Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
Should we bomb ISIS positions in Syria?

6 July 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Thursday’s news reported Michael Fallon’s statement to the House of Commons raising the possibility of another Commons vote on bombing Syria. Friday’s zoomed in on the one minute of silence to honour the victims of the shooting in Tunisia.

Quite how bombing ISIS positions in Syria would prevent a gunman doing crazy things near the other end of the Mediterranean is not quite so clear. Announcing this just before a public marking of the deaths sounds like a plea for revenge.

Later on Thursday Radio 4 interviewed two Conservative MPs about the possibility of bombing Syria, one who voted for this and one who voted against in 2013 — overlooking the idea that the proposal now is to bomb the positions of ISIS, who oppose President Assad’s regime.

The grief and outrage associated with the deaths in Tunisia is real and understandable. But how many innocent people would be killed if we started bombing ISIS positions in Syria? If the link to ISIS is less than watertight, that will fuel a sense of injustice. There will be just as much grief at each person killed by British bombs, and no doubt as to who is responsible. The grief will be real, as will the desire for revenge, whether the people we kill are “innocent” or “combatants”.

Bombing ISIS positions in Syria might meet our need for vengeance, but will make us a target. In the words attributed to Gandhi: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.

On top of this, the West has a record of intervening in the Middle East and getting the opposite of what it sought. We supported the Shah in Iran, and fuelled resentment leading to the Islamic Revolution. We supported the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, and encouraged an extreme reading of “Jihad”, and now see them as an enemy. We supported Saddam Hussein when he was waging war on Iran, overlooking his treatment of his own people, and seemed to give him a green light to enter Kuwait, but then went to war when we thought he had gone too far. In doing that we sent forces to Saudi Arabia, and having western troops so close to the holy sites of Islam so offended a young Osama bin Laden that Al-Qaeda was born. We toppled the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and found ourselves nursing dysfunctional states. We did the same in Libya and now struggle with the refugee problem that reflects part of the ensuing chaos.

That doesn’t make bombing ISIS positions in Syria sound wise.

Some of the consequences are horribly predictable.

People call ISIS “Islamic State”. Doesn’t that wrongly give the impression that all Muslims as ISIS supporters? It’s a great way to create extremists out of disaffected people in the UK who happen to be Muslim. If we call ISIS a “state” and bomb them as if they are a state, aren’t we turning them from an insurgency into a state, even though no part of the international community recognises them as such?

We’re in danger of a silly military adventure, driven by grief and a desire for vengeance, which further undermines the Muslim communities in the UK and aids ISIS recruitment.

Charles Kennedy was right to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Surely Liberal Democrats need to again need to counsel wisdom over ill-advised military adventure. We’re also in a great position to borrow from Gandhi’s wisdom and push for the degree of listening and reconciliation which seems a great way to de-escalate the middle east, and is radically different from the military solutions that keep not working.