The Blog

Getting Serious About Syria, Iraq and Daesh

It's often argued that Daesh responds to Western actions but jihadists also exploit Western inaction such as initially abandoning Bosnian Muslims. T

The recent dramatic Commons debate about British airstrikes in Syria obscured a parallel debate in the Lords whose experienced members can more easily make profound if unpopular points about war and peace. Lord Dannatt, a former head of the British armed forces, argued that without sufficient regional ground troops, we may face the unpalatable option of deploying western combat troops. Former Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed if it would tip the balance, and also argued that if communities and leaders in Syria and Iraq cannot live together then 'we will have to try to have them living peacefully but separately in the partition of those countries.'

Former MI6 officer Baroness Ramsay spoke for many in saying that 'if you do not in good time confront evil in its heartland, evil will come to you in your heartland.' The head of the Anglican Church argued that 'just war' criteria have been met but warned that Daesh 'is but one head of the hydra,' that bombing plays into jihadist expectations 'springing from their apocalyptic theology' and partial actions 'will strengthen their resolve, increase their recruitment and encourage their sympathisers.'

Another added that the deaths of 20,000 Daesh fighters made the network less enduring and expanding, to quote its motto. Yes, I would say, bombs don't kill an ideology but prevent those killed practising it.

Former Liberal Democrat Leader, Paddy Ashdown, used his considerable military experience to caution that 'if you launch war, you launch unpredictability. The best that we are deciding on today is that, on the balance of probabilities, this is the best opportunity that we will have.' He predicted that the Syrian peace 'we may be able to create will not look very nice. In fact, probably the only thing to be said for that peace is that it will be better than the war that it ended.'

Several Labour Peers strongly slammed Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn's security stance. Lord Rooker confessed to being in 'the terrible position' of believing there are members of the [Conservative] Cabinet who I would trust more to be Prime Minister than my own party leader. We need to get rid of [Corbyn] before we face the electorate.'

The government is diligently keeping Parliament informed of the progress of the campaign and publishes details of RAF attacks online. The Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into defeating Daesh. It will focus on displaced peoples and inflamed sectarianism, as well as jihadist ideology, and political and governance solutions. The KRG High Representative in London and I have made submissions stressing the importance of backing Kurdistan as a major ally.

All this can inject detailed seriousness into discussions on destroying Daesh and preventing new forms of this vile virus. Perhaps, as former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin argues, we are seeing the death of the debilitating 'political affliction known as Iraq War Syndrome.' But considerable distrust of political leaders and anger over military action often makes cartoon villains out of its supporters and exceeds the reasonable and the rational, with a noxious whiff of conspiracism.

Such arguments are massively amplified by keyboard warriors on social media. Simplicity is the art of mobilisation but not necessarily of understanding. Anti-war slogans distort complex issues. 'Don't Bomb Syria' summons up the image of carpet bombing rather than limited strikes. There has been little RAF action since it was endorsed by parliament. And that action is against Daesh, not the Syrian people.

It's often argued that Daesh responds to Western actions but jihadists also exploit Western inaction such as initially abandoning Bosnian Muslims. Those who scuppered limited intervention against Assad compromised the red line on using chemical weapons, encouraged Sunnis to feel betrayed which boosted Daesh, and prompted Russian action in Ukraine and now Syria where their carpet bombing kills many civilians.

Those who accuse supporters of airstrikes of infanticide, and spread chaff, delusions, and even some sympathy for the devil could be asked if inaction or over-focusing on secondary issues appease fascists - or something very similar - who euthanise disabled children, rape women, and oppress millions of unfortunate souls. But those who support airstrikes should not match their bile, however tempting when faced with those who ignore the enormity of crimes by genocidal forces.

Besides, some opponents can be won over and most people in between are bewildered and need reassuring that Britain is doing the right thing. That Kurds clearly back Western military action counts greatly but it is a great shame we cannot usually hear the voices of those under the Daesh yoke in Mosul and Raqqa. The UK is now fully engaged and those who believe in victory by many means over Daesh should be patient and increasingly persuasive in a long and complex war for decency.