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?
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.
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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