The government has passed the motion permitting air strikes on ISIS positions in Syria by 397 to 223. The UK will join the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other nations already involved in Syria.
The Prime Minister David Cameron delivered his argument as one of two choices; attack or wait to be attacked, a far cry from his statement on Russian air strikes in October in which he said ‘[the bombing campaign] will lead to further radicalisation and increased terrorism’. He even went further to suggest that those opposed to the motion were terrorist sympathisers; a statement he was asked to retract 12 times, refusing each time to do so.
The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, insisted that air strikes were not the answer and that the Prime Minister had not given a credible argument which lacked a genuine political and diplomatic solution that would accompany the air strikes. He also argued that there was no indication that there was a genuine plan for UK participation, nor a set goal which the air strikes would achieve.
Much has been said as to whether this is a new Iraq, with many keen to stress that this is a different scenario. Indeed, this time, the UK is not going abroad to dismantle a government. However, a variable present in Iraq that is not present in Syria-and which would change the dynamics of the motio- is that in Iraq, there was a readily available ground force. In Syria, the Prime Minister was at pains to pinpoint his allies, referring to a figure of 70,000 opposition forces without differentiating which groups were ‘moderate’ and which groups the UK would not cooperate with. More so, he failed to address the point that our ally, Russia, is bombing all opposition indiscriminately in its fight against ISIS.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister failed to highlight what the UK had to offer that had not been done already. With incessant air strikes already taking place, the Prime Minister failed to present how the UK would do anything except contribute to the disproportionate killing of innocent civilians.
Senior Labour figures, including Hillary Benn, Margaret Beckett and Yvette Cooper, openly stated their opposition to the stance of their leader. Some, such as Gisella Stuart, even stated quite bluntly that her email was full of people lobbying her to vote against the motion, but that she would ignore them in the ‘national’ interest.
More damning were statements made by the Chair of the Defence Committee and Conservative MP Julian Lewis who declared in today’s discussions that going ahead with Cameron’s motion would be ‘ineffective and potentially dangerous’.
But the biggest tragedy of all is that the UK will be striking without a plan. The UK will be striking blindly, with no concept or strategy as to how to bring about a political solution. The UK will be striking not even knowing who are its allies. For France wants an alliance with Russia who wants Assad in power. The US wants Assad out as does Turkey. All want to fight ISIS but Turkey shot down Russia who is fighting ISIS and is at war with the Kurds who are also fighting ISIS. The Kurds are backed by the US and recently received weapons from the Russians. As Dennis Skinner MP put it ‘what a crazy war. Enemies to the right of us. Enemies to the left of it’.
Perhaps what appears to be missing from the debate are the realities of war and the realities of innocent civilians being killed by the air strikes. For even if 10, 20 or even 30 ISIS fighters are killed in air strikes, these are usually accompanied by double the number of innocent civilians. Perhaps never having lived through a war in recent times, one can be forgiven for failing to fully empathise with the reality. But no matter how you look at it. Children will be caught in the crossfire, all in the name of our security.
War is frightening. It is not Call of Duty where you can respawn and continue where you left off. Once you are hit, you are hit. And when you die, you die. And the collateral damage that is irrelevant in the game, is actually someone’s entire life, gone in an instant as a result of that air strike you called in to take out the other player.
Now you can choose not to play Call of Duty. The Syrians we are about to bomb cannot choose to opt out of the game. It is real. Very real.
Have a think about that as you sit down to watch Gogglebox, and have a look up at your ceiling and be thankful that you are pretty certain that it is going to be there the next morning.
The UK will be creating new streams in the already raging rivers of Syrian blood. However it offers no project to build a dam or at least stem the flow in search of a solution.
No matter how one looks at the subject, the UK is striking blindly. And the late Tony Benn’s words echo louder than ever:
‘What fools we are to live in a generation for which war is a computer game for our children, and just an interesting little Channel 4 news item.’