The clock is ticking down, consensus continues to build and momentum moves ever closer to bombing raids against IS in Syria. But has the Prime Minister and his peers really learnt from past strategic mistakes? For me there are two imperative questions that remain unanswered; (1) will a British bombing campaign be beneficial short-term? (2) what is the strategic plan if IS are thrown out of the region?
The Prime Minister spoke eloquently last week, somewhat emotionally, tapping into the appeal of solidarity with our allies. Ultimately however, he made more of a political case than a strategic one, and we have been there before when Blair made the same argument for Iraq in 2003.
Apart from feeling like part of a ‘team’, standing shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours, what can we actually add by extending our bombing campaign into Syria? The Americans, French, Russians and not forgetting numerous Middle Eastern countries are already engaged in bombing, the US alone over the last year and a half has flown more than 50,000 sorties and nearly 9,000 strikes. I hate to propose it, but what can the RAF and its small number of Tornados actually add to the equation tactically? Washington undoubtedly wants a British contribution in Syria diplomatically, but militarily? No.
I have struggled to find any modern day examples of successful bombing campaigns that were not part of a structured coordinated ground campaign; Cameron himself admitted last week air strikes alone would not solve the issue. Skepticism reached further than the proposed British bombing raids, the assumption that there are some 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrians fighting in the region who, along with the Kurds, could supply the necessary boots on the ground. The analysis that there are 70,000 ‘moderates’ fighting across the numerous groups is in its self far retched, who are the good guys? What will they do post IS or Assad? Can Russia be trusted? There are far too many questions unanswered, far too little conclusive evidence on the quality, quantity and most importantly intention of the numerous troops on the ground that we are now putting our trust in. Furthermore, the PM was on dodgy ground with the argument that only the British can supply the very best in missile technology, significantly reducing the threat of collateral damage, this is simply not true.
If you are serious about dealing with IS, eradicating the cancer that has disseminated its way to Africa and Europe as well as plaguing the Middle East, you simply must gather a grand coalition and invade. Extreme? Unpopular? Against the sentiment of a war weary nation? All of the above I suspect, but that doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do I’m afraid.
When we want to do it, when we really put an invasion plan into action, we can be clinical and highly effective. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a good template, the military was fundamentally let down by a staggering lack of post-war planning and political direction. And Iraq is not alone in recent years, Sierra Leon, Kosovo, the French in Mali; each conflict properly planned, executed with the right number of troops and supporting forces both by individual states and well oiled cohesive multilateral action.
I understand why people in this country are tired or war, skeptical of another campaign after 10 years in Afghanistan, a war we certainly got wrong. But how do you stop what’s happening in the region, how do you stop the execution of countless innocent victims of an oppressive regime unless you are physically there. The camps in Poland and Germany that had been home to the worst possible crimes were liberated by land, not air, as were the Muslims in the Balkans some 50 years on. History supports the requirement of troops on the ground; only troops on the ground in numbers can clear Iraq and Syria. Any coalition must be fully supported by the UN, in turn the UN must be prepared to deploy troops post-invasion to police and keep the peace whilst rebuilding takes place.
“I understand why people in this country are tired of war, skeptical of another campaign after 10 years in Afghanistan, a war we certainly got wrong”
A clear case for bombing IS in Syria has not been made, or at least the case advocated by Cameron is weak. Cameron’s case for military action is not wrong, but the methodology at this stage has flaws and may well prove to prolong the life of IS whilst making Britain an even bigger target.
In Britain, as in the Western world, we are in danger of reaching the point of lacking the courage to take these difficult decisions. We are slipping ever closer to the dangerous precedence of inaction (pacifism), something IS will never fear. If we dodge this now necessary course of action, if we do not commit wholeheartedly, we will be countering IS at home for many years to come, bombing is never enough.
By Ed Marsh, Director of Aerospace, Defence and Security at Frost & Sullivan, and Junior Writer for Daily Political View.
*This article has been edited at the writers discretion. A Peter Brookes cartoon was replaced with a photo of David Cameron.