France is posturing for war and Britain looks set to join them. Matthew Howlett argues that David Cameron would be making a mistake to do the same.
Needless to say, the brutal and tragic events that took place in Paris last weekend have shocked the entire world, not only stunning the public but, more worryingly, appearing to take European leaders by surprise. This attack follows fast-moving events in the Middle East in recent weeks. As early as twenty four hours before, suicide bombers killed 43 people in Beirut as so-called Islamic State attempted to retaliate, having being pushed out of multiple strongholds by advancing Kurdish forces.
The Paris attacks, however, have raised the stakes even further, so it’s no surprise that France has intensified its bombing of Syria and David Cameron looks set to convince the House of Commons that it is necessary for the UK to conduct our own airstrikes. The only problem with joining in with the bombing of Syria is the issue is far from black and white. In fact, the situation couldn’t have any more problems.
Although IS has a prominent presence in the war-torn country, let’s not forget that the current Syrian government, led by President Assad, is not exactly highly regarded by the UK. It wasn’t that long ago that the news was dominated by the possibility of backing Syrian rebels against Assad’s regime in a similar way to how the West united against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. The tone has changed since then, with David Cameron now offering a transition of power to a new regime once the crisis has dissipated. What does that mean though? We’ll suddenly support a tyrannical dictator? All of this so we can over-attack an extremist organisation weakened recently by relentless international bombing and the loss of the strategic town of Sinjar? I’m not sure this is the right way forward for peace in the middle-east.
It would also be naïve of Britain to ignore the sudden and relentless assault by the Russian military on so-called Islamic State. No one is certain of Mr Putin’s intentions in approving such drastic action. Even though the Russian president has insisted he is open to regime change in Syria, airstrikes in the country have reportedly hit US-backed Syrian rebels opposing President Assad as well as Islamic extremists that the Russians are supposedly intervening to destroy. This follows on from extreme Western sanctions imposed on the country in the wake of the Ukraine crisis that has visibly strained the relationship between Mr Putin and his fellow world leaders. A rushed decision on airstrikes may create further animosity, especially considering President Putin and Assad are friends in the political world. Consequently, a stand-off over this issue could offer up a totally new Middle Eastern problem that will only make the crisis worse.
This leads to the question of whether airstrikes are the right way to go right now. Whilst international attacks on extremism in Syria have produced some successes, what has made a decisive step forward is the efforts of Kurdish forces on the ground. Islamic State’s tyrannical regime has plenty of hostages in its strongholds, many of which are being used as human shields against Western airstrikes. The UK doesn’t want to be unwillingly killing the very people we are trying to save.
On the flip side, Britain has to protect its citizens in any way it can, and, understandably, with recent tragedies happening so close to home, there is increased urgency to intervene against Islamic State before they manage to cause a similar catastrophe across the English Channel.
Jeremy Corbyn has been leading the opposition to Syrian intervention in the Commons with his usual pacifist ideology. A total rejection of military action is just as stupid and naïve as a poorly thought out bombing raid. In the immediate aftermath of events like this, our national security has to be the most important priority, but David Cameron must not rush into unnecessary action in Syria that fails to achieve its aims. Thinking with our heads rather than our hearts is the only way we will bring down such a barbaric and heartless organisation and truly keep British citizens safe.
What is now clear is the threat of IS in Europe is real and has culminated in the worst way it can. Europe has to show its strength and solidarity in times like this, but a true showing of unity and power comes not from drastic action, but being able to step back, look at the big picture and act accordingly.