On Thursday, David Cameron set out his ‘moral case’ for launching British airstrikes in Syria. But he left out one vital part of the story. If he had won the last vote on Syrian airstrikes, Bashar Al Assad would have fallen, and ISIS (Daesh) would be running the country.
Indeed, just two years ago, Cameron attempted to convince the British public and parliament that we should join the Syrian militias (which included Daesh), to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad. We were told that he was using chemical weapons against his own people, and that we ‘had to act.’
If we had, the threat from Daesh today would be far greater than it is. As it stands, thanks to the refusal of former Labour leader Ed Miliband (the highlight in an otherwise grim leadership) and huge pressure from the public across the United Kingdom, Daesh remained a militia group.
- Over 200 MiG fighter jets
- Over 200 assault helicopters
- The full weapons cache of the Syrian Army, which includes anti-tank mines, chemical weapons, surveillance and weaponised drones, tanks, transport vehicles, ballistic missiles, multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled air defense and field artillery.
- Two submarines
- Three missile boats
- Two frigates
- Two amphibious warfare vessels
- Patrol craft and naval aviation vessels
In short, they would have transformed from fighting as a militia in an asymmetrical war, to being capable of deploying total war against nations in the Middle East and beyond.
So, while Cameron seeks to exploit public fear over the appalling attacks on Paris – he fails to mention that if he had won this argument two years ago, the consequences would have been catastrophic; for the region, and the world.
Daesh would not have been organising suicide bombers in Paris, they could have flown over foreign airspace and deployed traditional and even chemical weapons.
Jeremy Corbyn asked the Prime Minister seven questions today; questions which we should all be asking before we follow our fear and our anger into a battle zone most of us simply do not understand.
1) Will British action make a difference on the ground? Will it contribute to a war-winning strategy?
2) Can the conflict be won without troops on the ground? Would the Kurds take over, or other extremists?
3) Would there be mission creep? Can Cameron rule out troops on the ground?
4) Does the UN resolution give clear legal authorisation for action? And what is being done to cut off arms supplies to Isis? And would there be a greater risk of incidents like the shooting down of the Russian warplane this week?
5) How would this contribute to an end to the Syrian civil war?
6) What assessment has Cameron been given of the impact of air strikes on the chances of terrorist attacks in the UK? And what are the chance of civilian casualties from air strikes?
7) Does Cameron accept air strikes could risk more unintended consequences?
The Prime Minister responded with the following, lacklustre answers. As the Guardian summarises:
He says he respects Corbyn’s long-held views on these issues, and his caution.
On what difference Britain would make, he says the US and France want Britain to get involved. They think Britain would make a difference.
On ground forces, he says there are at least 70,000 moderate Syrian forces able to help.
On boots on the ground, he says he is not going to deploy troops on the ground. Western countries have learnt that would be counter-productive.
On legality, he says he UN resolution does unambiguously give legal cover for air strikes. Deconfliction measures are in place, he says, to ensure that there is not a clash with the Russians.
On ending the civil war, Cameron says Syria cannot have a future as long as that caliphate exists.
On the threat level, he says he quotes the head of MI5 and the chair of the joint intelligence committee saying the threat from Isis is already as high as it could be.
On civilian casualties, he says in a year and three months of action in Iraq there have been no reports of civilian casualties. Britain’s weapons are “some of the most accurate known to man”, he says.
On unintended consequences, Cameron says he thinks he has thought through the possible results. Corbyn quoted Obama, but Obama wants the UK to help, Cameron says.
When we analyse these answers, and compare them with the reality on the ground, one thing becomes inescapably clear. David Cameron has absolutely no idea what course of action is best for the people of Syria and beyond. The message came down from his PR team that he should ‘be Churchill not Chamberlain’ in response to the Paris attacks, and so he bangs the war drum once more – conveniently forgetting that just two years ago, he was asking us to go to war against the leader he now calls us to go to war for.
And let us not forget: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia are now failed states, mired in endless war and terror after previous failed attempts at Western military intervention.
In all these cases, Western leaders flip-flopped. One minute, installing and supporting the leaders – and the next, toppling them. The U-turns on Saddam, the Taliban, and now Daesh, call to mind George Orwell’s 1984 where midway through a speech denouncing Eurasia as the enemy of Oceania, the government’s policy changes and war commences with Eastasia. Without missing a beat, the speaker claims that Oceania was never at war with Eurasia, but Eastasia is their perpetual enemy.
This is what has happened with Western policy in the Middle East, and the role of the mainstream media in these pleas for intervention has been to provide little (or factually inaccurate) history to contextualise the issue.
No one is arguing we do nothing in the face of the abomination of Daesh. But to argue that airstrikes are the answer is to fly in the face of reality. It is a kneejerk reaction which will serve only one purpose: to create further civilian casualties, allowing Daesh to capitalize on the grief, fear and desperation. To quote former US President George W Bush:
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
Or in human: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Seriously Britain, we cannot get fooled again.