We shouldn’t bomb Daesh in Syria even with a UN resolution

It looks like there could be a vote to bomb Syria within a couple of weeks. Whilst I too was horrified by what happened in Paris 10 days ago, I am not convinced that the UK should be joining this mission.

Most defence commentators agree that the purpose of an air campaign is to prepare for a ground campaign – air strikes alone are not enough to degrade Daesh. So who are the ground troops? The Kurdish soldiers will certainly take back some land currently occupied by IS but will stop at the borders of their desired future state of Kurdistan. This will leave the rest of the work to be done by others – possibly Iran and Syria with Russia’s help. Sunnis including many of those who are not naturally sympathetic to Daesh will see that as an invasion by a Shia force. It is quite possible that Daesh will regroup, with ample opportunity to recruit supporters from a resentful Sunni community.

This is why a long term plan is so important – one that involves Sunni Muslims too. This just doesn’t seem to be being discussed or reported – the media is full of images of Hollande promising ever stronger attacks on Daesh and David Cameron echoing the battle-cry.

I am sure that the debate in parliament will be a good one, but it needs to be informed by a strategic plan. The Committee on Foreign Affairs has said that a strategy that involves air attacks on ISIS without a plan to end the civil war in Syria is “not coherent”.

Most of us have a gut reaction of anger to what happened in Paris and wants to see the perpetrators punished. But military action is not free – Syrian and Iraqi civilian lives will be lost, and of course there are economic costs too. It increasingly looks like an international military offensive against IS will take place. But we do not need to participate and we should only do so if we believe it will make the Middle East a safer place and reduce the security threat to ourselves. I, for one, remain unconvinced this is the case.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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32 Comments

  • And Jihadi John should have been arrested not killed by a drone.

    Sigh.

  • A thoughtful and very responsible article, Cara. War is the easiest thing to get into – it’s quite another thing to get out of.

  • Glenn Andrews 24th Nov '15 - 9:23am

    Appears this morning the Turks have down a Russian fighter…. A timely reminder of why adding more planes to the skies over Syria is probably not a good idea.

  • In Iraq and Libya there are two recent examples of military action without a plan for the post-action “peace” having disasterous consequences.

    Cara is right to insist on a plan for the peace as a necessary condition before war could be justified.

  • And are you going to volunteer, Cllr Wright ?

    I, for one, am very cautious about getting sucked in to we don’t know what…….. I speak as someone who had a great uncle confined to a psychiatric hospital for over sixty years after the Somme, an RAF father-in-law blinded in WW2 and an RAF Dad who survived flying a Typhoon in 44/45 – but who suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life.

    Odd how we, as a country, kow tow to Qatar and Saudi Arabia when they continue to fund ISIS and have, to say the least, a very different attitude to human rights.

    I’m not going to say never…. but for goodness sake don’t let’s rush in without a careful thought out plan and exit strategy – something that was not in plave in Iraq and Afghhanistan.

  • Tsar Nicholas 24th Nov '15 - 10:31am

    Russian forces are currently being used in support of Syrian and Iranian troops, and this is where my two ‘pennorth’ worth on this comes in.

    It has been clear for some time now that western powers want to go into Syria to topple Assad. ISIS is not the priority despite what Cameron says. I don’t think he can be trusted NOT to attack sites vital for the Assad regime and its armed forces. What will be the Syrian and/or Russian response to that? As Glenn Andrews helpfully points out above, the Turks have downed a Russian plane. This does not augur well.

  • No one wants war if it can be avoided but what I don’t really see in this article (or others like it) is an alternative clear credible plan to eliminate or degrade ISIS. If one accepts that ISIS will go on doing what it is doing until it is stopped then any “long term” plan is going to involve stopping ISIS by force at some point, there is no getting around it. I believe that this is why the UN finally unanimously passed the resolution it did last week. By all means attack its Saudi funding etc as well but alone that will not solve the problem

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Nov '15 - 10:47am

    I think Cara has made a good a case as possible for not intervening militarily, but I don’t think it is sufficient. I think the best issue she has raised is that we need Sunni’s to drive Daesh out, which is why I think we are better to try and get Assad to step down first so that the Sunni militant groups will focus their attention on Daesh instead. But let’s not go allying with al-Qaeda in Syria – if we are going to intervene against Assad then we should stick to our partners such as the west and Turkey. If Russia is going to go ballistic about it then it is not worth it, but it is what I see as the best option.

