As one "War on Terror," draws to an end, so starts another. The upcoming withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan should force our politicians to reflect, largely on the utter futility of combating societal and religious problems with bombs.
But old habits die hard. Not having learnt that virtually every Western intrusion into the Middle East ends in disaster, parliament's acquiescence to David Cameron's demand that Britain join the fight against ISIS proves our foreign policy is created in a historical vacuum.
The willingness to resort to the seemingly "easy option" of military intervention is a grim reminder of the UK's stick over carrot approach. No other country has been involved in conflict over the last century as heavily as we have. Had Cameron not been given licence to involve us indefinitely in Iraq, 2015 would have been the first pause in war making since 1914. Sadly, this unenviable record is set to continue.
This time, support for UK involvement is driven by the relentless reminders that our security is supposedly at risk. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, a latecomer to ministerial life, is no doubt trying his hardest to secure a legacy as the man who saved the country from Islamic terrorism. Hence his grand declaration that we are in a new "Battle of Britain." That a series of unrelated incidents: the London bombings, the Glasgow airport attack and the murder of Lee Rigby, somehow constitutes evidence that we face an existential threat.
Theresa May has joined this chorus of hysteria, suggesting ISIS could attack us with a nuclear bomb. When this hyperbole is dissected it doesn't stand. Britain today is infinitely safer than it was during WWII, or even The Troubles. Terrorist attacks in the last decade have killed around the same number of people as wasps have. We must have a sense of proportion over this.
Still, if it is terror we are concerned about, we have had more than a decade to do something about it. For our supposed allies, the Gulf monarchies, have wantonly sponsored the most regressive forms of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The double standards are truly staggering. While the beheadings of Britons and Americans in Iraq are repulsive and rightly condemned, such an occurrence is commonplace in Saudi Arabia. 19 people were executed this way in just under three weeks in August. That gruesome statistic speaks volumes about its woeful human rights record.
Our panic over the puritanical Islam of ISIS is also meaningless given our acceptance of Saudi Arabia's promotion of Wahhabism. The open material and ideological support given to radical preachers, never mind the toleration of terrorism, is no secret. But the West has turned a blind eye to it. In America, people are still awaiting the publication of a blocked section of the official report into 9/11, allegedly shedding light on Saudi Arabia's pivotal role in that attack.
To divert attention from their complicity in creating the mess in Iraq and Syria, they have made token contributions to anti-terror efforts. It is also unlikely that they are still giving support to ISIS, given the threat it now poses to them. But there remains widespread sympathy for the movement among both the Saudi populace and ruling class. It is not surprising that 92% of Saudi's allegedly support ISIS's intolerant application of Shia hating Islam, given its clear relationship with Wahhabism. Bombs will do little to eradicate this mindset.
They are not the only guilty party. Kuwait has failed to challenge preachers who openly appear on television promoting and praising Islamists in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile Qatar tolerates individuals whom support Islamist movements in Syria. This includes Jabhat al-Nusra, now on the verge of joining ISIS.
Qatar too has backed Libyan Islamists, no doubt contributing to the pitiful state of affairs in that country; its parliament now reduced to meeting in a distant hotel next to the Egyptian border to avoid the carnage in Tripoli. How many years will pass before Libya is the next "terror state," and in a fit of hysteria we must bomb them (again)? It is an endless and depressing cycle.
The crucial point is that if toleration of extremism is not challenged, it will not go away. Even if ISIS is "defeated," whatever that would look like, religious ideologues will still act with impunity in the Gulf monarchies. Plus, given their current role in the campaign in Iraq, these countries will try and shape the rump state left in ISIS's wake as something palatable to them.
However, Britain cannot afford to support any more flawed interventions that cause more problems than they solve. Politicians may wax lyrical about their supposed fiscal prudence. But war is not cheap. Our previous intervention in Libya cost between £500 million to £1 billion. We have now signed up to an endless campaign, with each mission potentially costing £1m.
This commitment is laughable when our capacity to contribute is virtually non existent. Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon has said quite frankly that the RAF is at full stretch, and would struggle to maintain strikes against ISIS. Our piecemeal offering is even more absurd considering the Saudi air force has over 700 aircraft. Never will they have a better opportunity to use them.
Irrespective of our bombs, ISIS will not exist indefinitely. As Simon Jenkins has rightly pointed out, such horrors pass. Rather than making a meaningless intervention, the UK should be thinking about the bigger picture. Even army figures have grasped this, with Lord Dannatt stating that without attacking the ideological source of extremism, military action is a pointless endeavour. Now decision makers will have to put long goals over a desire for immediate but shortsighted financial gain.
This is probably too much to expect from today's political class. But it is a far better state of affairs than maintaining that we can solve the world's problems. The campaign in Afghanistan, with vast amounts of military input, has still not eliminated terror there. To think our pitifully small fleet of Tornados will do the same in Iraq is beyond a joke.Suggest a correction