Nick Palmer – ISIS in Syria

nick-_palmerFirst, apologies for the long pause in updates. I’ve stepped back from day-to-day updates on Broxtowe (please see the browtowelabour.com website for Labour’s updates) but I do intend to keep commenting from time to time on national issues.

The obvious question coming up is whether we should join the Americans, Russians and French in bombing ISIS in Syria – and perhaps further involvement thereafter. The case for action has clearly been strengthened by the horrific terrorism in Paris. If anyone was in any doubt about the murderous evil that ISIS presents, that doubt should now have disappeared. Another important development is the agreed UN resolution urging all powers to take action to combat the terrorism. Although this stops short of explicitly making the attack on ISIS a UN mission, it clearly gives a level of international agreement that we have not seen for a very long time.

That said, it’s easier to get into wars than get out of them, and it’s right to ask some questions. How will defeating ISIS in Syria affect terrorism in Europe? Can ISIS be defeated in Syria without ground troops, and if not, are we willing to get involved again with ground forces? The allies attacking ISIS are completely divided on the future of Assad, with Russia strongly supportive and Britain entirely hostile – if ISIS is defeated, what happens next? What exactly are we trying to achieve? What would victory look like, and is there an exit strategy, or would this be an indefinite commitment?

The lesson of Iraq (where I mistakenly supported military action) is not to rush into battle without a coherent plan for what we are trying to achieve and what happens if we win. At present, we don’t appear to have a strategy at all; we are against Assad, but we don’t have a clear alternative, except for a vague reference to the fractured Free Syrian Army and “moderate forces”. There is, it seems to me, a danger that we are responding to the real threat of terrorism in Europe, which we don’t know quite how to deal with effectively, by doing what we do well, air strikes against an enemy thousands of miles away.

There is a case for joining the coalition out of solidarity with the other countries – not least as the emergence of combined action between the West and Russia perhaps shows real progress since the Cold War. But it is delusional to get involved in a war and think we are really tackling terrorism, without a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve either in Syria or against terror in Europe. I should like to see signs of an effective plan for compromise between Assad and the non-ISIS opposition, and in the absence of that, shouldn’t we stop trying to help overthrow Assad? Is he a ruthless dictator who has almost certainly committed war crimes? Yes. But he may be the least bad realistic option available. The belief that the end of a dictatorship in itself always makes for a better future is not always well-founded. Look at Libya. Look at Yugoslavia. Look at Iraq.

This is all too important for party politics, and notably all parties are divided on the issue. But I’d like to disagree with the common view that Jeremy Corbyn’s nuanced response and his refusal to brush into a war is a sign of weakness or even lack of patriotism. It’s part of the job of opposition leaders to ask questions and raise cautionary warnings. Corbyn’s reluctance to make generalised bellicose statements is seen as a weakness in today’s climate. It is not, however, pacifism; rather, it’s a concern to avoid rushing into a new adventure when we have only just exited from the last one. My unfashionable view is that he’s doing us a service by keeping a cool head in this anxious and fevered time.

Quite separate from what should be done in Syria is the question of how terrorism in Europe can best be fought. I’ll return to that in a later column.

Best wishes, Nick

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2 Responses to Nick Palmer – ISIS in Syria

  1. Fred R says:

    You’re right to be cautious, as is Jezza “The Beard” Corbyn. When the red mist of war is in the eyes of the media and political classes, it takes courage and bravery to look at the issues rationally
    and dispassionately. Kudos to yourself and those in the PLP who are doing this.

    As for lacking patriotism, The Beard had a brill rejoinder to that, previewed in a Mirror article:

    “What’s pro-British about a government that slashes support for serving soldiers and military veterans? How is it patriotic to take money from the poorest, from working families, and hand control of your country to a super-rich elite? Labour will take no lectures in patriotism from the Conservatives, the political wing of the hedge-funds, the bankers and the 1 per cent elite.

    “How dare Cameron’s Conservatives pretend that they speak for Britain. We stand for this country’s greatest traditions: the suffragettes and the trade unions, the Britain of Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Alan Turing and the Beatles – and perhaps our greatest Olympian Mo Farah – the working people of this country who fought fascism, built the welfare state and turned this land into an industrial powerhouse.”

    A cautionary article in the Indy on Saturday should be mandatory reading for those wanting to unleash the dogs of war without second thought:

    Britain must learn from past mistakes before joining the civil war in Syria. Patrick Cockburn, Independent, 21/11/15

    Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford School of Peace Studies, and an acknowledged authority on war and peace, penned the following analysis:

    We must prepare for a 30-year war in the Middle East

    Also, in these days of austerity, it should be borne in mind that the cost of war, in monetary terms, is high – according to this Sky News article from last year around half a mill per air sortie. Good news for arms manufacturers, who get free publicity for their products, but bad news for the public purse which Osborne is so keen on keeping tightly closed:

    How much will airstrike on IS cost the UK taxpayer? Sky News, 26/9/14

  2. patrickratcliffe says:

    I don’t totally agree with all of your analysis, and in a brief reply there is not time to make more than one point, and it is this.
    For a man who supported the disaster of the Iraq War, to publically admit his mistake, is very brave.
    For that same man to support the courage of the Labour leader, whose coolness and considered caution is in stark contrast to the rush to climb on the bully’s bandwagon – to bomb Daesh and the innocents held captive by them, earns my total support.
    The Western world must not repeat the mistakes of our recent past: we must not be drawn into further action that feeds violence and hate and creates more and more martyrs to an unjust cause. It is the Arab and the Muslim world that must act to reclaim hearts and minds of people in the Middle East and North Africa, and the West must offer our strongest support.
    What has taken place in the skies above Turkey / Syria today further emphasises the dangers we are all in.

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