Britain is once again back at war in Iraq. On Friday last week, the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians voted in favour of air strikes against ISIS. In the first instance, our government has authorised the use of 6 bombers to ‘strategically target’ ISIS strongholds and provide support to the American and French forces. Fighter jets have been taking off from Cyprus, presumably to gather intelligence prior to performing any formal airstrikes. There is now no turning back.
But have we done the right thing? Deep down, perhaps all of us have experienced a sense of deja-vu upon hearing the debates being played out in the media and subsequently in parliament. In 2003, parliament voted in favour of the Iraq invasion on the back of the now infamous dodgy dossier on weapons of mass destruction. Although Sadam Hussein was removed from power, our final legacy from military operations in Iraq was to futher de-stabalise the region; and to assert that our actions in 2003 had nothing to do with the birth and growth of ISIS is simply delusional. Does it therefore come as a surprise that many people are equally hesitant in this instance as to whether our actions will do more harm than good?
In addition, it is equally important to question the very basis of our military intervention. Last time, we were fictitiously told about the existence of weapons of mass distruction. This time, we are told that ISIS poses a direct threat to Britain. This statement, coupled with emotional arguments of ISIS barbarism and their persecution of minorities has been used to drum up the support from Britons for the current military project. Indeed, listening to Petri Hoskens’ phone-in on LBC on Saturday gave a sense of fear that people have for ISIS, to such an extent that a number of listeners were genuinely frightened, due to their perception that an ISIS inspired terrorist attack was imminent in the UK.
However, given that we have been lied to before, why should we simply accept the statement about ISIS posing a ‘direct’ threat to Britain? Some may argue that many British Jihadis have joined ISIS, so the fact that there are sympathisers to ISIS ideology in Britain suggests they pose a threat to us. Whilst this may be true, is bombing Iraq going to somehow change the minds of these individuals to reconsider their support for the group? Others state that many of the British Jihadis in Syria will pose a threat to our national security when they return on British soil. But if anything, most of the fighters who have joined ISIS have stated that they do not want to return to the UK, and anybody who attempts to return to the UK is highly likely to be detained. Finally, there is the point that the ‘state’ which ISIS have declared is expansionist in its nature, so it is quite conceivable that in the future, ISIS will be knocking on our doorsteps. In retort to this of course, there are many other countries that ISIS must encounter, well before reaching our shores.
Whilst there may be some uncertainty on the exact nature of the ISIS threat to Britain (if indeed they do pose a threat to us), their barbarism and savagery must surely be enough of a reason for us to attack them. Whilst on face value this may sound like a noble aim, we must remember that there are barbarians in many parts of the world who persecute minorities on a daily basis, and if we are a nation that goes to war purely on the principle of protecting minorities from genocide, why did we not enter Nigeria to counter the barbarism of Boko Haram? Have we ever considered intervening militarily to protect the Rohnigya from the genocide they face in Burma? Perhaps more interestingly, if preventing barbarism and savagery is the principle factor in our military intervention, what is the difference between the Asad regime, which used chemical weapons against its own people, and ISIS? Whilst Cameron was keen to intervene in Syria, the House had concerns about entering into a war on the backdrop of a complex political situation. Why have these concerns seemingly disappeared when focus is on ISIS?
So what should we be doing? Amidst all the meaningless rhetoric and soundbites we have been hearing in the media on this subject, the most intelligent contribution to discussions I believe has come from Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins, who has asked a number of probing questions about the current military offensive. Jenkins doesn’t believe the assertion that ISIS pose an immediate threat to Britain, however they do pose a greater threat to surrounding countries such as Iran and the Arab states, thus ISIS is primarily an Arab problem, not a British one. Jenkins legitimately asserts that despite the ‘coalition’ against ISIS between the Arab states and the West, instead of the offensive being led by Arab nations, it is being led by the West. After all, its not as if Arab nations aren’t well equipped; Saudia Arabia has 700 tornados (which Britain sold to the Saudis) idly parked away whilst our 6 bombers are carrying out missions. Some strategists have argued that our help is needed as the Saudis and other Arab nations might lack the necessary military expertise, despite the fact that most of their military personnel have been trained in the UK. I find this an extremely troubling argument; have we really been so irresponsible as to sell weapons to people who don’t have the necessary training to use them in an efficient manner
Jenkins raises further concerns about our current military strategy in Iraq (or lack of it). What are we trying to achieve in Iraq? If it is to destroy ISIS, then airstrikes alone of course are not the answer. There needs to be a strong presence on the ground, and given that the almost a third of the British trained Iraqi forces have retreated and the Peshmerga solely interested in protecting Kurdish areas, where are the ground forces from the neighbouring countries that have committed themselves to this alliance against ISIS? And even if there was a strong presence on the ground, are we really adding anything by sending in 6 bombers into the conflict zone? As Jenkins suggests, this is seemingly an offensive of show, to illustrate to the world that we are doing something and above all, we are in solidarity with the United States.
There are some differences in the circumstances between this offensive and the previous one in Iraq; the principle one being that the Iraqi government has asked for help on this occasion. However, these differences in circumstances aren’t enough to rid the uneasy sentiments of deja-vu many people have with the sanctioning of airstrikes. It is on this point that I find myself agreeing with Nigel Farage of all people, that our government needs to raise its threshold for military intervention overseas and instead focus on key issues at home, such as austerity and the NHS. We need to stop meddling in the problems of the Middle East, and let them sort their own issues for themselves. As Simon Jenkins states, ISIS is primarily their problem, not ours.