I voted yesterday in favour of extending our airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq into Syria. Here’s why. First, any ultra-hawk who argues that this will be the decisive solution to the problem, will somehow or another solve the myriad and complex problems in the region is fooling himself and his listeners. The results of the action cannot be predicted with dogmatic certainty.
I would be the first to agree that there are many difficult questions attached to it.
Will our modest eight Tornadoes, even with their decisive Brimstone missiles make much difference? Who will carry out the ground operations necessary to secure the ultimate destruction of Daesh? How can we prevent the deaths of innocent civilians? Will it make security at home here better or worse? Is our enemy’s enemy our friend? In which case are we now on the same side as Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin? If so is our action helping the Sunni majority population? Are they better under Assad or under ISIS? (The people of Afghanistan might have a view on that.) These and a thousand other questions are of course perfectly legitimate concerns. And anyone who claims to have the answer to them has either got the wisdom of Solomon multiplied a thousand times, or else he is fooling himself. No-one, but no-one can be certain that taking the action we were discussing on Wednesday will necessarily be of long-term benefit to humanity. The fact is that the Middle East is a cauldron, a viper’s nest, a maelstrom, and there can in reality be no dogmatic certainty as to what is best to do there.
Yet by the very same token, no-one but no-one can be certain that doing nothing will be the right thing to do either. Can we really ignore Paris, Tunisia, Sharm-el-Sheikh? Can we turn a blind eye to the women sold into slavery, the crucifixions, burnings alive and beheadings of people largely because of their religious beliefs? Are we really too timid to react with force to mass rape, genocide, thousands murdered? How will we look our constituents in the face if doing nothing means an outrage of some kind in the UK? Can we really sit back and let the US and France, Russia and Hezbollah do our job for us? It is always easy to argue that doing nothing is the safe option; action demands the tougher argument.
All of that means that yesterday’s vote cannot be based on certainty, on dogma. It cannot be based on party allegiance nor on superior knowledge. It is truly a conscience vote. A vote based on our instincts, on the balance of probabilities, on our allegiances, our hopes for peace in the future.
And on balance it seemed to me that there is no logic in turning our planes back at the Syrian border, allowing our work to be done by the Americans and French, turning a blind eye to Daesh and their inhumanities. We are not ‘going to war with Syria’. We are at war with Daesh, and it is they who have declared it. We must now see it through.