    It partly seems to me that we are going down the big UN coalition route because of French domestic politics. Nicolas Sarkozy recently flew for a meeting with Vladimir Putin and it seems to me that they see him now as some kind of strategic partner.

    However, I think deterrence is good enough reason to bomb Daesh in Syria. This is not about a cycle of violence because Daesh are fundamentally violent. We also need to protect our own troops and not start thinking that our soldiers lives are less valuable than civilians so we should only intervene militarily with troops alone, like a kind of World War 1 strategy in the 21st Century.

    The idea also that “there isn’t enough space in the sky” for our planes is probably the worst argument of the lot. Turkey have downed the Russia jet probably because they were helping Assad and maybe for violating airspace too – it’s not because planes go racing around the skies like Mario Kart.

  • You despair at articles like this. Isis has to destroyed as immediately as possible. They do not seem to understand diplomacy.

  • I sometimes despair at the blinkered vision of some of those who write on Lib Dem voice. What has caused the creation and rise of Daesh? Military intervention and bombing by the West (and RUSSIA) in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. So what do people proposes? Further bombing and military intervention! What acts as the greatest recruiting tool for Daesh? More bombing in Syria and anti muslim sentiment increasingly being displayed in the press and media, when they know that Daesh is a small minority. What is the proposed solution? More repression, curtailing of human rights and schemes to treat all muslims as though they are terrorists.
    What is needed is NOT more of the same but serious diplomatic efforts to build bridges for peace and to persuade the funders of Daesh to stop sending them money. The arms manufacturers also need to stopped from selling ever greater numbers of weapons to the region.
    The idea that bombing should be stepped up and that the UK should become involved is stupidity of the highest order. As a lifelong Liberal and pacifist I will take some persuading to continue my work for the party if our MPs support Cameron’s warmongering.

  • Seems like history has shown the Lib Dems were right on Iraq, no matter how unpopular we made ourselves at the time. I hope history will also show we took the right line here.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Nov '15 - 11:38am

    If we don’t give Cameron permission to bomb Daesh in Syria then our politicians and diplomats should be more ignored on the world-stage. The UK would have become a country with a big bark and very little bite.

    I would go as far as to say that this vote is on whether the UK is a second tier “great power” or a third-tier regional one. It will directly affect our defence too. Why share a lot of intelligence with the UK when they don’t help you when you really need it?

    The UK would have become a weak country and would deserve to be treated as such. It’s hard to come up with a military target more obvious than Daesh than if I were asked to design one.

  • Christopher Haigh 24th Nov '15 - 12:01pm

    One of the attractions if the Liberal Democrat party is that it is generally recognised to believe in peaceful solutions to conflict. We should concentrate on peaceful liberalisation of the characteristics of the Islamic faith.

  • Glenn Andrews 24th Nov '15 - 12:09pm

    @Eddie. if we don’t give Cameron permission to bomb in Syria…. perhaps he might learn to stop barking.

  • juliet solomon 24th Nov '15 - 12:16pm

    Cara is 100% right. At the moment Cameron seems full of glee at the chance of having “his own war” like a small child, being allowed to go “bang-bang”. It is the stupidest possible reaction (and it is a knee-jerk one which will resonate negatively for years and years, possibly for all time.)

  • Sticking British warplanes into a contested and congested airspace above Syria is total madness. With Russia and US backing different groups on the ground sending in our own planes is a recipe for disaster. We should send food and medicines.

  • Geoffrey Payne 24th Nov '15 - 1:37pm

    I think the biggest frustration must be that you only have 500 words on LDV to make your case.
    What we are seeing is something very similar to WW1 where a number of countries are sabre rattling and no one wants to back down. Cara mentions the Kurds who have done a good job in beating Daesh, but they themselves are under threat from Turkey, particularly if they are given the role to enforce the so called safe zones. Rory Stewart has a rather brutal phrase that I think applies here; We are not morally obliged to do what we can’t deliver. So before anyone gets on their moral high horses about who deserves justice in the region, what we really need to do is look objectively at what we can do in the war we look like joining soon. If we end up doing more harm than good, as has been the case in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, then we shouldn’t get involved. However there is a lot of moral grandstanding taking place that makes being objective much harder. The reality is that we have failed with our military interventions in the Middle East over and over again and there are many that are incapable of learning from these mistakes and just want to carry on.

  • Oh what a tangled web we weave! Reminds me of playing ‘cat’s cradle’ at school! I’m glad I don’t have disentangle this one. Praying for wisdom and discernment for those who do and that past mistakes are not repeated.

  • Neil Sandison 24th Nov '15 - 2:11pm

    Without international cooperation and agreement over access to airspace chaos will reign .I not so sure our contribution might be better received through soft power and logistical support .Too may flies in the ointment could lead to increases in mis understandings amongst all the players .proceed with caution.

  • “Sticking British warplanes into a contested and congested airspace above Syria is total madness. With Russia and US backing different groups on the ground sending in our own planes is a recipe for disaster. ”

    Given past experience, perhaps it would be advisable not to send our troops into Syria if they have to rely on US air cover…

  • Joyce Onstad 24th Nov '15 - 3:28pm

    Articles such as these show that there are people who are reasoning out there instead of allowing anger (though legitimate) , fear and machismo to result in the knee jerk reaction of “shooting before aiming” to borrow Barack Obama’s expression. We need clear thinking and a strategy that will not make matters worse than they are at the moment and one that will lead to peace in the Middle East.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Nov '15 - 4:04pm

    What’s the objective? Elimination of Daesh in its current form is probably feasible with ground forces. but the only ground forces in Syria that could credibly deal with them, even with massive air support, is the Syrian army. Possibly also the Kurdish peshmerga in the north, if the turks can be persuaded to stop assaulting them. So to “roll up” Daesh one would effectively be supporting the Assad regime. Now, it was probably a stupid idea to try to destabilise Assad in the first place. What the Syrian people think – well, they are voting with their feet, quite literally.
    So stabilising that bit of the ME, at least for the short/medium term, might be possible, at the price of supporting a regime the West has anathematised for years. But there are many players – the Saudis with their extremist Wahabbi version of Islam in particular. So it might be better to start thinking about causes. The wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have not exactly been enormous successes – the idea that everyone was just waiting to be liberated from their oppressive dictatorship to become neo-liberal democracies turns out not to have been the case.
    And if one carried out such an intervention, you have to realise that it’s exactly what Daesh are hoping for. They can then point to the “crusader” attacks on the caliphate, and the recruits will come pouring in. I have been surprised by the shallowness of much of the reporting on this. I strongly recommend some of Robert Fisk’s recent articles which among other things give a lot of context to what has been generally reported as “mindless death cult terrorism”.
    No mention of the Algerian / French civil war, for example. People have much longer memories than you might think- we in the UK should be aware of that because of our experiences with Ireland, the roots of which in some ways date back to the 17th century and beyond.

  • Bombing Syria is not going to turn it into Norfolk

  • “It is quite possible that Daesh will regroup, with ample opportunity to recruit supporters from a resentful Sunni community. ” Daesh already enjoy the support of a Sunni community resentful of Sh’ia government abuse.
    Don’t forget the tribal nature of societies in that region.
    Jenny Barnes
    The OAS is not forgotten and actions from that time very much bear on what happened recently in Paris.

  • What persuaded me that it is right for the UK to participate in military action against ISIL is (1) the unanimous Security Council resolution and (2) the need to show solidarity with France, our closest neighbour and long-term ally.

    If we fail to participate in military action, this will be interpreted in other parts of the world (and especially in France) as we British consider it “isn’t our problem” and we can let others deal with it while keeping out of it ourselves. What happens if ISIL starts attacking us as well as France? What do we do then? Do we continue to turn the other cheek? Do we persist in pretending that by being nice to ISIL we can persuade them not to kill us? Or even more perniciously, that ISIL’s behaviour is somehow our fault?

