and minds of our own Muslim population. I feel sure their overwhelming emotion is revulsion at Daesh and its behaviour. But we can hardly expect them to cheer at the government’s only visible response being bombing of other Muslims, most of them innocent. At least in Iraq we have the paper-thin excuse of helping a Muslim government; in Syria we have no such fig-leaf. As a way of helping British Muslims to identify with British values it leaves much to be desired.
    Yesterday’s debate was a gigantic fraud, dramatised by an over-excited media – especially the BBC. The honest, and adult, approach would be for the government to come clean with the electorate on what it, and its allies, are trying to achieve in Syria, and in what  order of priorities. If top priority is destroying Daesh, then that almost certainly means coming to some sort of terms with Assad, (and Putin) however disagreeable that is. If that is impossible, and the refusal to deploy troops holds, then we are stuck with Daesh, at least in Syria, for the foreseeable future, and would be better off admitting and coming to terms with that without the posturing. I am not necessarily opposed to deploying troops – but the logistics are horrible, and the question of a post-Daesh strategy would be paramount, and at present unanswerable.
    It seems impossible to believe that this is not just another case of mission creep, where each debatable decision leads to a demand for a further escalation – each escalation being too little, too late. We are in a hole (as usual in the Middle East) but haven’t yet learned to stop digging. Or to start thinking.

  10. David Campbell says:

    I agree with Robin. Foreign admirers of British phlegm must feel flabbergasted by last night’s hysteria – most of all, perhaps, by the adulation heaped on H Benn. Barely a word about diplomacy from Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary.

    As for Hammond, he heads a great department of state, he has the most highly qualified experts on the Middle East in the world working for him . . . and, on last night’s showing, hasn’t an original idea in his head.

    In one respect only, Robin may have the emphasis wrong. If the international community can reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, surely it can do so on Syria. Russia wants a deal. Let’s get talking – without preconditions, this time.

  11. robin fairlie says:

    I hesitated to comment on H. Benn’s speech, hailed by the BBC (and the applause in the Chamber) as the outstanding contribution to the debate, because the only part of it I heard was the snippet aired by the BBC on News at Ten. But if that was typical of the whole, then it was a piece of cheap emotional oratory more appropriate to September 1939 than to December 2015. Is this the Party’s next leader, following the presumed ousting of J. Corbyn? It certainly sounded like what the admen call a pitch.

  12. Brian says:

    Brian writes in response to David  [Campbell]:  I don’t find your views at all “threatening” (!), just mostly (but not completely) unconvincing:  the only response required to most of what you say in both comments is “You’re entitled to your opinion.” When you say “I think we need less force and more diplomacy”, echoing Mr Corbyn, I would just reply that we need both — a statement of the obvious, although there’s no way of measuring the degree of either that would be appropriate without defining the objectives of both.  There’s a huge amount of diplomacy going on at the moment in the Vienna process, although as I have observed before, you wouldn’t know it from most of the British press.  As to “less force”, we and the rest of the coalition need enough force to keep Daesh cooped up in its kennel to allow the Vienna process to produce an interim settlement among the anti-Daesh non-Islamist groups, part of which will be an international ground and air military alliance capable of wiping Daesh off the Iraqi and Syrian maps.  To try to predict now what the UK’s or any other country’s role in that might be is a waste of time at this very early stage.

    In response to Oliver Miles:  I agree with a great deal of what you say.  Much turns on what you mean by “effective”, when you write:  “Nobody suggests that airstrikes alone will be effective. … The only effective military action will come from the region.”  Of course that’s self-evidently true if by “effective” you mean “capable of totally and permanently defeating Daesh as a military presence in either Iraq or Syria”. But the purpose of the very limited extension of targets approved last night by parliament is nothing like as grandiose as that.  Its purpose, surely, is to contain Daesh within its current geographical area, so that it is prevented from expanding again to bring more towns and cities under its gruesome control, and to minimise as far as possible its capacity for planning further attacks on western or other cities by damaging its leaders’ ability to use their communications networks, to fund their activities by selling oil, to gather for meetings in any one place and especially in the open air, to emerge from their dwelling-places to get into their cars and indeed to travel anywhere by car, to receive emissaries from abroad for training and equipment to carry out attacks in their own countries and for those emissaries to return unscathed to their own countries, to run training establishments or arms depots vulnerable to attack from the air, and so forth.  It won’t be possible to prevent the continuation of such malign activities completely, obviously, but constant harassment from above, including by armed drones, is certainly going to hamper them and give them other things to worry about.  Anyway, there’s really no alternative.  Is it seriously suggested that we should turn our backs and let Daesh re-occupy territory it has recently lost — and more; and continue to train and equip terrorist cadets from the west and elsewhere for more terrorist outrages all over the world, without making any attempt to reduce their capacity for such murderous activity?  Fortunately, what we decide here in Britain will make precious little difference, because those other coalition partners who are acting to hamper, throttle and contain Daesh in both Iraq and Syria will continue to do so whatever we decide — and our own domestic security will continue to benefit from their efforts.
    In response to Robin  [Fairlie] (two comments):  There are sound answers to every one of your ten ingenious points, and every one of those answers can be found elsewhere in this thread and the original post.  Given that the limited decision to extend the targets that we are helping to attack to others across the Syrian border which are already under attack by our coalition allies has now been taken by parliament and is already being given effect, there seems no purpose in going over all that ground yet again.  As to Hilary Benn’s speech, you are rather brave to dismiss it in such violent language (“cheap emotional oratory”) when by your admission you have seen and heard only a clip from it, by definition taken out of context.  I heard and watched the entire speech, live, and have no doubt that it was the very opposite of cheap, and its “emotional” impact was an essential adjunct to its impressive recital of the arguments for taking the limited action proposed and the ruthless demolition of the arguments against doing so.  It was intellectually coherent and expressed in enviably plain English, in a great English tradition.  I have no doubt that it was an outstanding speech, that it made an enormous impact, and that Hilary Benn’s standing in parliament and the party has been hugely and rightly enhanced.  It’s obviously too soon to talk about the resulting placing of Benn in the stakes for replacing Jeremy Corbyn one day:  but maybe that day has been brought fractionally closer by Mr Corbyn’s graceless behaviour when his shadow cabinet colleague on the front banch beside him sat down to lengthy and well deserved applause from all around the House.

    In response to all:  The decision has been made, for better or worse, and the RAF is already striking at targets in Syria alongside the airforces of our coalition partners. The arguments pro and con have been exhaustively rehearsed in the media, on numerous blogs including this one, and indeed in yesterday’s mostly serious-minded debate in the house of commons, almost all of which I watched and heard.  I don’t believe the proposal at issue — to extend our targets across the Syrian border as part of a limited war already long being fought — was momentous enough to merit the anger, animosity and often divisive language that have disfigured the debate.  Talk about a decision to “go to war” has been fatuous.  It’s time to calm down now, to support efforts by the coalition to reduce the capacity of Daesh to do harm, and to urge our government and parliamentary leaders to contribute positively, urgently and generously to the Vienna process in search of an interim settlement among the Syrian  warring groups so that an international force may be assembled under UN auspices to get rid of the Daesh scourge once and for all.  It won’t end international terrorism, but it’s something that has to be done.  It may be too much to hope that it will be done without malicious heckling by UK dissidents shouting from the touch-line.

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