Should Britain join air strikes in Syria?

I thought for this blog post to shoot from the hip even though something else tells me I should hang fire and spend more time researching the facts before I do so. But as I reflect, there is something to be said for admitting one’s ignorance yet laying out a case, because not to do so would tantamount to allowing wrong decisions to be made without redress. The question before me is “Should Britain join air strikes in Syria”, which was also the question put before a panel of experts and interested parties representing various viewpoints yesterday on BBC’s Sunday Morning Live show, which I watched while doing the ironing.

The discussion was interesting and informative, with a range of views and perspectives being offered without coming up with the definitive answer, something the UK Parliament needs to do in the forthcoming vote on the matter. Last time the “should we” question was put before the Commons the answer was no, but then the enemy was the Assad regime and now it is ISIS. Things have changed in a short time, and not just switching the focus on who to attack (Assad is still around and is still as bad as he was). The recent attacks on Paris, Belgium being threatened with much shutting down and threats also to the UK, all from the hands of ISIS, has likely made answering this question more urgent. The interest and intervention of “unlikely” allies, such as Russia and Iran, has also gone toward forcing the hand of the UK government. Assuming the aim is to defeat ISIS and nullify the effect of Islamic extremism, one of the results being the oppression ISIS brings and the refugee crisis we are now seeing, is bombing selected targets, an action France has begun to intensify, supported in principle by the UK government.

My reticence when it comes to answering the above question is not that I object to military intervention, for I could be persuaded, albeit reluctantly (for I firmly believe there is a case for a “just” war), and ask whether bombing this (ISIS) lethal enemy into submission will produce the desired results. I question government motives, the strategic objectives, the likely collateral damage, the enormous costs etc. As with many, I look upon recent military incursions into the region, specifically the two Iraq wars, which Britain supported, as one resulting in the coalition winning the war but losing the peace (evidenced by the fact that ISIS now controls large chunks of Iraq, because of the power vacuum and discarded weaponry that had been left after coalition forces withdrew). I also understand why the talk is about bombing from the air rather than bringing in troops from the ground, as the likelihood is that if this were to happen there will be an unacceptably high level of casualties inflicted on the allies and the intervention will likely end up as being long and drawn out.

However, this all begs the question will this action be effective and whether those doing the bombing or thinking of doing so have got their strategy right? Right now, when it comes to voting and it was up to me, I do believe we should be involved militarily but have many questions regarding what it is the government is intending. The big questions can be extended to issues like border control, increasing the national security provision and combating Islamic extremism internally, as well as those that have hardly begun to be answered (covered in earlier blogs): the UK response to the refugee crisis, how to deal with the Assad regime and an assortment of other issues, including our relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran and the not going away any time soon Palestinian question. As is often the case, the recent Paris attacks and Russian interest has got the government thinking along the lines of operating in “being responsive mode”, although that should have been happening long before this, but the big question remains: what is the right response?

As I say, I don’t feel qualified to offer the right solutions to all these imponderables, much as I wish I could, but these questions cannot be ducked and if they are it will be at our peril. Even then my confidence in those who make these decisions is not particularly high. For one thing, I doubt whether there is sufficient wisdom and insight among our decisions makers. Meanwhile I will watch and pray! One thing we can do, and to quote Billy Graham, is “to get nations back on their feet we must first get down on our knees”.

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