Post: A Muddled Agenda

On Friday 26th September the British Government voted to join the United States, France and other allied countries in the war against the so-called Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant). Up until this point British action was confined to ‘reconnaissance’ activities. We are told that the aim of the allied action is to ‘hold back’ further ISIL advances as a first step towards the complete eradication of this terror group.

But there are major problems.

As with the previous venture into Iraq in 2003, there is no attempt to define what might be described as ‘success’ and there is no exit strategy. We are simply told that we could be there for a ‘generation’.

We are told that this is a legitimate intervention because we have been invited by the Iraqi Government to assist them in their fight against ISIL. We also have the satisfaction of knowing that we are supporting the Kurds. The question is; who is in charge? Is it the Iraqi Government or is it the Americans?

Although the Americans and others are already bombing ISIL targets across the border into Syria, the British are more squeamish on this point. This is not surprising since there are differences of opinion within the British camp as to the legitimacy of bombing Syria, which is a sovereign state. A minority voice claims that any such action would need the support of President Assad. Others say that United Nations backing would be necessary. The silent majority probably believes that if there is any hope of defeating ISIL then British action will eventually be forced into Syria.

And herein lies the greatest muddle.

When the Civil War in Syria erupted in the spring of 2011 the ‘West’ chose to support those in opposition to President Assad in their fight for democracy. Today there are numerous groups fighting Assad’s government, including the Syria Free Army, the Islamic Front, the al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and the notorious ISIL. America and its allies are still claiming to support those in opposition to President Assad and have promised military assistance. But who is the opposition? Many fighters constantly change alliances, moving effortlessly between one group and another.

And now to complicate things even more, America’s Syrian allies have found themselves fighting on two fronts: President Assad’s government forces and ISIL. The opposition is caught in a pincer movement. They complain that the Americans are not informing them when planning to bomb ISIL targets in Syria. Reports are already coming in of civilian casualties at the hands of the Americans plus the death of Syrian soldiers supposedly on the same side as the Americans. As casualties rise, one inevitable consequence is that some within the disparate opposition groups will join ISIL.

Furthermore Western intervention risks the radicalization of more young fighters willing to join ISIL. We need to be absolutely clear of who we are fighting. Is it President Assad’s Government or is it ISIL? The general consensus at the moment seems to be that ISIL is the enemy that needs to be destroyed. If this is the case then surely the best strategy would be to gather all available forces against the enemy. As unpalatable as this may be it means allying with both Syria and Iran. After all, both Syria and Iran are already fighting the enemy on the ground and are likely to be far more effective than a few bombs dropped from the air. A combination of air power and land forces, combined of course with political effort, may just stand a chance of defeating the enemy. As it is, we are in a complete muddle.