Sadly, the Prime Minister has a tactic but not a strategy on Syria and the Middle East. Airstrikes are the tactic and over 100 members of Parliament have put in an amendment today from all parties rejecting the case for war until a coherent strategy is put in place.
Before a single life is taken, before a single hospital, wedding party or peasant dwelling is hit, MPs must reassure themselves that a strategy is in place or vote today against airstrikes. Parliament can influence events as it proved two years ago when the same Prime Minister was intent on bombing Assad – which, as it turns out, would have been to the benefit of the forces that soon became known as Islamic State.
Over the last week or so it has become very clear that Parliament is totally united in wanting to do the best it can to defeat Islamic State. Indeed, the desire to bomb Syria stems from this motive but we need to be much smarter in building a long term strategy. A reflex is not enough.
Indeed our ‘shoot first, rebuild maybe’ interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are the very reasons the Pandora’s Box of religious fundamentalism were opened in the first place.
We failed to have a strategy for peace and had no clear exit strategy. It looks as though the current Prime Minister is repeating these mistakes. It’s clear that defeating such a fanatical sect cannot happen on the battlefield alone. Far from undermining Islamic State, widespread civilian casualties and the loss of innocent lives which we have seen in other interventions will drive recruitment for terrorist organisations.
It’s evident that no sensible analyst believes military progress can be made without boots on the ground – but it is unclear whether these would need to be UK boots. Similarly, the tiny UK air force presence would add little when we are being told that American bombers are returning with their payload having been unable to find any targets.
These are perfect conditions for “mission creep” to grow. We need a fully-fledged multi-dimensional strategy, not least to fill the institutional vacuum should Islamic State be pushed back militarily. The question “What are the plans to win peace, should we win the war?” remains unanswered.
Above all, Isis needs to be defeated globally by moderate Muslims on the battlefields and in the mosques of the Middle East and throughout the world. These are areas where the UK could make a significant difference, helping to reject fundamentalist Islamism everywhere; initiating and expanding safe havens; creating an international coalition with Russia, Turkey, Iran and other uncomfortable but necessary bed-fellows; bringing in a coalition of Middle Eastern forces to do the job with a sensitivity and permanency that Westerners can never do.
We must also begin the geo-political reform of Western relations with Saudi Arabia and their funding of religious extremists, and we have to help convene a twenty year standing peace conference to re-draw the imperial boundaries in the region.
This work programme demands a generation of blood, sweat and tears, not the deployment of five aircraft and “fingers crossed it’ll all be over by Christmas”. It’s a tougher road to travel, but MPs are right to demand that the Government does the right thing rather than just does something. If we fail today, the evil of Isis will be with us for a generation.
Graham Allen MP has made an amendment to the Prime Minister's motion to deploy the RAF signed by 100 MP’s of all parties “declining support for military action until a comprehensive strategy against Islamic State is in place”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies