The so-called ‘war on terror’ has not safeguarded British citizens at home or abroad—in fact, it’s made the entire world a far more dangerous place.
After 397 members of parliament voted in support of airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, British Tornado jets launched their first wave of bombing raids on ISIS targets hours after the motion was passed.
Commenting on the parliamentary vote itself, several observers have noted how the terrorist attacks in Paris and the ensuing emotional reactions to the news across Britain derailed what should have been a reasoned debate in the House of Commons.
Here are 10 reasons why I think British airstrikes in Syria was the incorrect strategy to embrace, and one which could have far reaching implications for Britain domestically.
1. British airstrikes in Syria add nothing significant to the ongoing bombing campaign by the US-led coalition and Russia. At the House of Commons, many MPs emphasised the need to “support our allies”, namely France and the US. However, Britain jumping on the anti-ISIS bandwagon to demonstrate that it is still a global policeman, under the banner of “standing shoulder-to-shoulder” with its allies, is rather disingenuous, and shows it is only taking part in airstrikes to please its allies.
2. MPs who voted against the airstrikes questioned Prime Minister David Cameron’s “phantom army” of 70,000 opposition fighters that will fight ISIS in coordination with the airstrikes. It is important to highlight that currently there are 81 rebel factions fighting the Assad regime, many who would be regarded as “Islamist extremists” by the same MPs that voted for the airstrikes. With this in mind, which rebel faction is Cameron referring to? The Free Syrian Army (FSA) who are being bombed by Russia, whilst allying themselves with Jabhat al-Nusrah in resisting ISIS? Or is he alluding to the Kurdish Peshmerga and the YPG, who are fighting ISIS and Turkey, the latter being an ally of the UK and a NATO member?
3. Another legitimate question that should be asked—based on empirical facts—does ISIS or the Assad regime have more blood on their hands? Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the Assad regime who has slaughtered an overwhelming majority of the 250,000 deceased Syrians. With this in mind, who will these airstrikes really benefit on the ground if they are successful?
4. On 4 October, Cameron argued that Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria will cause “further radicalisation and increase terrorism”. If that is the case, then one must question whether British bombs are immune from radicalising vulnerable individuals leading to terrorism. The same bombs that pounded Iraq in 2003 andcreated the vacuum that subsequently gave birth to ISIS can quite plausibly do the same in Syria.
5. Britain and the US were invited to bomb ISIS in Iraq by the ‘elected government’ of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In contrast, who has ‘invited’ Britain to bomb Syria? Neither Assad nor the rebels have, and regional powers that have fuelled the conflict can hardly be regarded as legitimate inviters.
6. Let us say for arguments sake, that ISIS are “degraded and defeated”, and Cameron’s phantom army of 70,000 take Ar-Raqqa; would it be too farfetched to assume that Assad’s forces could bomb the ‘moderate rebels’? If that were to happen, is Britain prepared to defend the opposition forces against Assad and the Russians?
7. Are Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Assad now ‘unintended allies’ of Britain on the basis of being the ‘lesser of two evils’ compared with ISIS? If so, it should be made clear that the years of aggressive rhetoric against the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ by successive British governments was merely lip service.
8. According to Conservative MP David Davis, Cameron’s glorification of the Brimstone missiles as a possible game changer is based on outdated intelligence reports from the Libyan intervention of 2011. If this is true, then it’s fair to say that it may not be as ‘effective’ and ‘accurate’ as many would like to believe.
9. Will airstrikes in Syria improve Britain’s national security and make us safer at home? Talking to the BBC, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said: “Britain is safer tonight after this decision”. In reality, British airstrikes will only strengthen ISIS’s recruitment drive, increasing the likelihood of British Muslims joining them when they see videos and images of innocent Syrians being killed by Tornado jets.
10. The Iraq war was explicitly mentioned by Mohammed Siddique before the 7/7 attacks and Michael Adebolajo after the murder of Lee Rigby, as were the British airstrikes in Iraq stated by ‘Jihadi John’, and French intervention in Syria by one of the Paris attackers. Will the UK Government have an answer prepared if ‘home-grown’ terrorists cite the Syrian airstrikes as a motive for their crimes in the future?
Based on Britain’s track record in the Middle East, how successful has military intervention been in bringing peace, stability and democracy to the region? If “fighting tyranny and oppression” was a moral caveat to bombing ISIS, where were these principles in opposing the despotism of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and now President Sisi, the Gulf monarchies, Benjamin Netanyahu, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping? The selective application of ‘chivalrous values’ in the form of military intervention is hypocritical, and hypocrisy fuels grievances, and grievances as we all know, have proven to lead to problems.
Ultimately, bombs do not end wars. The Germans tried this very tactic during World War Two with the ‘Blitz’, and Britain responded in a similar fashion in Dresden—yet the war raged on. The US-led coalition bombed Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade; today, the Taliban maintains a firm presence, and Iraq remains in turmoil. Similarly, Assad has been bombing his own people for four years, and that has not ended the war. So on what rational premise does the UK government believe that punitive airstrikes will “degrade and defeat” ISIS? These are questions that have been continuously asked and repeatedly ignored.
I can only hope that the parliamentarians who voted for airstrikes on Wednesday will look back at their decision in the years to come with regret, knowing that they have contributed to the death and destruction in Syria. The so-called ‘war on terror’ has not safeguarded British citizens at home or abroad—in fact, it’s made the entire world a far more dangerous place. If al-Qaeda and ISIS-type militias are born out of these airstrikes, should anyone sympathise with those who created that vacuum by supporting intervention in Syria? I certainly will not.
A version of this article was first published in the Middle East Eye.