Da’esh’s attack on Paris would understandably lead one to the reactionary retaliation of conventional military strikes. Big and colourful explosions in Syrian towns on the 6pm news and accompanying headlines that ‘Jihad John’ has been annihilated acts as a simple, yet effective, way of releasing anger. Not to mention the feeling of getting something done without risking military personnel. The recent parliamentary vote denying airstrikes in Syria was a measured response to the situation as it was, and still is, to the day. A reactionary backtrack on this conclusive vote is tactically short-sighted and dangerous.
David Cameron should not order any strikes on Syria. The military gains in such bombing campaigns have been proven to be ineffective in and of themselves. The Kurds fighting for Keobane in 2014 continually bemoaned the strikes inability to dislodge Da’esh. To them, the forces on the ground were doing more than those in the sky. Current anonymous internet groups undermining Da’esh in Raqqa have similarly quoted to a number of western news sources that bombing runs have made little material gain. The sole reliance on airstrikes therefore is limited and serves only as a highly emotional reaction to the Paris attacks. Ill-thought out military strategy for dealing with Da’esh and ultimately ineffectual in challenging their ideology.
The more astute among us may be forgiven for recognising that the current state of affairs is reminiscent of post-9/11 thinking. We have witnessed an ideological terrorist group make a harrowing attack and military reaction in another Arab nation seems likely. Constant public arguments that the UK should have never have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan need to be applied here. We have since learnt that military action took no account for the ideological competition on the ground; factional interests; culture; political fragmentation; the list goes on. We can agree that these were highly reactionary responses which have served to damage the people of Iraq more than undermine the radical ideologies of groups like Da’esh. Where is the prerogative to forget these recent lessons and to again stampede into Syria?
Our response should be to challenge radicalisation at home and abroad, to house those wandering without homes fleeing Da’esh and to remember that Syria is now awash with contesting groups. Each of these groups draws support from bigger international players who should not be discounted. Russia has just permitted its three operational bombers to strike Syria. The last time such an order was made was against Afghanistan during the 1980s. Military strategists argue that this is Russia’s changing military doctrine which may lead to boots on the ground. The sudden extension of the Russian sphere of influence into Syria may be spurring the west on to display military might in response. Paris may give the west the veil it needs to step up action against Da’esh in response to Russian activities in Syria as opposed to genuine concern for the safety of westerners. Airstrikes in Syria threaten to drag competing interests into a quagmire and into a face-off.
The case for bombing Syria is a lucrative response. A quick dopamine hit which makes us look big, makes us seem tough and makes the west seem more secure. In a post-Iraq War world, we must remember that such feeling is short lived. The true dangerous of such actions are just a scratch beneath the surface. The damage this will cause to the lives of Syrians caught between these conflicts, the ineffectiveness of the strategy and the implications of competing superpower competition being ratched up a notch does not seem worth the price. We can beat Da’esh by other channels. Its time for this Tory government to respect Parliament and to uphold their decision against airstrikes in Syria.
Image: Perry Aston