The chances of capturing Jihadi John and putting him on trial would have been slim to the point of irrelevance. Jeremy Corbyn is not wrong to say it “would have been better” if the British fighter had ended up in a court of law, and not apparently obliterated by a drone, but the statement betrays a tendency to ignore the facts on the ground.
Simply, the choice is between targeted killing and allowing Mohamed Emwazi to continue his activities for an indefinite period. The US strike hit in Raqqa, the Islamists’ de facto capital, which remains robustly defended. The prequel to any court trial would have involved putting boots on the ground – something Jeremy Corbyn opposes – and risked not only almost certain failure, but failure costly in soldiers’ lives. The most recent reports of an attempted raid on Raqqa, from January this year, allege that two helicopters were driven back by Isis rocket-fire, despite heavy bombing in the hours before. Reports that Emwazi was struck deep in the centre of the city push the likelihood of his capture further into the realm of wishful thinking.
Gesturing towards the possibility of a court trial, without examining the detail of what it might entail, will not reassure those who feel that Corbyn is weak on the practicalities of foreign affairs. It gives the impression he still speaks as a backbencher, able to speculate from the sidelines, and not engage with “hard choices” from the position of putative premier. Neither does the objection to Emwazi’s killing serve his own – valid – objections to drone warfare well.
There are many British people who feel uncomfortable with the extent of the US administration’s use of these weapons. Very few, however, will see this drone strike as an illegitimate act, and not a successful operation in a theatre of war. The US, if not yet the UK, is fighting a war in Syria – legitimated by Congress. If Emwazi cannot be killed under such circumstances, when could he be? Not every member of Isis can be put on trial, and if a known figurehead for the group, and evident mass murderer, cannot be correctly taken out without due process as part of combat operations in a warzone, it begs the question – who can? Should the US-led coalition stop killing altogether?
That does appear to align with Corbyn’s views, and he is not alone: Canada’s new Prime Minister recently withdrew from the Coalition. The Labour leader suggested he might do the same in November, calling for the UK to reconsider its role in the airstrikes, and strive for a political solution instead. The US-led Coalition has not covered itself in glory during this campaign. But its airstrikes, in support of the Kurdish militias now entering Sinjar, for example, can prove extremely valuable.
Isis will not disappear if the Coalition pulls out, nor a political solution emerge. Some countries must inevitably fight the group – predicated as it is on constant territorial expansion. The question is whether these countries do so with the support of the West, or without it.
For the other side of the argument, click here
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