Wednesday 20 August 2014

We need a debate, but it must be an informed one

Glyn Davies MP
It pains me to have to openly take Glyn Davies MP to task because he is a thoroughly decent man who works hard for his constituents, and is a man of great personal integrity. The very opposite of the modern perception of MPs as asinine, venal, preening and lazy. But I do worry when MPs fall into the trap of thinking that something must be done. Glyn writes that:
After a long impassioned debate, I was on the losing side of the vote. The House of Commons decided to completely rule out military intervention (in Syria) no matter what. I thought that was the wrong course, and a very bad day for world peace. I felt that forces of evil would have been watching, and realising that the NATO powers were no longer willing to even consider acting to prevent the worst atrocities of evil regimes against innocents. And sadly, that is where we are today.

In Syria, around 200,000 people have been killed, with perhaps another 8million made refugees. It's likely that many of these will have been gassed.
200,000 thousand is a big number. Most sources say closer to 170,000 but at these proportions, that is hardly the issue. It is the first and most natural instinct for decent people to want to do something. Every day I wrestle with my own conscience on this matter, weighing up the various issues, but I keep bumping into the reality that NATO does not have a strong track record when it comes to these kind of interventions.

Every time we intervene, we may save a few thousand lives here and there, but very often we create a political vacuum that prolongs the suffering, and by weakening these regimes with sanctions, air strikes or arming rebels, we uncork the genie of tribal uprising - and that is exactly what we have done with our tinkering round the edges in Syria. ISIS is a consequence of that and now we're playing whack-a-mole across the region.

Now it seems that we are going to have to go through diplomatic back-channels to rebuild bridges with Assad, because of the alternatives to him are even worse. One cannot even begin to imagine the grave security consequences of a failed state in Syria run by the likes of ISIS, and the last thing we need is for the West to take the blame for yet another drawn out civil war, which will most certainly engulf Lebanon, which has direct consequences for Israel too.

The national strategic interest must take priority. We have to be adult about this and swallow the bitter pill that there is nothing much we can do, and not much of a case to say we should even if we could. I hate it as much as Glyn Davies does, but there it is. This is a scenario where the lesser of many evils is still pretty evil.

Libya is a great example of this. NATO efforts in Libya were ill-directed, ineffectual meddling and the lack of any decisive intervention is why there is still fighting there now. British tactical blunders considerably worsened the security situation in Iraq too, and the situation on the ground there now is a clear lesson of what happens when we create a political vacuum.

Assuming you could construct a watertight moral and legal case for Syrian intervention, we must start from the basis that we lack the intellectual capital, intelligence resources and military capability. Our forces are over-equipped with expensive toys, under-equipped with intelligence assets - and badly under-skilled at fighting this kind of war. Because of that, the next decade will be spent putting our brush fires that we started.

Before anybody asks, this is not a party political line I am taking against Glyn. I am broadly right wing and a Tory sympathiser. But when people at opposite ends of the spectrum like Owen Jones (of all people) are saying the same thing as serious analysts, it really is time for our politicians to wake up and step out of the bubble. This goes beyond left-right politics. The incompetence of our interventions now spans decades and all are guilty. We must now follow our brains, not our hearts.

Glyn continues:
On the border of Eastern Ukraine, a Russian war making machine is gathering, almost certainly to invade the free country of Ukraine, no doubt on some trumped up pretext of a peacekeeping or humanitarian mission. Its likely thousands of innocents will die. In Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, whole populations of minorities are being slaughtered simply because they are who they are. Christians are being given the choice of converting to Islam, fleeing the country or being killed. Yazidis are being treated even worse, reported to be being buried alive in their hundreds. The barbaric cruelty of the Islamic State (Isis) knows no limits.

In Britain and the United States, our Governments are waking up to the reality that we cannot turn our backs on the world. For evil to prosper all it needs is for good people to do nothing. President Obama has been forced to act to save the lives of innocents being crushed before the Islamic State. The UK is also sending humanitarian aid to save Christians trapped on Mount Sinjar. The UK is also sending Typhoons to help with surveillance work. I fully support all this, but it does seem very little, very late. We must always retain the hope that it turns out not to be too late.
This is the part that worries me most. Glyn's information is wildly out of date already, the situation on the ground is highly fluid, and the threat of ISIS has been grossly overstated. Fewer than 5000 people were taken off the mountain, when we were told a that tens of thousands were in imminent danger. I don't believe that now, and given that The Times is working from reports up to nine days old, I simply don't trust a single thing I read in British media. Especially not warmongering fools like Con Coughlin who sadly have far more influence than they should.

So here we have an MP egging us on for more interventions, into already complex conflicts with much wider repercussions, on the basis of incomplete, out of date, and in some cases outright fraudulent reports. One might expect this from your average Joe, but Glyn is an MP who has many research resources at his disposal, and yet of the observable facts that we can verify for ourselves, Glyn hasn't got those right either.

Glyn says that "For evil to prosper all it needs is for good people to do nothing". Sadly, evil prospers whatever good people do. Therefore our response to it must be carefully measured in terms of our own security and strategic interests.

Glyn makes passing reference to events in Ukraine but his mistake is to assume these disparate conflicts are unconnected. What happened in Mali and Nigeria recently can be said in part to be a consequence of Operation Unified Protector, and the failure to properly press home meaningful air strikes, which were largely for show. Similarly, Ukraine is a Russian response to our witless tinkering in Libya. None of these conflicts happen in isolation of each other. So these knee-jerk interventions under a humanitarian pretext have very grave geopolitcal consequences we ignore at our peril.

An ill-judged move may well escalate tensions with Russia which are already deteriorating and we are already sliding toward a new cold war, not at all helped by Cameron parking Typhoons on Putins lawn, and not at all helped by aircraft from RAF Waddington routinely violating airspace to spy on Russia.

Now is the time for talks and de-escalation, not ramping up military exercises. If we end up losing East Ukraine to Russia, then that is entirely our own fault and we should have thought about that before changing the government and bouncing Ukraine into the EU Association Agreement. We must then learn the lessons.

There is a case for limited material support in Northern Iraq while the Iraqi army and Kurdish fighters reassert their sovereignty, but it must be limited in scope because this has to be their victory, and has to be seen to be their victory for the good of Iraq's future cohesion and for the good of the West's already tattered reputation.

The thrust of Glyn's argument is that parliament must be recalled to have a debate. I make no call either way on that since I do not believe parliament is listened to in any case, but if we are to have that debate, and if Glyn is the one calling for it, then I would prefer it if Glyn had familiarised himself with the issues before entering any such dialogue.

This is far too important for simplistic narratives and "good vs evil" commentary - and this debate must be approached with the utmost maturity, no matter how bad we might feel that innocent people are dying. Innocent people die in their masses all over the world every single day and we are curiously selective about which ones we care about. This is driven by our infantile media which can only ever cope with one crisis at a time. We cannot afford to follow their lead. This dynamic plays midwife to wristband foreign policy and the kind of "humanitarianism" that silently digs more fresh graves. This is a time for thinking, not emoting.

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