by Kevin Meagher
Outlining his reluctance to back air strikes against Isil in Syria, Jeremy Corbyn wrote in the Morning Star the other day, that:
“Amid all the debate and emotion expended over Syria last week, there remains a terrible sense of déjà vu pervading this most difficult of problems. It is the sense of a government – and a nation – repeating previous errors by committing to air strikes without a comprehensive, long-term strategy involving regional powers and allies…
[I]n the absence of a proper strategy informed by better on-the-ground knowledge and intelligence, there is a real danger that any military intervention goes the same way of Iraq, Afghanistan post-2006, and Libya.”
Actually, these aren’t Jeremy Corbyn’s words; it’s an excerpt from a piece by Conservative MP John Baron, a former soldier and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, writing in the Mail on Sunday.
The subterfuge is merely to highlight that fact there are real reasons to proceed cautiously in joining US-led efforts to bomb Isil strongholds in Syria and these reservations stretch across British politics.
Indeed, there’s a decent argument to made that the case for military action will only prevail when we are prepared to wage war on the ground, winning and holding territory (as Baron eloquently and persuasively argues). There is also a potent argument that David Cameron’s faith in the Free Syrian Army as the instrument to achieve this aim is seriously misplaced, as Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out.
Yet, even when Corbyn is right, as he is in pointing out that bombing is no panacea, he has no bigger argument to make. Where is the moral outrage about the fascistic, throat-slitting, mass-murdering rapist psychopaths of Islamic State? Or, indeed, the moral imperative in vanquishing them?
Although he protests he is not a pacifist, Corbyn doesn’t want to see western boots on the ground in Syria, period. Nor, though, does he seem prepared to sub-contract the task to local opposition, or regional players. He is resolutely unwilling to countenance a military solution to a problem that will only ever be resolved by one.
Yes, by all means remove the financial props financing Isil, as Corbyn argues, but this is a fraction of a solution. (Having your credit card refused is only a marginal deterrent to an organisation all too adept in raping and pillaging).
It reflects the left’s wider problem with Middle Eastern conflict: an intuitive anti-Westernism combined with an unfathomable indulgence of Islamist tyranny. Added to this is the tedious advancement of the ‘reaping’ argument. (This is the trope that the West is ‘reaping what it sowed’ with Iraq and Afghanistan).
It’s peddled by the egregious Stop the War coalition and, most recently, by Ken Livingstone, who, predictably and distastefully, blames the July 2005 murders in London on Tony Blair. (It’s not clear whether they think minimum wage-earning immigrant cleaners in the Twin Towers were also ‘reaping what they sowed’ when they were incinerated on 9/11).
The gesture politicking of the left is simple misdirection. The essential facts remain: Isil poses a threat to people in the UK and Europe and across the Middle East through their sponsorship of terrorism. Geopolitically, it is a force for instability in a region that can scarcely afford any more of it. While we cannot wait for demented jihadists to acquire weapons of mass destruction, invade Libya or attack Israel.
By all means, let’s discuss how we defeat Isil, but this should frame the discussion. Isil must be defeated. This is something the Labour leader, maddeningly, is not prepared to do. His reasoned critique of David Cameron’s case for military action is rendered meaningless unless he articulates the need to defeat Isil and then sets out a way of doing so.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut