THE BLOG

To Bomb or Not to Bomb? That Was Not the Question

04/12/2015 19:37 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Drawn mainly as a series of straight lines, with a little curvature to take account of geographical features, the border between Iraq and Syria has been relatively porous ever since its creation in the aftermath of the First World War. The Westphalian system that has informed international relations and indeed much of modern military action would hold that they are separate states for whom different government actions have been applied. But in the real world, absence of any stable government in much of Iraq, and four years of open civil war in Syria, the border is now nothing more than an arbitrary line snaking through the Levantine desert.

For that reason alone, the debate and its decision in the House of Commons last night was, ultimately, defunct. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Daesh, or whatever name you prefer for the revolting terrorist organisation holding power in this sun baked strip of desert; does not draw any distinction between Syria and Iraq. Similarly, others already involved in coalition activities, America and France have not drawn any distinction where their jets target the militants.

The debate was not about going 'to war', if indeed the actions that are being taken can be called war, directed against an organisation that is fundamentally un-Islamic and by no accepted definition a state. It was a political decision to remove the line in the sky separating British jets from certain targets on the other side of this line. Since September 30th 2014 Operation Shader has seen Britain flying missions against IS in Iraq, side by of that line has been targeted by our planes.

Furthermore, the popular backlash against the Commons vote has been focused around our government's apparently new found militarism. But, contrary to some public opinion, the vote has not suddenly made our Government warmongers.

If MPs had voted no, British intelligence would still have helped locate IS targets throughout Syria, who would have simply been targeted by the missile of another country. If MPs had voted no, we would have still provided support for a coordinated, moderate Syrian opposition whose storming of Raqqa, had it happened, would have still been a bloody and fierce battle. If MPs had voted no, we would still have been carrying out military action in the Middle East tomorrow, albeit in a slightly different location.

Last night was, without a doubt, possibly the sincerest form of democratic politics. A packed house, in rapt attention of impassioned speeches on the ideals, morality and strategies of how best to tackle one of our society's threats. The build-up to the vote inspired reams of column inches debating high minded issues normally left to philosophical and political textbooks. But no matter how sincere it may have seemed, the debate rang hollow when one peers into the grubby realpolitik.

Regardless of whether you would have British military action on the other side of this invisible line, the crux of the problem is a geopolitical one. Russia's influence in the region, ever more openly acknowledged as the military, as well as political backing for the Assad regime will have to be tempered with compromises as they seek a united front over IS. Similarly, the West may need to drink bitter medicine should the moderate opposition not unite behind it.

The flash fire of evil, brutal thuggery that has been IS will not last. But fundamentalist terrorism, justifying itself through a twisted and inaccurate representation of Islam will not be quelled when Raqqa falls.

Parliament voted to extend the reach of our airstrikes. The real work will is now to focus on a political solution, for all the actors involved to develop practical answers to the fundamental problems that face Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. There will inevitably be compromises as undrawn lines will be crossed on all sides of any settlement.

Last night the vote was decided on principles. In global politics, absolutes will only get you so far.