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Fighting to Protect Failure: Another War to Mop Up After the Last Ones

16/09/2014 12:13 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

British journalists are wrong. Countries do not frequently go to war without strategies, with flimsy aims, bad intel, or for spurious reasons. If it appears that they are doing so, then it is usually because war aims have to be concealed. Concealment can be necessary for many reasons.

In the case of the UK's current 'preparation of public opinion' for war in Syria & Iraq against a new externally-funded sectarian Sunni Muslim army, ISIS/IS, there is a very good reason to conceal military objectives - the British public and the international community would not accept them, and they would highlight the prior failure of UK and US foreign policy. So off to war we go again.

If there is anyone in the Westminster political community in London who actually believes that the UK would commit itself to a new open-ended air and ground war in Syria and Iraq because videos have been posted on YouTube showing Western aid workers being horrifically executed by 'insurgents', or because a small number of British citizens have joined this sectarian army, they should rethink. Here are my reasons.

The British parliament voted against war in Syria. One of the reasons featuring in prior lobbying was that Western forces would face sophisticated Russian defences, and another that, if successful, a democratic Syria would be a threat to Western allies in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, President Obama needed an escape route after reading out his warmongering rhetoric.

Without a large-scale Western attack, the West's 'reach' into the Syrian conflict relied upon the absurdly proliferated covert and bull-nosed US security and special ops institutions. This, and the West's patchy intel on anti-government political groups in Syria, led to a reliance on religious networks and Gulf States to supply cash and arms for a full civil war, with the aim of bogging down Syria in conflict, as a close second-best option to deposing the Assad family regime.

Gulf states felt emboldened, and when rapprochement between Iran and the West threatened the position of those very Gulf states, especially the Saudis, they saw advantage in exploiting resentment among Sunnis in Central Iraq following the dominance of Shia forces in Iraq's south and their friendly Iran relations.

Sunni Iraqis started also to supply fighters in Syria. A small but well-equipped conventional army resulted, made highly mobile by lack of Syrian or Iraqi control of the unmarked desert border, good roads, sparsely populated desert, and the loss of government control over Kurdish Syria.

US institutions remain fragmented and contradictory on the conflict - which is to a great extent a result of the prior US & UK invasions of Iraq. The West's role, mostly covert, in the rise of ISIS/IS has been widely reported - training fighters in Jordan, transferring arms from Libya, providing satellite data, and 'allowing' equipment to fall into their hands. Some ISIS/IS leaders have cordial relations with some US political hawks.

Is ISIS/IS control of territory in Iraq & Syria really a military threat to the UK and US and its interests in the region ? To an extent it is quite the opposite. They help to neutralise the Assad regime, a Russian 'client state'. It may result in Russia losing its Mediterranean base. They help to limit Shia hegemony in Iraq. They provide an excuse to become more militarily involved in Syria. They support the strategy of some US institutions to sub-divide Iraq into three states, and others to unite the Kurds. And domestically they provide justifications for keeping the War on Terror alive and kicking.

However, if they are too strong they may threaten Iraqi Kurdistan and disrupt oil supplies. Their tight religious networks make for Western intel problems, and their Gulf backers may get too uppity. The military answer therefore is containment - exploiting the benefits, but protecting the Kurds; keeping them going but disrupting their Gulf state relationships.

The danger is that this maybe too sophisticated for the fragmented governance structures of US security institutions, and is likely to make problems for the UK in following the constant power shifts in Washington DC. Sure, Gulf states and the 'Five Eyes' may buy into a simple 'containment' concept, with the added benefits of kinetic activity in Syria, but US and UK policymakers often lack the depth of understanding to pull it off without unforeseen consequences - for example in relations with Russia, Iran, Gulf States, Jordan, Lebanon, the Kurds and Turkey.

The symptoms are stark. President Obama talks of 'ISIL', implying the US-led war will include Syria and Lebanon. Differences emerged between the Foreign Office and Downing St in London. The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has denied that ISIS/IS threatens the US. A US governmental website even claimed that Syria has a long border with Saudi Arabia. Indeed almost all Washington DC policymakers on the topic, in dozens of institutions, have no knowledge of the region's realities and have never been to an Arab country.

Can we really trust these folk to pursue such a sophisticated strategy and manage US, UK and European interests to the West's benefit ? How do we complain to these people if we are led into yet another highly disbeneficial conflict ? Are they aware that there are more attractive alternative ways to deal with these 'conflicts' as we now find them ?