Wednesday 2 December 2015

Bombing Syria won't end well.

Airstrikes are very much a vanity project in this and in most other instances. We have decided that something must be done, and have decided that air power is the means by which it will be done, without deciding what that something is or what the effects are, or even if the means can achieve it.

That does not sound like a reasoned proposition to me. It sounds childish. It's a kneejerk response to Paris to satisfy the egos of blowhards who think sending out bombers is the answer to every geopolitical crisis.

It has had some effect in Iraq against ISIS where we have had a reasonable idea of what's going on on the ground, a knowledge of which territory we are defending and the likely deterrents. But Libya proved that you can't really stage a sustained campaign without having good, trustworthy ground intelligence.

As the enemy works out the rules of engagement are, they find ways around them and ways to hide which means increasingly missions are aborted in fear of collateral damage. We then revert to face saving by going after targets of lower priority that are not engaged in immediate hostilities. We end up fighting round the edges, wasting a lot of money and a lot of time while burning up our credibility.

The enemy is not some brigade on a map with static allegiances. It's tribal, it's fluid, and allegiances can turn on a sixpence. One wrong bomb in the wrong place can change political alliances. We have little in the way of trustworthy ground intelligence to know which way things are going. We do have informants, but they are not always telling the truth and have agendas of their own. It's much the same as a political leak to the opposing party in order to attack factions on your own side. It's risky business.

If you believe that ISIS is some kind of unified force that can be neatly bombed until it vanishes then you have been playing too many computer games. The middle east is not Command And Conquer.

I am not opposed in principle to intervention, but this isn't a planned operation, nor is it in any real sense dedicated to a lasting strategic outcome. Saying suck it and see, let's start bombing and see what happens is foolish. To devise a route to success you first have to define what that success looks like - otherwise you're pouring petrol on the bonfire.

We are talking about contested air space with multiple agendas over ground we have already diplomatically conceded, with Turkey playing it's own games which are not yet apparent. There is no good reason to trust Turkey.

I do not believe that Britain's presence adds value to the operation in that we offer little capability that is not already oversupplied. As far as the Americans are concerned, they would probably view British air operations as battlefield clutter and a nuisance.

I also think this notion of "standing with our allies" by joining in is bovine. Just because the global elites are agreed that something must be done does not mean there is unified agreement of what that something is, and it not does it mean they have a mandate.

Where the power dynamic lends itself to bovine conformity it demonstrates that our political establishment is incapable of making a legitimate representative decision in this regard and only public deliberation can really produce a valid verdict.

Strategically it seems pointless, militarily it doesn't seem feasible, the objectives are vague with unknowable consequences in a situation where it really is up to Syrians. Even if we did quash one tribal surge we would just make room for another - and if, as ISIS was, it found itself militarily disadvantaged, it would resort to the same savage tactics employing any of the same tools against ISIS collaborators and allied tribes.

There are no good guys to pick in this, and in the end, Russia has decided Assad is staying in place. That is probably how it will end, and we are going to do absolutely nothing to challenge Putin in Syria for that regional influence.

What it does mean is that the risk of a "friendly" fire incident is increased and while nobody gives a shit that Turkey shot down a Russian mig, this gets hairy when British aircraft are accidentally shot down by Russian air defences.

I see plenty of potential for souring already deteriorating relationships while handing huge diplomatic leverage to Russia. What I don't see is a coherent plan to bring peace to the region or anything that enhances our security, or is even in the national interest. Taking home a souvenir t-shirt saying that we stood we France while we made yet another mess seems unnecessary for continued good relations with France.

The bottom line is that we have no track record in succeeding in these such endeavours. Applying our kind of intervention to what is already an unimaginable mess should make our further tinkering unthinkable. It will have more to do with the power positioning within our own dismal tribes than bringing about any lasting settlement to Syria. That should never be the basis for military action and the fact that it is says a lot about how degraded our politics is now. I think we need a little regime change of our own here at home.

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