The headline will come as no surprise to some of you who will know I have been arguing for intervention in Syria since shortly after the civil war there kicked off in 2011. I saw early on the dangers of an unstoppable, sectarian war in Syria, and although I obviously can’t claim to have foreseen something as horrific as ISIS arising, I can’t say its emergence came as a huge surprise to me.
What has come a pleasant surprise to me has been the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, deciding to have the eight Lib Dem MPs vote for airstrikes (although two of them defied the whip in the end, one of them unexpectedly). This would have been hard for any Lib Dem leader to do post-Iraq, so I applaud the brave decision. While I agree with Tim and the position, I would like to spend the rest of this article explaining why that is in detail, using arguments against them as structure:
1. The argument against any western intervention, ever
This strikes me as the weakest possible reason for being against intervention in Syria – and yet it seems the most prevalent amongst those on the left of British politics. While a great deal of western intervention in other parts of the world in the past twenty-five years has indeed been unfortunate, usually through being poorly thought out as opposed to being imperialistically driven I would argue, that does not mean it is by definition a bad thing. As Tim Farron rightly says, “this is not Iraq”. The chief way this conflict and our involvement in it is not like Iraq (and I’ve said this many times, so forgive me for boring you with it again) is that there was no war in Iraq when we marched in, thereby starting a war when we did; whereas there is already a war in Syria, one that we are trying to bring a halt to.
2. Airstrikes alone are not enough to bring an end to the Syrian conflict
This one is much more considerate. I haven’t seen every detail of Cameron’s plan, but given Tim has and felt it was coherent enough to back the airstrikes, I have to give him benefit of the doubt. Yes, airstrikes will not be enough to end the Syrian civil war. Yes, destroying ISIS but leaving a vacuum in the middle of the Levant for some other, similar organisation to flourish is a big problem unless the whole of Syria is figured out. But I have begun to wonder what sort of country we’re living in now where we have a Tory prime minister arguing that the FSA is a group worth backing, and that with the Kurds as well and a little western help the mess could probably be sorted out – while we have the left of British politics declaring that the FSA is essentially a figment of his imagination. I truly despair that this is where we are.
3. You agree with the aims of ISIS
4. As an isolationist, you believe whatever happens in the Middle East isn’t our problem – so getting militarily involved there or taking in their refugees is a mistake
I wanted to think of another reason why people tend to go against the idea of the airstrikes, but that’s really all I can think of. The second objection is worth debating. It’s a shame for Jeremy Corbyn that he didn’t try it on his party instead of using the first objection – he may have achieved his goal of stopping the strikes.