The Syria airstrikes debate is not about Syria and not about airstrikes. It is about the utility of force in the defence of the realm against sources which, while proclaiming a commitment to the Islamic State (which is a self-proclaimed approximation to Islam and isn’t a state). They happen to be operating in Syria, but are neither confined there nor is there a guarantee that these attacks will do so.
No one is safe, that’s what we’re told. We need to stem the tide, against now, that’s what we’re told. But how can you bomb your way out of an idea? How can you convince martyrs that they are wrong, that their enemy is not the perceived beast they want to destroy? Their conviction is such that they blow themselves up, they have a self-aggrandised vision of themselves as the heirs to a world that is run by infidels and obscenities. Their conviction in life, according to them, will be rewarded in death.
There is no answer. There has never been an answer. Ideas cannot be killed, only the practitioners of these ideas. The issue in this debate is that there are, for the time being, a large number of them concentrated in Syria. They may not always be, there are realistically other Paris-like sleeper cells in countries across the world.
Yet the debate in the UK Parliament is concentrating on whether or not it is right to bomb Syria, and the arguments surrounding that. They all tend to ignore that the reality of ISIS is that they are going to survive whatever comes next from the West, but it is only President Francois Hollande that is prepared to call for a total ‘war’ against them.
He is accurate. To defeat ISIS will not require an isolated military attack but an integrated global military strategy and an alliance of countries not seen since the Second World War.
It seems that the modern-day equivalent of the US ‘Vietnam syndrome’ is ‘Iraq Syndrome’ for the UK: not quite prepared to walk away from the necessity of protecting our national interests in the Middle East but stressing it as an activity, in this case airstrikes, and not a series of efforts requiring blood and treasure that could well take decades. They’re even less inclined to acknowledge this as merely the latest chapter in the tenth volume of the UK’s involvement in the Middle East.
If the House of Commons and the UK Government are serious they should be candid as to what is being proposed, and both the Opposition and the Government should unite in an acceptance of the brutal truth: This threat will be with the world for decades, and the British Government should be prepared to unite with its allies and usher in the single greatest global police action every undertaken. Syria is a large, but not isolated piece of the puzzle. It is like considering Battle of El Alamein the beginning and end all of the Second World War. History reminds us it wasn’t.
So this is not an action, it’s a declaration of unity, a shared commitment to a police action that will take decades, require billions of pounds and integrated levels of cooperation not seen since WW2 to ensure that there is a strategy and not simply an uncoordinated commitment to ambiguous goals.