26 Sep 2014

A wing, a prayer and a US president spouting cliches

The simple and obvious question to ask today is this: would parliament be discussing bombing Iraq for a third war if the USA were not already doing so?

The answer, some would suggest, is no, and that all the guff about the Islamic State group being in some unexplained and unproven way a “threat” to the UK should be seen for what it is.

Clearly the religious savages beheading westerners in northern Iraq and northern Syria are a grave threat to British citizens in that area. It is argued that this reason alone is justification enough to act. And for many it will be so – and, I suspect, for a majority of MPs.

But there may be the uncomfortable sense that we are lashing out because Obama is lashing out. The president who failed to extract US troops from a lost war in Afghanistan and failed to extract the US from a failed war in Iraq.

There are already US forces on the ground – both advisers and special forces. But in al-Baghdadi and the IS they face one of the most experienced guerrilla forces in the  region, who have been fighting such forces on the ground for years.

Civilians in the firing line

Large numbers of quite innocent civilians could begin to die over the unfolding air attacks, which will – they tell us – last for years. We know this from recent campaigns across the world.

Thus, the bombing will likely ensure the continuing hatred of the west in these areas and all that means in terms of easy recruitment of naive jihadis for years to come. Again, we know this from intelligence gained by interrogation and prosecution of these easily swayed young men across the globe.

Ground intel already shows IS have long since abandoned their defined HQs across theatre and moved into civilian cover, as they obviously would. Try dealing with that at 30,000 feet.

So there are real and reasonable questions to ask about the strategic effect of the long bombing campaign which is currently being sold to the British people.

The case for bombing?

In any case, would ground forces make any difference? They have already failed across Iraq over painful, grinding years and created the very situation in which IS could be born and thrive.

Though here the argument for military intervention has some currency. It was the western-backed Baghdad regime which across recent years led to the alienation of Sunni Iraq and the genesis of IS. You can argue here that we have a moral duty to get involved to end a grisly situation of our own making.

If the case for bombing holds any water, it is surely here.

But ground forces, conventional rather than special, would raise the spectre of other recent failures globally.

The British adventure has failed in Afghanistan, by common consent. The British Army’s retreat from Helmand left the Taliban to mount their most concerted offensive in years across that province only this summer. But of course nobody mentions this in Britain – least of all parliament.

Now the UK relies on the hapless Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga to do the job on the ground.

It might just work, too. And if it does, the fumbling toward a real strategy would have pulled the rabbit from the hat.

I do not say military intervention is always wrong and ill-conceived. It worked superbly via Nato in Kosovo without ground forces. Equally, it worked in Sierra Leone with a small number of UK special forces.

But these were limited operations with small, discrete, strategic goals, both identified and achievable.

Long-term strategy?

That is very far for the case with IS any more than it was in Libya, where the creation of a power vacuum looms ominously.

Should the peshmerga and Iraqi army prevail, what then? What then happens to the new power vacuum in the region? What then for the newly armed and western-supported Kurdish forces? What of their claim for a country at last? And what will Turkey, Iraq and Syria make of that?

The questions matter because the concerns are that they merely highlight the lack of long-term strategy in all this. A wing, a prayer and a US president spouting cliches about force being the only language these people understand is the argument. Easy to get in, very hard indeed to get out.

That is the prospectus upon which the UK will likely be at  war yet again by the end of the day.

It is better than the dodgy dossier plans of yesteryear, and certainly appears a lot more legal.

But long-term strategy?

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6 reader comments

  1. anon says:

    aha! but is your question a cliche? No/n!

  2. cicero says:

    Once again, an honest , realistic and truthful article by one of our best correspondents.

    I agree with every sentiment but sadly the majority of our members of parliament will vote
    to follow the U.S.A. and its ‘ hair-brained ‘ scheme. I genuinely believe that this country no
    longer has a developed sense of what our foreign policies should be and blindly follows in
    America’s footsteps.

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    IS is a gang of murdering scumbags for whom there will be no support amongst free-thinkers anywhere on Earth.

    They are not an army. They are a band of psychos driving around in pick up trucks. Their recruits are either crazed homicidals or deluded kids with twisted “ideals.” Their origins lie in the West’s – particularly the Yanks’ – wishes to get rid of an independent Syria, Assad or no Assad. Their continuation comes from finances supplied by reactionary fundamentalist religious groups and families throughout the Middle East, plus looted resources. They are not true jihadis or even Muslims, they are crackpots who know how to use modern audiovideo techniques and weapons.

    Proposed limited military action against them by the West is both hypocritical and useless. Only indigent peoples can defeat them militarily. Once IS is gone, the West will turn on Syria the way they turned on Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Vietnam and anyone else who won’t align with Western hegemony.

