British politicians will decide this week whether to extend airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria. Vanessa Baird on why they should vote ‘no’.
The aftermath of a bombing raid over Homs, Syria, in 2012. Freedom House under a Creative Commons Licence
1) Civilians will suffer most. The so-called Islamic State (IS) isn’t stupid. When Raqqa is bombed, IS fighters scurry into their tunnels or into areas of high civilian density. The idea of surgical strikes in this context is fanciful. Read what Syrians have to say about bombing.
2) There is no ‘end’ in sight, no plan for reconstruction or stabilization post bombing Syria. It can only deepen the chaos. Have we learned nothing from Iraq, from Libya?
3) Most military experts don’t think bombing will work – and certainly not without ground troops. French efforts, despite numerous sorties, have hardly been a resounding success. So if he is serious, David Cameron should be calling for permission to send thousands of British troops to fight in Syria. That, after all, is what it may come to if he gets his way with the vote this week.
4) David Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 ‘moderate’ opposition fighters in Syria, ready to take the ground fight to IS, has been derided by experts. The opposition consists of at least 100 different groups, each with their own aims, not all of which can be trusted to oppose IS.
5) The call for Britain to join France in bombing IS in Syria is a direct result of the Paris attacks. At an emotional level it is entirely understandable. And a robust military response works wonders for the political fortunes of an unpopular leader – as President Hollande is now discovering. But neither provide a rational or moral argument for revenge bombing.
6) The recent globalization of IS activities, exemplified by the Paris attacks, follows a period when IS had been losing territory in Syria and Iraq. On this basis, Western bombing of IS in the region will not make Europe safer. Rather it is likely to recruit more sympathizers to violent Islamic extremism and increase the risk of devastating copy-cat attacks by autonomous cells of homegrown terrorists in the West.
7) The West is falling into a trap of IS’s making. The Salafist game plan is to draw the West into a war that will not end and that it cannot win; to degrade and bankrupt the enemy infidel.
8) The casting of IS as ‘enemy number one’ also suits the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has killed many more people than IS has, but is now presented as ‘maybe not so bad after all’.
9) The blunt instrument of Western bombing will obscure what really needs to be done to beat IS: to choke its supply line of funding, oil and sympathy. To do that involves following the money and the oil, investigating the activities of Western allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
10) The Syrian civil war has become an immensely complex regional problem. The solution needs to be regional. Western military action is likely to be blundering at best. The West’s greatest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, is the source of most of IS’s foreign fighters. Despite its anti-IS rhetoric, the regime has only engaged in the most desultory and symbolic military action against IS in Syria. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia continues to bomb neighbouring Yemen to pieces. But that’s another story – or is it?
Vanessa Baird, New Internationalist 2015.