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The Case for British Strikes Against the Islamic State

08/09/2014 17:26 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

The case for American attacks on the Islamic State is eminently clear. Diplomatic personnel need to be protected; a nation which is barely emerging from the dual quagmires of dictatorship and reconstruction cannot be allowed to simply fall apart; and ethnic and religious minorities must be rescued from the genocidal ambitions of the sort of adventure-hungry savages who delight in taunting captives before their brutal executions (and beheading a journalist only days after receiving an emotional appeal for his safety from his mother).

British involvement in this most grave of international crises has been suggested, but apparently a majority of the public are against military action. The isolationist bent which besets these islands is something I have documented in the past, but rarely has it manifested itself with such a self-defeating and outright dangerous obstinacy.

First we must consider our own interests. It takes a certain degree of delusion to imagine that a group as brutal, well armed and well financed as IS would refrain from attacking us in the West for any reason. After all, IS is by its nature expansionary: it has purposefully dissolved national borders in aid of the creation of a caliphate. In addition, it is all too happy to kill citizens of Western nations. Anti-Western sentiment forms a great deal of its propaganda.  Prominent supporters in Europe and elsewhere delight at the prospect of governments which currently hold sway there facing an aggressive challenge from outside.

But, even if IS did not pose a direct threat to us, there would still be a formidable case for action. National interests extend further than national borders, and the ties between nations and peoples cannot be forgotten for transient political expediency - and nor should they be. The Kurdish peoples have been a constant and long-standing ally of ours. More than that, they are the largest stateless minority in the Middle East, and have suffered barbaric persecution and mass murder at the hands of the Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein.

Aiding them in their fight against IS is therefore vital on two fronts. IS must be defeated, and the Kurds must be supported at every possible opportunity. But leaving the peshmerga to take on this vicious enemy alone is merely outsourcing our responsibilities. If we truly want to help the Kurds, we must be brave enough - financially, militarily and politically - to do everything in our power to aid them in their struggle.

Britain is a rich nation. Here, we possess one of the most powerful militaries on the planet and enjoy - despite recession and financial woe - one of the world's most bountiful treasuries. We enjoy close alliance and co-operation with partners across the globe. America has already begun the necessary process of, in that clunky phrase, 'degrading' the capacity of IS to advance further and to hold the territory it has already conquered. We also have the ability to do so. We must act on it.

With air support from the United States, Kurdish fighters retook Mosul Dam last month. The same process (a ground assault aided from the air) has now begun in Haditha. In a land as dry as Iraq - military operations in the area invariably attract the unfortunate prefix 'Desert' - this is not nothing. Controlling the water supply is a vital step towards wresting the nation itself from the hands of the fanatics.

Whenever someone tells me, and it is frequently said, that those in Washington who ordered these airstrikes are not 'learning the lessons of occupation' or that merely fighting IS will not yield any results, I show them a photograph of the biggest dam in the Iraq from last month. In it, the flag of the Islamic State flies freely. That is no longer the case. That black flag - now as symbolic of violence and criminality and lawlessness as any in history - has been torn down, and replaced with one more visually and politically appealing.

Again, it must be said: this isn't nothing, and anyone who says otherwise betrays contempt, subconscious or not, for the Kurdish and Iraqi volunteers who liberated that dam from the Islamic State with US assistance. After all, would you rather they attempted to do so without help? The only honest answer an anti-war type can give to that is 'yes', and in that their principles are flagrantly violated. There is a war already going on in Iraq and Syria - and we in the West did not start it.

But the fight back against IS is gaining momentum. That was accomplished with American help. With British firepower added to the table - as well as our intelligence-gathering capacity and diplomatic connections - defeating the terrorist state can only become easier.

And to those who are prone to muttering that by attacking Islamic State forces and killing IS fighters we are 'giving the terrorists what they want,' I have this to say: If that is giving them what they want, it is a rare point of convergence between our objectives and theirs; a coming together of preferred outcomes. Let us not fail to exploit it. These are the people who have massacred whole communities on the basis of religion or sect, who have sold women into sexual slavery on a sickening scale, who have terrorised civilian populations with arbitrary and barbaric rule. If the same jihadi warriors truly wish to die by Western bombs and bullets, we should do everything in our collective powers to oblige them.

We can, with our technology, our material and our enviable financial position, intervene on the right side. We can fight the aggressors, the fascists, and rescue Iraq from the scourge of Islamist violence. But this is only possible in coalition, in alliance. Leaving the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone is immoral; abandoning Iraq is equally bad; and letting the United States shoulder the burdens of internationalism alone fails the very definition of the term.

IS must be defeated, and we in Britain must join our allies in making that happen.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian