By Kasey Barber
Tonight the Leader of the Labour Party meets with the Parliamentary Labour Party in a Committee Room of the Houses of Parliament to debate this very question.
The tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, following the attack on the streets of Beirut and the bombing of a Russian plane above Egypt, have forced David Cameron and other world leaders to revise their policies for combating Daesh. The international nature of this challenge is indicated clearly by the previous sentence. Nowhere, it seems, is safe from the reach of Daesh militants.
David Cameron put his case on the floor of the House of Commons last week and was, it is fair to say, listened to with an open mind.
The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, set out some clear questions that he felt should be answered before he could say how he would vote, which you can find here: http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/full-text-and-audio-corbyns-7-questions-to-cameron-on-syria/
Carefully formulated, well-thought through and incisive questions, they further break down and guide the debate into sensible queries about military and foreign policy objectives as well as national and international security. The British Prime Minister thinks he has ably answered these questions and consequently is confident that bombing Syria is the right military and foreign policy option. Others disagree.
As someone who was, two years ago, thrown into the world of foreign policy with only a lifetime of watching BBC Breakfast and the 6 o clock news behind me, I wanted to break this debate down into three less incisive but more relatable points which get to the heart of my reservations about voting to bomb Daesh in Syria.
Just because we can, does that mean we should?
Like many a young lady who frequents bars and nightclubs around 2am, I have learned that just because you can do something (or example, accept your drunken acquaintances offer of a nightcap), doesn’t mean that it is wise to do so.
David Cameron and others have made repeated references to the accuracy of our bombing capabilities. We have a near enough base in Cyprus that we can launch bombing raids from. We are already bombing Daesh in Iraq. It would not be going beyond our military capabilities to start to bomb Daesh in Syria too.
We must accept, however, the consequences of our actions. If a young lady were to accept the hospitality of a kind acquaintance on a Saturday night, she knows that come Sunday she will have to see his face in the actual sunlight, she will have to navigate the awkward morning chat and the walk home in yesterday’s clothes and, if not to be repeated, the likely frequent awkward run ins with said gentleman in local supermarkets and bars. If to be repeated, the future is uncertain and she may find herself in too deep too fast, and it may be difficult for her to extricate herself from the situation without suffering embarrassment or emotional harm.
David Cameron must accept that if he starts to bomb Daesh in Syria he will also be killing innocent men, women and children, as Russia has done this weekend when it bombed a Syrian market place. He must accept that he will be giving Daesh the propaganda they need to further convert already disheartened young Syrian men looking for a target for their anger and despair. He must accept that he might not be able to withdraw that bombing support at the first sign of trouble; that he might be called upon to provide more support than he was initially willing to give. Has our Prime Minister really thought this through? Is he prepared for this and willing to accept it all and bomb anyway?
But everyone else is doing it…
As my mother often said to me when I put in another request for a new yoyo or demanded we buy Flora spreadable at the supermarket (powerful advertising), the fact that everyone else is doing it doesn’t make a good enough reason to join in.
President Hollande and President Putin, whose citizens have faced unspeakable losses, have chosen to bomb ISIS in Syria. We too have lost citizens and it seems quite clear from the timing of Mr Cameron’s step up in this debate that Mr Hollande has asked for our assistance.
We pledged solidarity with France. We feel for the Russian tourists who lost their lives simply because they chose to take a holiday. We all want to help and support our friends and such a characteristic is as admirable in everyday lives as it is smart in foreign policy diplomacy. But it is also right, as Clive Lewis MP pointed out recently, that “a true friend and ally must sometimes tell its friends hard-truths”. It is the job of a friend, upon being asked to join in a fight by another friend, to point out that it might not be such a good idea. In a post pub brawl, it may seem clear that three burly men with years of fighting experience can take on a couple of inexperienced lads looking for trouble. However, our three men don’t know their enemy and could easily be surprised by the lads pulling a knife or calling some more friends from round the corner to join in. Just because we have been asked to help and even if everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it is smart to join in.
If it looks like a fish and smells like a fish, what is it?
As someone who at thirteen years old watched our “shock and awe” bombing in action on a tiny television in my tiny bedroom somewhere in Sussex this is all starting to feel rather familiar. The shadow of Iraq casts itself long and dark over the Labour Party and the House of Commons who did, though they may want to forget it, vote in a majority for the Iraq War. It is quite clear now that Tony Blair had been asked to join in by the United States, a close ally. It is quite clear now that the evidence relied upon at the time relating to the military capabilities of Iraq was wrong; exaggerated even. It is quite clear now that Tony Blair had not thought through the necessity for and duration of ground troop support necessary to finish the job. It is quite clear now that the job is not finished and that Iraq remains a troubled state, vulnerable to jihadist groups.
Albert Einstein famously said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet again we have a failing state in the Middle East. Yet again we have extremist forces masquerading as Islamic carrying out attacks within the so-called Western world. Yet again we do not know the enemy, or the motives and capabilities of our allies. Yet again we do not know the collateral damage we will cause. And yet again, twelve years older, but none the wiser, we look straight to bombing.
Even as someone with the deepest respect for Mahatma Gandhi and his doctrine of non-violence, like Jeremy Corbyn, I am not morally opposed to military action as a last resort. The point that must not be drowned out by propaganda, as it was in 2003, is that we have not yet reached the last resort. We have options yet to be explored. There is hope and, although admittedly slow, progress towards a political solution with the continuing talks in Vienna. Iran, not a regular to international peace-building roundtables, has pulled out a chair and taken a seat. The region wants to see a solution to this problem and they are willing to sit down, to speak with each other and to sketch one out.
We can locate and stop the transport of arms shipments from other groups and countries to Daesh. We can help other countries to cut off their oil supplies. We can prevent individuals and States from funding Daesh.
Let’s explore those options first, before reaching for the bomb button. Let’s continue to support our friends but not jump into a fight with an enemy whose capabilities we don’t yet know, or climb into bed with allies whose motives we don’t yet understand. Let’s learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them to the further detriment of a beautiful region fed up of being besieged by conflict.