Syria: My case against air strikes

The following is copied from a letter to my local MP about why I am asking him to oppose military intervention in Syria. I haven’t reproduced it in its entirety because there were some personal points I made and I wanted others to be able to borrow from it if they haven’t yet contacted their MP about tomorrow’s vote.

Having read the arguments for and against British military intervention in Syria (and it has been a struggle to find some serious and rational reporting on this issue), I have come to the conclusion that it would not be in our country’s best interests and neither would it improve matters in the Middle East.

I haven’t been at all convinced by the Prime Minister’s argument for air strikes in Syria.

My first issue is that I do not believe there is anywhere near the amount of moderate Syrian fighters that Mr. Cameron claims there to be. The claim that there is a 70,000-strong militia of Syrian moderates on standby to fight alongside us and, perhaps more crucially, ensure a smooth transition of territories once they’ve been liberated from ISIL, is incredibly difficult to believe. Whatever number there are will be made up of several competing factions.
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent’s Middle East correspondent points out that such a force barely exists. He cites recent American efforts to raise such an army as an example, where it ended up with just four individual “moderate” fighters at a cost of $500m. http://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-independent/20151125/textview

It concerns me that the 70,000 number is being used for PR purposes in a similar way that the 45 minute estimate was used to justify invading Iraq.

Far too many of the concerns in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s report of 2 November have not been adequately addressed. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmfaff/457/45702.htm
It raised the concern that British airstrikes would not make sufficient difference and would even make ISIS more of a threat. Praragraphs 22 to 23 refer:

‘In military terms, we noted that although our witnesses believed that a decision to extend airstrikes into Syria would be welcomed by Coalition allies, some said that it would not have anything other than a marginal effect. The experts told us that it would not be likely to involve extra aircraft but would simply re-focus existing assets; that the UK was already contributing valuable surveillance in Syria; and that the ability to conduct airstrikes as well would not have a decisive effect. Sir Simon Mayall concurred, adding:

“There are not that many of them, actually. This is not an air campaign anything remotely like the scale of 1991 or 2003. We need to be very clear about this. This is not a war-winning air campaign, by any stretch of the imagination.”

‘23.As a result, several witnesses concluded that there was little reason for the UK to change its policy. Julien Barnes-Dacey was strongly against the proposal and told us that the airstrikes make the threat from ISIS worse because they “feed a sense of radicalisation”:
“Sunnis say, ‘Look, the West is not helping us against Assad, but they are fighting ISIS.’ […] We become direct parties, all the while contributing nothing meaningful, in terms of military numbers or capability. I really fail to see how air strikes against ISIS will not do more harm than good.”

I do not believe the case has been made to clear the hurdle the select committee set for the government to clear before they were even satisfied that a motion should be put to Parliament on this issue. The following extracts from the committee’s report I have borrowed from Peter Hitchens’ blog on the issue. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/11/david-camerons-rush-to-war-can-be-halted-if-we-try-.html

“Enabling the House to reach a decision

35.The Government should explain the following points before asking the House of Commons to approve a substantive motion authorising military action:

a)On an international strategy:

i)How the proposal would improve the chances of success of the international coalition’s campaign against ISIL;
ii)How the proposed action would contribute to the formation and agreement of a transition plan for Syria;

iii)In the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution, how the Government would address the political, legal, and military risks arising from not having such a resolution;

iv)Whether the proposed action has the agreement of the key regional players (Turkey; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Iraq); if not, whether the Government will seek this before any intervention;

v)Which ground forces will take, hold, and administer territories captured from ISIL in Syria.

b)On the military imperative:
i)What the overall objective is of the military campaign; whether it expects that it will be a “war-winning” campaign; if so, who would provide war-winning capabilities for the forces; and what the Government expects will be the result of extending airstrikes to Syria.

ii)What extra capacity the UK would contribute to the Coalition’s actions in Syria.

36.We are persuaded that it is not yet possible for the Government to give a satisfactory explanation on the points listed above. Until it is possible for the Government to address these points we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria.’”

I accept that 35 (iii) on the UN resolution has been dealt with but I cannot see how any of the others have been sufficiently answered in order to meet the committee’s recommendation that MPs are not asked to support British military action in Syria until they have been.
Part of the problem with the debate on Syria, or more rather what we do about ISIL, is that if you oppose the Prime Minister’s plan, the alternative is presented as ‘doing nothing’. Indeed, the select committee raised this as an issue in paragraph 33 of its report, stating that “taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.”
When diplomatic efforts are proposed they’re too often scoffed at as if what you’re suggesting is pulling ISIL members around a table for a cosy chat. What of course is meant by diplomatic efforts is putting pressure on governments from the likes of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to stop assisting terrorists by arming and financing them. This leads of course to difficult questions over which states we ourselves do business with. My concern is that perhaps some of our political leaders think air strikes are a simpler decision to arrive at than confronting such diplomatic dilemmas.
We also need need to use our aid budget to alleviate humanitarian suffering and to improve our contribution to deal with the refugee crisis.

Of course ISIL needs to be defeated but sending in British planes to add to the already significant air strikes of our allies will only complicate what is an already multi-sided and messy civil war in Syria.

It is my belief that our air strikes would fuel further radicalisation, playing into the hands of ISIL’s propaganda and make the likelihood of an attack on British soil more likely. It is therefore a dangerous course of action to take in terms of national security.

I am sure you will have had many letters on both sides of the debate so I thank you for taking the time to read mine. I sincerely hope that you will come to the same conclusion as me and many others that the case for military action in Syria has not sufficiently been made and will vote against when it comes to the Commons tomorrow.

You’ll see I’ve borrowed quite a lot from Peter Hitchens. Desperate times call for desperate measures! My MP is a Tory after all. I’d also recommend Keir Starmer’s excellent case against.

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