The House of Commons has voted in favour of air strikes in Syria. The social-media flare-up of self-disgust and self-righteousness quickly followed.
In the last year, UK drones operating in Iraq have killed 305 ISIS combatants. In the process they have killed 0 civilians. The UK has been bombing ISIS in Iraq for the fourteen months – and where were the wails of indignation then? I cannot stress this enough: there is no difference between Iraq and Syria. That boarder no longer exists. And stop calling ISIS the “so-called Islamic State”. It controls extensive amounts of territory, and governs it with Islamic law. It’s an Islamic State. They butcher children, throw gays off rooftops, keep young women for sex-slaves and put old women in mass graves. Yet while people are quick to condemn them for such heinous crimes, they’ll stop short of supporting any forceful action. The Kurds have been doing our work for us in Iraq, fighting and dying against the most perverse state ever to have existed, even calling ISIS ‘Medieval’ gives them too much respect. The least we can do to help the Kurds.
Admittedly there are great limitations to bombing campaigns. US bombing in Syria has been largely ineffective, due to the ISIS strategy of hiding amongst dense civilian populations, which has resulted in the White House unwilling to sanction drone strikes, which has resulted in a stalemate. But as Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said of these strikes, they are aimed at “a very real blow on oil and revenue on which Daesh depends”. It is possible to choose your moments, and with oversight and humanitarian intentions, how can anyone have any arguments against such action? Syria has been imploding for the last several years and it has managed it without our help, thanks.
Naturally, as soon as the vote occurred, people start pointing to all the ineptitude and colonial ambitions of past bombings, but even if every example had been undertaken with the worst intentions, (which they haven’t), and even if they all had resulted in the most disastrous consequences, (which they haven’t); this would only mean that we must proceed with extra caution. Learning from past mistakes does not mean ceasing to do anything at all.
But of course, this all stinks of colonialism for the ideological mob that seems to have colonised social-media. One of my favourite memes, frequently reposted, was this one…
Leaving aside the laughable fact that this compares Cameron to a Nazi (how much lower can we sink?) there is a few things to point out here. The quotation is taken from an interview, an interview in which the interviewer, Gustave Gilbert, points out exactly how the analogy to Syria is unfounded: “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.” The meme itself is also a disjointed fragment of the full quote, and omits the fact that for Goering, the “common people” were “poor slobs on a farm” who were dragged away to risk their lives. Which one of us is being asked to risk our lives exactly?
It is the Syrian people whose lives are at risk. We aren’t the aggressors in this situation and we certainly aren’t the victims. The people of Syria are the victims. But some of us seem only to recognise victimhood when we can be seen to be the perpetrators. Such masochism is commonplace in this body-bag peace movement; the kind of thinking that would have left Bosnia unbombed in 1995 and might just have led to a Nazified Europe in 1945. Inaction has consequences too.
Of course I’m painting with a very broad brush here… there might well be online bots making the reasoned case for why we shouldn’t bomb Syria. If there is such a person, he or she has been drowned out by all the noise occurring online.
What is the reasoned case then? The reasoned case recognises that Britain’s intervention is really only symbolic, a token force compared to the US, and one which without ground support will achieve little tangible change in the region. All true. Yes, Britain is only a member of a broad coalition. The Common’s vote had more political then military significance, and more cultural then political significance. For it is shared cultural values that we should stand united behind. We have no right to let our ally’s fight our battles for us. We should take a share in the responsibility. It is an issue of solidarity. And of course, this makes the apocryphal tweets of apocalyptic sadness all the more ignorant and solipsistic – they presume that we are alone in this struggle.
I can understand the people who argued previously that we should not have even been bombing in Iraq. At least they are consistent. Bombing alone will not stop ISIS spreading across the region; it is only a preventative measure, but it is due to such preventative measures that the Kurds fight on. There is a serious lack of strategy for the region, because a full strategy would require a full commitment, and that we cannot bring ourselves to do – the tragic epilogue of our past failures in the region. And then there are the notorious Impossibles, the people who say “bloody imperialists” and “who are we to even have a strategy for the region” and “who are we to call it a region in the first place”. You know the comments, you know the tone of voice. The Middle East is too important to leave to the slogans scrawled on their placards. There are lives at stake here, and to do nothing will condemn people to death in either case. Just because there is no overall strategy does not mean that we cannot pick a side and make reasoned tactical decisions, it does not mean that we cannot side with the Kurds and the innocents being persecuted, and once you realise that it really does become that simple.
I do not underestimate the complexity of the situation. But I can say with conviction #inmyname, in part to fuck off the morally-straightjacketed individuals who say #notinmyname, and in part because of Hilary Benn’s Parliamentary speech – one of the best I have ever heard. If there is any British opportunity-cost that comes with bombing Syria, such as the possibility of homegrown terrorism, then such a burden comes with our responsibility to spread the risk amongst our allies. And remember, we are not bombing the streets of London. Homegrown terrorism is proof of the crucial role of ideology. Consider that the online screeches and screeds that label this a ‘foreign policy atrocity’ panders to such extreme ideologies. We lay the foundations for our own destruction, a destruction that we all seem to secretly crave.