The die is cast.
It seems highly unlikely that anything will stop David Cameron leading the UK into a bombing campaign in Syria. It has precious little to do with the arguments the Prime Minister set out in the House of Commons and everything to do with the hunt for the ‘good war’ that will define a mediocre politician’s term of office.
David Cameron does, after all, have form on this, having led the UK into a catastrophic adventure in Libya in 2011 that left the country mired in a fractured and chaotic civil war. Many of the arguments he used then are being recycled now.
Few will not feel the desire to ‘do something’ in solidarity with the French citizens massacred in Paris, or indeed those killed in Beirut, Sinai or Turkey, but what if that something makes things worse?
We did something in Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade ago and those tormented nations have been mired in endless and bloody conflict ever since.
The UK’s tiny morsel of air power will add little to the chaotic coalition of the bickering that is pounding Iraq and Syria. What can a few Tornadoes add to the shock and awe perpetrated by the US to little effect? Many US pilots report that they are returning with their bombs still on board because there was no obvious target left to strike.
Most of Cameron’s arguments were utter bunkum. We are succeeding in Iraq, he argued, rolling back ISIS and cutting their territory by 30%. The problem is that empty land is strategically worthless. In the same period, ISIS has taken the vital city of Ramadi and consolidated its hold on Mosul. We have, we are told, a moderate opposition to ISIS in the form of the 70,000 strong Free Syrian Army. This will be news to military strategists who think this force is ineffective at best and fictitious at worst. As General Lloyd Austin told a Congressional hearing earlier this year, out of the hundreds of rebels it trained, the US could track down only “four or five” fighters.
We are not supporting President Assad, Cameron continues. We want to see him go, but we will make him go by strengthening his hold on the country. As war aims go, this would appear confused to say the least. Leaving Assad in power after his forces have done most of the killing will almost certainly seal the support of many Sunnis for the likes of ISIS and Al-Nusra. It should be remembered that the last time Cameron went searching for his next, good war, it was Assad he wanted to bomb. Stir in the explosive ingredient of Russia’s pro-Assad military contribution and the Sunni chauvinist Turkish machinations and you have a lethal cocktail of military posturing.
Then there is the question of what will actually defeat ISIS. Even Military Dave admits that an air war will not do it. So whose ‘boots on the ground’ will tread on Syria’s ochre earth? The Kurds have been the most effective anti-ISIS force, but they have their own strategic interests and are constantly impeded by the West’s ally Turkey. Iraq is condemned to endless internecine strife between Sunni and Shia while Syria is an eye-wateringly complex web of murder gangs.
Few could disagree with the desire to do something to stop a sect as murderous as ISIS, but what if the something makes things worse?