Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Questions for Cameron on bombing in Syria

We are fourteen years into a War on Terror and there is no end in sight. 

Since 9/11, the West has undertaken military activity against Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Mali.

It should not be controversial to suggest the West considers a new approach. The old one based on military action is not working.

Tomorrow, David Cameron will ask for the support of parliament to bomb so-called Islamic State in Syria. He argues that this will make people in the UK safer.

Jeremy Corbyn, who is not a pacifist but does believe that military action should be a last resort, will oppose Cameron. Corbyn does not deny the serious threat from IS. He argues that there are no good reasons to believe that the proposed military action will make people in the UK safer. On the contrary, it may make people less safe.

Corbyn thinks there is some link between the cause of terrorist attacks in the UK and Western attacks on Muslims abroad. Cameron seems to deny that there is any link at all. Those who share Corbyn’s view are often attacked as “apologists” but this is absurd - people should be able to distinguish between an explanation and a justification. 

Here are some questions that I believe Cameron should answer tomorrow.

  1. US, Russia and France are already bombing Raqqa, where IS have their headquarters. What have they achieved and what would the UK add?
  2. As the 7/7 bombers and most of those who carried out the Paris outrage, were “homegrown”, how will the bombing lessen the chance of a jihadi attack in the UK?
  3. Counter-radicalisation measures in the UK deny any link between jihadi attacks against the West and Western military action against Muslim countries. Does this not seriously undermine their likely effectiveness?
  4. He speaks of Assad’s “mass murder of his own people”. How is it intended to ensure that by attacking IS he does not strengthen Assad?
  5. What steps is he taking in relation to the funding of IS, including by private donors in Saudi Arabia? 
  6. It is widely agreed that ground troops will be needed. Does he categorically rule out sending UK troops? He has spoken of there being 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters who do not belong to extremist groups and who could be involved. What is the evidence for the existence of such a force?
  7. What lessons has he learnt from his own action in Libya? At the time he hailed it as a triumph but in fact it left a country gripped by anarchy and civil war and allowed jihadi to operate there whereas they had not so before.
  8. In light of the shooting down of the Russian plane by Turkey and the fact that the sky over Raqqa will be very crowded, what steps will be taken to prevent accidents?

I would be surprised if such questions were not asked. I hope they get proper answers.

This is not a left/right issue. Some of the most impressive Tory MPs intend to vote against Cameron. Some of them have demanded a free vote on the Tory side, as there will be on the Labour side. 

Cameron’s case looks weak. I am not convinced that it is really about saving lives on British streets. It looks more like a political, cultural, diplomatic desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US and France. That is not a bad reason if everything else makes sense - unfortunately, it does not look like it does.


  1. I understand that the Iraqi army is several hundred thousand strong, yet Mosul remains in ISIL's hands. So even if Cameron's 70,000 force were realistic and could be turned into something resembling a cohesive force, how likely is it that they could successfully take on ISIL on the ground where the much larger Iraqi army, with Iranian support, has so far failed?

  2. Great post; as an American, I've been following the debate in the UK about bombing Syria. The most expert voices seem to think it won't do much good and will simply draw the UK into war, needlessly. I've also observed the same phenomenon here that you talk about when it comes to acknowledging the link between Western foreign policy and jihadi terrorism; people who do so are often labelled Islamist apologists, but without acknowledging the significance of that link, we can never deal with the issue effectively.

  3. A great set of questions with forward thinking,consequences only occur if the wrong action is taken, I oppose the UK air strikes as the consequences may be more detrimental than beneficial.

  4. Very thoughtful post...I share your opposition to airstrikes, though as a Canadian, not a UK citizen. I was very impressed with the views of the French journalist who was a captive of Isis for ten months. Here's the link to a Guardian article about: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/16/isis-bombs-hostage-syria-islamic-state-paris-attacks. He makes some very good points.
    I also feel that the issue of 'collateral damage' of civilians is NOT one that should be taken lightly.