Last week I listened carefully to the Prime Minister in making his case for why the UK should join the bombing campaign against Daesh. The debate in the House of Commons was thorough, and the horror and revulsion at recent atrocities in Syria, Paris, Beirut and elsewhere is shared by everyone from across the political divide.
Yet I have still to see any evidence to suggest that UK bombing Daesh targets in Syria is likely to increase our security here in Britain or help bring about a lasting peace in the region in question - to the contrary, the evidence appears to suggest it would make matters worse. The airstrikes on Syria have become increasingly Western driven, with all of the four Middle Eastern states previously involved - Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - now having withdrawn. Daesh attempts to present itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the ‘Crusader West’. This message, though utterly pernicious and wrong, is being reinforced by Western bombings, with every indication that the attacks are an incredibly effective recruiting sergeant for Daesh. According to US intelligence sources, in September 2014, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined from 80 countries; a year later the figure had risen to 30,000 from 100 countries. The Prime Minister hasn’t given any assurances that western military action wouldn’t drive more recruits to Daesh. Nor have the sustained bombings pushed Daesh into retreat.
Crucially, though, British military involvement in air strikes may well hamper our ability to push for a diplomatic solution. Evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee by a senior policy fellow Julien Barnes-Dacey at the European Council for Foreign Relations, suggests that intervention is likely to undermine our political and diplomatic role, whilst offering nothing meaningful in terms of military numbers. The Committee Chair also put paid to the idea that our involvement is critical, saying, just over a week ago, that there is no great military necessity for the UK to be involved since planes are queuing up from a wide range of countries over the skies of Syria.
With Russia and the US already dropping bombs on Daesh in Syria, it is clear that there is no shortage of firepower in the region, but after such heavy bombardment there is a distinct lack of clear remaining targets. This is compounded by Daesh’ deeply cruel use of ‘human shields’, which will both make targeting them more difficult and add to the civilian death toll. Daesh in Syria has spread its forces amongst the civilian population which will mean more innocent lives of civilians being taken and playing into the hands of Daesh.
It’s concerning too that the Prime Minister has failed to demonstrate anything other than wishful thinking when it comes to the essential ground forces which would be necessary. His claim that there are 70,000 moderate forces which could move into the region and oppose Daesh is highly disputed. Many of these forces are from other jihadi groups and in turn the UK would be supplying other terrorist organisations with weapons. It’s worth repeating - for the sake of the many MPs with short memories - that it was only two years ago that the Prime Minister’s plans for bombing Syria had the Assad forces who are currently fighting Daesh as their target. Those very forces are widely acknowledged to have murdered many more civilians than Daesh, yet in effect we’re planning to aid them by bombing their enemy. Government claims of having a comprehensive long-term strategy for a Syria free from both Daesh and Assad simply don’t stack up. Nor has Cameron successfully answered crucial questions about the damaging role of Britain’s ally Turkey in the region. Without applying diplomatic pressure to the Turkish Government to end persecution of the Kurds, the chances of ending the civil war in Syria remain remote.
It’s critical that the burning desire to act, to stop terrorists and keep us all safe, doesn’t result in an approach that ignores the evidence of our recent interventions in the region - or their consequences. The civilian death count from the Iraq war and its aftermath is at least 147,000 and, according to Barack Obama, the resulting instability laid the ground for the rise of Daesh. Post-Gadaffi Libya, which also has British fingerprints all over it, is witnessing Daesh forces gaining power too. Daesh thrives in the chaos brought about by Western intervention, which is why the unintended consequences of the ‘War on Terror’ must serve as a stark warning to anyone thinking of supporting airstrikes in Syria.
The British Government should immediately suspend British arms sales to the Middle East and commit to a foreign policy that is consistent as well as ethical, particularly when it comes to our relations with countries that undermine human rights. Barely a month ago, Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that “the focus on the extension of airstrikes against Daesh in Syria is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitators of Daesh’s rise.” I can see nothing that has changed since then. That’s why I am against this military action in Syria - and urge the Government to wage peace rather than war by pursuing non-military means of bringing about an end to this most intransigent of conflicts.
David Cameron knows that opposition to his ill-thought-out rush to war is growing. Fifteen of David Cameron’s own Conservative MPs are due to be voting against him on motion of bombing Syria. The lack of planning, strategy, ground troops, diplomacy, the terrorist threat, refugees and civilian casualties, it’s become increasingly clear the Prime Minister’s proposal simply doesn’t stack up. The fundmental questions for David Cameron to answer is why is he prepared to bomb now and talk later about having a co-ordinated plan . I ask him to think of the terrible consequences of the wars in the Middle East over the past 14 years and learn the lessons of the past.
But one thing I do not accept from the Prime Minister David Cameron is his use of language and refusal to apologise for his comments to label everyone who is against the bombing of Syria as a terrorist sympathiser. As a child I grew up in Northern Ireland with bombs going off and innocent people being shot dead all because they were a different religion. What I despise the most though is how the Prime Minister ignores the facts that the bombing of Libya solved nothing and in turn created a political vacuum whereby Daesh have become stronger in Libya.
I can tell David Cameron one thing for certain just because I do not support the bombing of Syria does not make me or anyone else a terrorist sympathiser.