Let us firstly acknowledge we all agree that Daesh/Islamic State is an evil force that the world has to confront. The disagreement relates to the best strategic response to that challenge.
The Prime Minister and others believe that an immediate airborne military response is required in Syria from UK forces to help defeat Daesh. I believe that it is likely to have little effect and could exacerbate the strategic problems western powers face.
Firstly, the so called war on terror has been waged for over fourteen years yet the security threat facing the UK is set at ‘Severe’. The first priority of any defence policy should be to safeguard the domestic population of the state. Peter Ford the former UK Ambassador to Syria said last week that UK intervention in Syria would increase the security threat to the UK. The reality is that Western intervention in the Middle East and North Africa fuels the poisonous ideology which sustains Islamic fundamentalism.
Secondly, thirteen foreign countries have been bombing in Syria for over two years with little effect. These forces are led by the most powerful and well resourced air force the world has ever seen – the United States Air Force. It is extremely difficult to imagine that intervention by the RAF will be strategically decisive.
Thirdly, I opposed the bombing campaign in Iraq primarily on the basis that it made no sense to intervene there against Daesh without extending to Syria. However, at least in Iraq there was a functioning state army that could be supported to challenge the insurgents on the ground. The situation in Syria is considerably more complicated. We are dealing with a multi-facet civil war as opposed to the Sunni v Shia civil war in Iraq. Western powers do not support the current Assad regime and indeed until recently the focus of Western powers was regime change. Russia and Iran are directly intervening in Syria to protect Assad. The question then which arises is: who are we expecting to fill the vacuum left if military action is successful? Unless there is an alignment of strategic interests in Syria between Russia, the west and key regional players like Iran, I would argue that military intervention is high risk as witnessed this week with Turkey shooting down a Russian plane.
Last week the Prime Minister said there was a functioning force of 70,000 free Syria rebels ready to challenge Daesh on the ground and then form a government. Even the pro-war supporting Times described this as pure ‘guesswork and optimism’. Indeed the Russian intervention has been primarily targeted at these same free Syrian rebel forces. The ‘hawkish’ Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who chairs the Defence Select Committee, does not support intervention in Syria due to lack of a comprehensive ground strategy.
This leads to fears of inevitable mission creep with western forces deployed on the ground. Some ‘hawkish’ military advisers and conservative and Labour MPs are already calling for such action. The phrase ‘pouring petrol on fire’ comes to mind.
Fourthly, as we have seen in Libya the UK and Western powers are extremely efficient at bombing countries without considering the requirement for considerable investment required following conflict to ensure a functioning society afterwards. Libya is now a failed state and a safe heaven for Daesh and their supporters. The US Army General and US Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell remarked prior to the second Gulf War ‘You break it – You own it’ in his warning to President George Bush. Western intervention has led to the creation of a multitude of failed states in the region which has allowed Daesh to get a territorial foothold. I could not possibly support military action unless there is a comprehensive humanitarian and reconstruction strategy in place in the aftermath of the war. The Prime Minister has failed to satisfy my concerns in relation to this specific issue.
Fifthly, as I have said in the Commons, the logical conclusion of bombing in Syria would be to extend military action to every geographical location in North Africa and the Middle East where Daesh is based. This would mean military intervention in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia to name but a few – a conflict across a continent lasting generations.
Lastly, there is no UN resolution supporting military action. The resolution last week is to be welcome and called for a united international support to combating Daesh. I would suggest that the UK would be best advised to concentrate on using its influence to curb the support for Daesh and Islamic fundamentalism flowing from Saudi Arabia. Unless Sunni religious leaders stop preaching extreme ideological religious doctrine, bombs, bullets and bayonets are not going to resolve anything.
I have also called in the Commons for the UK to use its diplomatic power to persuade Turkey to stop attacking and undermining the brave Kurdish Peshmerga forces who are the ones on the ground taking the fight to Daesh in Northern Syria and Iraq. The UK should use its position as a non-combatant to bring the UN Security Council together. Once we become a direct participant in Syria then it will be difficult for the UK to help bridge the differences between the US and Russia which is vital if the international community is going to play a meaningful role in bringing lasting peace to Syria and tackling Daesh in the country.
I hope this gives you some indication of my thinking. I am highly unlikely to support military intervention in Syria.
I trust my reply satisfies you that I have made up my mind following careful consideration of the situation.
Jonathan Edwards MP