Reasons To Oppose The Coming Blitz on ISIS

October 7, 2015

David Cameron is beating the war drums for a bombing campaign in ISIS held Syrian territory. He has been on the offensive against peaceniks like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as well, branding him ignorant and reckless.

As the PM puts it, ISIS is “a group of people in Iraq and in Syria not only causing mayhem in those two countries but who are plotting day by day to kill and maim people on the streets of Britain and America and Australia and France and Belgium and the rest of Europe. The rest of Europe has woken up to this threat and is taking increasing action, but I don’t think the Labour leader seems to see that.”

With that in mind, it’s worth considering a few reasons to oppose any bombing campaign against ISIS. Many of these points could equally apply to the Russian blitz on Assad’s opponents that so-many leftish and fanatically right-wing commentators are salivating over.

Bombing ISIS will not lead to the group spontaneously dissolving itself. It will galvanise ISIS fighters on the ground as a siege mentality evolves, and it will attract more recruits from abroad, seduced by the prospect of resisting western militarism.

Bombing ISIS will not lead to the Syrian people rising up to create a democratic state, unless serious money is pumped into backing secular fighters, which doesn’t seem to be on the cards. Given the current configuration of support for groups like the al-Nusra Front by the Gulf States, Jihadist groups would be the primary beneficiaries from any ISIS retreats.

Bombing ISIS will inevitably kill civilians on the ground. It simply isn’t possible to target ISIS cells and command centres with any reliability, given their loose organization and (we must assume) willingness to use civilians as human shields, particularly Christians and Shiites.

Bombing ISIS will bolster the position of the Assad government, which has been by far the most brutal and murderous player in the Syrian civil war. It will send a signal to moderate opponents of Assad that the West is more concerned about putative threats to its own security than assisting pro-democracy campaigners in Syria.

Bombing ISIS will do nothing to reduce the risk of terrorism on British, French, German or American soil. In a world where the memory of American savagery in Iraq remains fresh, Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and US jets rain down hell on hospitals in Afghanistan, nobody needs ISIS to spark them into rage at western behaviour.

In fact, bombing ISIS will drastically raise the risk of catastrophic terrorism by ISIS affiliated groups against western targets in defence of their nascent caliphate.

Bombing ISIS will further entrench militarism within the polities of nations that use violence to achieve their ends. Our knee jerk resort to violence reflects a long-standing inability to understand where movements like ISIS come from, and how our violence is itself a catalyst for fresh horrors in the Middle East.

Bombing ISIS is no substitute for talks. Every bomb that is dropped without seriously pursuing diplomatic resolutions to the Syrian crisis will compromise the possibility of negotiating an end to ISIS, Assad and the fragmentation of the country into sectarian enclaves.

Don’t be fooled by short-term developments. The Middle East cannot be bombed into a shape that is acceptable to western observers. We should not glorify anyone who sees death from above as a panacea in this immensely complex region, and no true supporter of the Syrian revolution should welcome Cameron’s bombs.

A real opponent of the kind of fundamentalism that ISIS/the Taliban/Al Qaeda etc.. represents would place their support behind the millions of Syrians who rose up against the Assad regime, and whose repression and exile is the major reason for Syria’s current chaos. We should guarantee every Syrian a safe asylum and provide backing for all of them to participate in political organization across borders, creating a legitimate government (or coalition of different groups) in waiting that can counterpose the brutal government and the warlords on the ground. That opposition would ally with groups within Syria as it sees fit – it’s not up to us to decide. But my faith is that the millions of Syrians who oppose Assad are a greater force for change than the bombs being bolted to Britain’s creaking Tornado planes.

Dirty bombs, dirty tactics?

By the way, over the next few days we’ll probably be hearing quite a lot about ISIS attempts to smuggle cesium or other radioactive materials to cobble together a dirty bomb. The AP has carried out an investigation which the agency believes shows that Moldovan smugglers have sought to supply ISIS with cesium, specifically so that they can use it to “annihilate America.” A word of caution is advisable here.

a) The dirty bomb scare echoes previous yellowcake related stories that were planted prior to the Iraq War and the press remain susceptible to the same sorts of propaganda campaigns should the need arise. The report is based on investigations “built on a partnership between the FBI and a small team of Moldovan investigators.”

b) The report is extremely vague, referencing a “shadowy Russian named Alexandr Agheenco”. It contains a whole paragraph about what Moldovan authorities don’t know about who has nuclear materials or who they are selling it to.

c) The report smells of entrapment. A key part of the AP report notes that “Wiretapped conversations repeatedly exposed plots that targeted the United States”  while “At one point the middleman told an informant posing as a buyer that it was essential that the smuggled uranium go to Arabs.”

It may be that Russian smugglers were actively seeking out ISIS figures to spread mayhem across the world. If so, that would reflect a shocking lack of knowledge about how ISIS feel about Russia. Handle with care.

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