    However, IS is basically a “blowback” creation of the West, as is the Taliban and other murderous tyrants were such as Noriega and Pinochet. This time religion is added to the cocktail and provides fuel to the fire. Furthermore, IS can point to the mass murders of hundreds of thousands across the Middle East by Western military action. By comparison, their bestial murders of less than ten Westerners barely registers in the atrocity count.

    The tragedy for true democrats in the West is that they are reaping the whirlwind sewn by our own brand of warmongering crackpots. You only had to view some of them in action in the debate in Parliament.

    Shame on us for creating IS in the first place. Shame.

  4. John says:

    The West’s answer to international problems, today, is War. The trouble is that war never brings long-lasting peace. It, simply, ensures that there is no equilibrium – no balance.

    So nobody knows what the resultant state of flux will ultimately bring. Note the results of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as examples.

    Also, the West should realise that its interventions almost always perpetuate and exacerbate the original problems – the reasons that it went to war, in the first place.

    The result? It gets us nowhere – just more death and misery.

  5. Alan says:

    The tumult of deceit cannot hide the fact that the coalition of profiteers looking to slaughter more civilians actually created this problem. These profiteers do not represent the general public.

  6. H Statton says:

    I agree that it is difficult to overlook whether Britain would be committed in directly combating Isis if it was not for American involvement. After all, how many times have we heard the expression ‘special relationship’ rolled out particularly when referring to military unity and/or security issues?

    There is no doubt that America’s action significantly influences British decisions. Would Britain so gladly agree to the request for aid if coming from someone other than its strongest ally? I can’t help but think not so, but the “with us or against is” era is over.

    The Iraq invasion was illegal and in its wake it has created enormous instability in the area. We went, we bombed, we left – in one big shameful nutshell. The axiom ‘War on Terror’ is as ludicrous now as it was then. Iraq has become a perfect melting pot for genuine terrorist factions and the invisible enemy constructed during Bush and Blair’s administrations has now taken some shape.

    The terrorist attacks in Iraq and Syria are pernicious and their arborised movement across the Middle East makes it a problem to tackle with wholesale bombing alone. However, regrettable as it is the involvement of ground troops seems entirely plausible if Isis is to be quashed in the region. Which countries would contribute and engage remains to be seen.

    I do not have too much doubt over the presence of Special Forces currently being in the area. They have almost certainly preceded any overt military action as the regular forces will require some form of Intel on the ground.

    Hitting targets via airstrikes will only prove a partial success in eradicating Isis. Isis is not operating a systematic or conventional ground force. Airstrikes make take out arms stores or some larger concentrations of insurgents, but I feel it will be like gnawing at its limbs without troubling its heart or head. Naphtha didn’t assuage the Viet-Cong and airstrikes won’t eliminate Isis.

    And of course there is the big issue of collateral damage and civilian loses. False targets will be hit. And Isis will use civilians as cover if need be – yet another strategic nightmare. We all saw how Israel dealt with what it claimed to be Hamas strongholds in Gaza.

    But then, as alluded to in a channel 4 report, are some of the radicals or foreign fighters merely depressed, lonely, isolated people that have found a common cause and comradeship in the ranks of Isis? This brings in the question of – will they crack under pressure in the face of massive military hardware or will it harden their incentive? If some Kurdish men are saying they will gladly give their lives to fight Isis in order to regain their homes, might not martyrdom provide a similar allure?

    As for a direct assault on Britain from abroad or from within – how much is scaremongering and how much is truth? I don’t think anyone can discount the possibility of a few dissidents or sympathisers but there is a massive difference between having a few individuals preaching hate on the streets and the orchestration of a domestic offensive.

    The propaganda films that Isis puts out are polished and professional, but how many of the young men are truly trained. Their ranks are not battle-hardened soldiers. It may be that Isis give their recruits guns, basic training, and then rely on the individual’s convictions and beliefs to do the rest.

    I don’t consider Isis an army, rather more a psychopathic ‘band of brothers’ which fights for a warped ideal doing so with absolute cruelty and ruthlessness. Although sick, that may well be accepted by them as a compliment. I even suspect that the comically monstrous ‘Jihadi John’ has enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame as an Isis poster boy. It is abhorrent.

    Most telling is the participation of Middle Eastern countries. It is testimony to the fact that Isis does not represent Islam and despite our numerous differences within this strange alliance of Eastern and Western countries, we all recognise the unconditional inhumanity of Isis.

    But as you say: “But long-term strategy?” – I shrug my shoulders. It is the six million dollar question I think no-one can, or will want to try an answer.

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