Revisiting The Case For Action In Syria

It is a truism that with time, the media’s attention to a story fades away. This is no different with the Syrian crisis, and just as quickly as the dilemma was first brought into public view by Isis atrocities and executions published on the internet, it too has faded away. Yet it is also an important axiom that with a little time and hindsight, an issue or problem can be returned to with a more reasonable, balanced approach. This is no different with politicised subjects. When the emotional rhetoric of the parliamentary debate fades away, often we are left with facts and realities, and informed decision making can be a little easier.

It has been over a month since the house of commons voted in favour of Syrian airstrikes, and generally, social media since has been less crowded with impassioned views on the subject. However, given that the situation within Syria remains fraught, Isil remains at large, and the international situation has arguably been worsened by the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish forces, perhaps it is worth revisiting the case for action in Syria. I want to put forward a few key points as to why our presence in an allied aerial campaign is right and beneficial.

First and foremost, the decision to extend bombing in the region to Syria recognises that this is a borderless problem. A year after a motion for bombing in Syria was defeated in parliament in 2013- A motion on this occasion in response to new reports of President Assad’s use of chemical weapons- MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of airstrikes in Iraq. Thus, up until last month, the RAF was conducting operations right up until Isil forces crossed into Syria. This provided a safe haven for Islamic State militants, where they could regroup, replenish, and then return to combat with fresh vigour. The restrictions on bombing by an arbitrary ‘line in the sand’ are clearly illogical. If we have previously decided to operate in the middle east, it makes sense to make a more effective and thorough effort. This is only given more weight by the fact that the IS leadership is likely to be in Raqqa, Syria, and so the only place to confront Islamic state management directly is in Syria.

Map of the Syrian Civil War by BlueHypercane761 / (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Map of the Syrian Civil War (Grey denoting IS held territory) by BlueHypercane761 / (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The pacifist’s cause is a principled and decent one, yet at times in this crisis has been marred by violent animosity to a realist and rational position- one that isn’t heavy handed and mindless but was pursued democratically and fairly. It would seem sensible to dispel one specific misconception about the bombing campaign being conducted. We don’t live in the era for, no longer have the technical capacity for carpet-style bombing. Popular ideas of mass collateral damage, and enormous civilian casualties are far from the reality of technologically sophisticated weaponry. The UK uses precision laser-guided Brimstone and Paveway IV missiles- highly accurate and efficient ordinance. Moreover, the suggestion that IS will be provoked into increased attacks against our nation is weak. The threat is already at our doorstep, and to shirk moral duties whilst our neighbours, such as France, suffer at the hands of terrorists is not only unacceptable, but will compromise our strategic relationships.

Photo by Duch.seb / (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo by Duch.seb / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

But most importantly, we should bear in mind that the decision to conduct aerial attacks in Syria was at heart a realist’s one. We do not live in an ideal, perfect world, and imperfect problems call for imperfect solutions. Bombing campaigns in isolation will not be enough to defeat Isil. However, to be able to influence, or indeed improve what happens in the Middle East for the coming decades, we need to be at the negotiating table, and that necessitates standing by our allies. We do not have to involve ourselves in Syria, and the idea that we don’t have a choice is illusory. Yet this doesn’t detract from what is a calculated and well thought out decision. If we determine that the world will be a better place without a pervasive Isil, then surely we must act upon this conviction? Bombing campaigns will recognise that the problem of Isil is borderless, it will symbolically display Britain as standing by its allies, and it will pave the way for us to have a substantial impact on the future of the Middle East. Far from a moralist’s prerogative, this is strategically the correct policy to take.

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