Should MPs vote in favour of bombing Syria?

Queen's Speech debate

There is to be a one-day Commons debate and vote on Wednesday over UK air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. This is a debate about whether MPs should endorse the prime minster’s strategy and vote in favour of commencing air strikes in Syria.

Yes – Neil Wilson

When we were kids it was all much simpler. Projected onto us from a very early age were images of goodies and baddies fighting it out for control of the universe with the former always emerging victorious, vanquishing evil and restoring ‘good’.

Unfortunately the moral messages transmitted into our impressionable young brains by Transformers are less than adequate preparation for understanding most global conflicts. And Syria in particular, is a conflict where pretty much everyone involved ranks somewhere on the baddie scale.  All of the key players have committed atrocities, whether in their current or former guises and, even amongst the just-about-palatable Free Syrian Army, or rather what remains of it, there can be found few devotees to liberal democracy.

But by no means should this prevent the UK hitting back against the protagonist that goes all out to threaten our way of life.

The arguments advanced by the terror-supporting Labour leadership border on the complete ridiculous. Corbyn’s insistence that we will ‘make things worse’ does not stand up to scrutiny. His logic is that civilian casualties will probably result. He would prefer to hand legitimacy to ISIS while making a ‘political settlement’, demonstrating all the integrity of a man who makes a quiet exit from the bar having just watched his mate get glassed in the face.

Some of the same arguments are being advanced by libertarians in opposing foreign interventions. However, most of these people, like me, would argue that defence is the only real legitimate role of the state. Where we differ is in our interpretation of where defence begins. We’re living in a massively changed world – it’s no longer in the best interests of freedom to assume that our enemies are only a threat when they’re paddling across the Channel. They’re as much of a threat in a Syrian backwater as they are in the back of a lorry at Calais, as the events of Tunisia and Paris have demonstrated.

What is making things worse for us however is a situation where we do enough in assisting the fight in Iraq to hand ISIS a propaganda coup and recruiting tool, yet not do enough to actually destroy them and their capacity to murder innocent civilians.

ISIS don’t respect international borders. They don’t differentiate between Syria and Iraq. They don’t differentiate between France and the UK. We may be having some success in keeping them pinned down in Iraq but as long as we’re respecting a border that they’re not then we’re allowing them to keep resupplying their forces on the other side of it, continue the entrenchment of their bogus state and, crucially, plan and coordinate attacks on the UK and our allies from their Raqqa headquarters.

And that’s the point – a conflict that doesn’t affect us directly this is not. But it’s also one where half measures don’t work. Containment isn’t a strategy that will save us from attack – it’s the worst of every world. Neither effective in dismantling ISIS nor a reasonable defence of our country and its values, our current policy will ‘make things worse’ unless expanded upon.

The truth is that there is no solution to the ISIS problem that will not involve wiping them out in their entirety. This may be tough for those who believe they will leave us alone if we leave them alone to swallow but unless we destroy their command network, which is based wholly in Syria, we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to attack.

No – Ben Kelly

I am not a pacifist and I do understand the case for bombing Syria is seemingly compelling. What I dispute is that we have any kind of coherent strategy or long term plan, that we have set out clear and achievable objectives, that we have made a proper, rational analysis of the possible outcomes and that we have any idea of what the end game will be.

Until such doubts are answered I cannot endorse bombing Syria just because we feel the need to do something.

A Russian led and a US led coalition is fighting in Syria, as well as a number of other regional forces, and numerous fundamentalist groups. We must think before we leap feet first into the pandemonium, and consider the risks and severe danger of unintended consequences.

The prime minister certainly made his case with confidence, but he was even more self-assured when he authorised UK participation in the bombing of Libya. Our intervention there has been an unmitigated disaster, helping to turn the country into a chaotic failed state; a cauldron of murder, terrorism and suffering. Libya is now ruled by competing warlords and terrorists, its collapse has destabilised the region and is direct cause of the refugee crisis in Europe.

With the same confidence the PM made the case for bombing Syria in 2013, his strategy then would likely have seen us arming and supporting the rebels that we now know as IS. Since losing the vote, the PM has been nursing his wounded pride with some bitterness, and I believe he is looking to heal this wound and the perception of himself as an important statesman on the world stage.

Now he is asking the country and parliament to believe in his ‘firm conviction’ that it is essential to bomb Syria and that there is a well thought out strategy and political solution behind it. It is imperative that we consider this with scepticism.

The US led air campaign has failed in its intentions. On 15th May 2015 General Thomas Weidley declared that IS was in retreat, shortly before IS captured Ramadi and Palmyra. You cannot win a war from the air, so when we bomb targets in Syria, what troops will capture the territory?

The PM has conveyed an image of the conditions in Syria that is a blend of blind optimism and fantasy.

The assertion that there are 70 thousand “moderate” opposition forces that can fight IS on the ground is risible. Armed opposition in Syria is dominated by the Islamic fundamentalist groups Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-sham, beyond that opposition barely exists; hence why the US spent $500 million in an attempt to create an army and ended up with just four fighters.

So the plan is to work alongside an imaginary army in Syria and an Iraqi army which is in disarray and utterly incapable of staging sustained ground offensives. It isn’t even the biggest army in Iraq anymore, being dwarfed by militia and paramilitary forces. And we refuse to cooperate with the Syrian army, by far the largest military force in the country, or fully back up the Kurds.

None of this suggests we have a strategy worthy of endorsement.

Many times in our recent past such a poor strategy, lack of foresight, ignorance of the reality on the ground, and disharmony between political and military preparations has led directly to failure, defeat and a plethora of unintended consequences. Until we have resolved all of these issues, I fear it will do once again.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty