Syria Military Intervention November 2015
Thank you for contacting me regarding potential UK involvement in air strikes against ISIL in Syria.
Four years on from the start of the uprising against the Assad regime an estimated 200,000 people have died, and by the end of August 2014, the United Nations estimated that there have been 7.6 million people displaced within Syria and over 4 million have been made refugees. The impact of this appalling conflict is also being felt beyond Syria's borders, including in particular neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, who are receiving vast numbers of refugees fleeing the civil war.
I share the outrage people feel at the unfolding horror we are witnessing today in Syria. The country appears to be at risk of disintegrating as a nation state, with sectarian identities entrenching, communities shattered and the population brutalised.
British military intervention in Syria will not solve deep rooted issues within the country. It is widely acknowledged that the United States air-strike intervention in Syria against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) has had little impact on the group, and strengthening their numbers. Adding in British forces will do no more than perpetuate the violence on the ground for the Syrian people.
I stand by labour’s commitment to finding alternative ways of assisting individuals within the Syrian border through foreign aid, diplomatic resolution by partners in the region including Iran to stop military arms and money deals to ISIS, rather than submitting our military forces.
It is now vital that the UK Government works with our international partners to make every possible diplomatic effort to reach a political agreement. Given the regional nature of the conflict, I welcome the Shadow Foreign Secretary's call for a Syria 'contact group' to be established to help bring together all the countries who are party to the conflict, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.
No one should use military force lightly or for political gain. Bombing another country is a very serious question, particularly in the hornets’ nest of the factions, religious extremists, criminals, warlords and ethnic hatred that is apparent in the complex Civil war inside Syria.
Thank you again for sharing your views on this important issue.
You can read my further thoughts about why we should not launch air strikes on Syria in an article I have written for the Mirror: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/should-launch-air-strikes-syria-6858318#ICID=sharebar_twitter
Please see an article I have written for the Huffington Post on 23rd November below:
MPs facing their responsibilities
The decision to go to war is the most onerous one which faces an MP. Lives, often innocent lives, will be lost, so the reasons have to be strong, based on evidence and have clear outcomes and positive consequences. The reasons to go to war do not include “because I’m angry”, “because people expect it”, “because we’ll be the odd one out if we don’t” or least of all “because I want to put down a marker in some internal dispute”.
The British Parliament has already made a vital contribution to the process, two years ago refusing to bomb Assad and there by clearing the way to the Mediterranean for Islamic State. It was a vote which gave backbone to the US Congress. Now Parliament, by delaying the rush to war has done a further great service by winning vital thinking time which has enabled all of us, especially Government, to better comprehend the incredibly complex, multi-dimensional nature and history of the regional conflict.
Parliamentary debate has enabled all of us, regardless of party or creed, to see more of what unites us.
The evil of Islamic State must be beaten, their cruelty plumbs new depths of inhumanity and immorality, self-justified by perverted fundamentalism. To defeat them cannot happen on the battlefield alone. To do that we need to be smart and not repeat the mistakes of the past. There was no Islamic State in 2003, it has evolved from the ashes of Iraq. Despite the biggest rebellion within a Governing party in British political history, foreign armies - including our own - invaded Iraq. This war opened up the Pandora’s Box of religious fundamentalism. Failure to have a strategy for the peace or for exiting the war led to regional instability, financial and political corruption and a level of dysfunction which, even if we get everything right from now on, will blight the Middle East for at least a generation. We have to stop being in denial that our military intervention in Iraq, then Libya and Afghanistan has not made things worse. It was exactly what Islamic State would have wanted us to do. First of all, we must stop being a recruiting agent for Islamic State.
The perfect breeding ground for terrorism was created in the devastated populations, broken communities, eradicated infrastructure and a million orphans looking for a cause.
To throw into the mix a tiny UK air force (of perhaps no more than five jets) will only inflame the incendiary cocktail of religious, ethnic and sectarian violence and civil war that has been unleashed in the region. There are already call for UK troops on the ground and we know from Afghanistan and Iraq that without a clear strategy, the military and politicians rapidly succumb to “mission creep” not least when surprised by unconventional warfare waged by a fanatical enemy. Attacking another country and taking [often innocent civilian] lives without a plan of what we wish to achieve, how – even if we were successful - we would fill the institutional, political and religious vacuum, how we would build a lasting peace and what our exit strategy should be, would rerun and amplify the mistakes we have made in the last decade in the region.
We need to understand our enemy and isolate them from mainstream Muslim opinion using the intelligence and statecraft for which we were once famous.
The UK Government, like the ones before it, is only now being forced by MPs and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to think about these issues and being made to write out a plan which goes beyond the tactical. No doubt this dossier will be more convincing than some of the dodgy ones that have preceded it. However, a glossy which gets us by and gives cover to those who need it is not enough.
The real answers are uncomfortably long-term, above all supporting the reformation of Islam with as much soft power as the world can muster so that the fundamentalists can be rejected by Muslims everywhere. In the immediate there is a massive political work programme for those who reject a military quick fix. We need to develop, protect and extend safe havens. We must work –however unpalatable it may be-with Assad, Iran and Putin. We need to build an Arab coalition of Middle Eastern forces perhaps with United Nations auspices to rebuild and police shattered societies. We need to confront and hold to account the Saudi funders of Islamic State. We must cut off forever the free-flowing oil money from Northern Iraq which feeds Islamic State. We need to help convene a standing peace conference to re-draw the imperial map of the region. There are many other strategic issues that need to be resolved, each of which is a harder road than deploying five aircraft.
While our first understandable reaction to any atrocity will always be to “do something”, it is vital we do the right thing. MP’s above all need to take pride in what we have contributed so far, use a cool head and help Government to see a clear long term strategy. If we don’t meet our responsibilities, the cycle of killing and the fear it brings become a permanent fixture in our and our children’s lives.