    ISIL was created by the United States to menace Assad, a ruler who refuses to take orders from Washington, and it is sustained by funding and ideological underpinning from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who regard Shi’ites not just as heretics, but as a potential source of rebellion within their own borders. Similarly, the Turkish right hates Shi’ites just a little less than they hate Greeks and Kurds. The American strategy has long been one of dividing and ruling the region by fostering sectarian division. They go on doing it, however disastrous the consequences.

    ISIL is now totally out of control, and needs to be destroyed. The more sensible members of the US elite must regret their part in the creation of ISIL, in much the same way that the German industrialists regretted their support for Hitler.

  • I don’t care what Corbyn’s position is. We’ve been involved in Middle Eastern sectarian conflicts for about 25 years. At every step it has been pretty much a failure. We can’t rust our allies because they buy oil from. directly support and in some case are ideologically inseparable from our latest foe. Our strategy is confused and our involvement has if anything actually turned progress in the region backwards plus has increased the terror threat it was supposed to combat. This is before you factor in a chronic misuse of counter-terrorism at home. We should pull out of the region completely and stop meddling. There are only so many excuses for repeating a mistake.

  • Alistair,
    Exactly.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Nov ’15 – 11:38am………If we don’t give Cameron permission to bomb Daesh in Syria then our politicians and diplomats should be more ignored on the world-stage. The UK would have become a country with a big bark and very little bite…….I would go as far as to say that this vote is on whether the UK is a second tier “great power” or a third-tier regional one. It will directly affect our defence too. Why share a lot of intelligence with the UK when they don’t help you when you really need it?………….The UK would have become a weak country and would deserve to be treated as such. It’s hard to come up with a military target more obvious than Daesh than if I were asked to design one…………….

    So we need to bomb to stay a ‘Great Power’……To play with the “big boys” costs money…So we keep Trident whilst cutting back on conventional forces (HMS Ocean, the Navy’s flagship is being quietly ‘retired’ after a £65M refit last year???) and Dave can have his ‘presidential’ plane….

    Muddled thinking is not just confined to the Syrian conflict….

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Nov '15 - 2:00pm

    expats again, the point is that if you use the military you get an important say in the peace treaty. We also have the world’s 5th biggest economy.

  • Cara Jenkinson 25th Nov '15 - 4:08pm

    Thanks for all the useful comments and feedback. Eddie Sammon, I’d like to think we can be influential because we are the world’s 5th biggest economy, not because we join in military action on a regular basis. Germany manages to have influence on this basis. Also I’m not so sure we want to be an active part of the peace treaty – shouldn’t it be decided within the region? The only role we could have would be in facilitating this regional discussion. Glad that Tim Farron has come up with his 5 tests for intervention.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Nov '15 - 5:14pm

    The only ‘quick’ way (hah!) I can see to allowing a free hand for a Western-led coalition to go into parts of Syria and seirously remove ISIS (rather than bombing them sporadically and watching them step out of the way) is a dseal with Russia and Syria that recognises most of Syria as a Russian client state, and designates areas of Syria near to the Iraqi border as UN-controlled (or even NATO-controlled) territory in which safe-havens and no-fly zones can be set up and enforced.

    The tussle and chest-beating between Turkey and Russia showed how hard that is going to be even if we were prepared to tie ourselves to overt realipolitik. What Iraq, Iran or Israel would say to any of the above I have absolutely no idea, let alone the Saudis. What the next US president would say is another no-clue scenario.

    Mark Wright – well, yes, I would, on this occasion be happier with more boots on the ground than just more bombs in the sky. Would the voting public? Could the a western or UN coalition (whoever were in it) be able to sustain itself long enough to pull it off?

    Cameron wants to bomb Syria to persuade his own people and the US he is ‘doing something’, but ‘something’ that won’t cause him longterm personal political risk and maybe beat back ISIS just enough. I don’t think he really cares about what it will do to the region longterm (or in fact knows what to do if he did care), and I just can’t see how just bombing would seriously remove ISIS.

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