( Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn via BBC)
A stormy debate erupted when the British PM David Cameron announced his plans to join the anti-Isis coalition. While Mr. Cameron has passionately argued that Britain can no longer “sub-contract” its security to other countries, New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Cameron of rushing to war and appealed to those Labour lawmakers who favor the motion to “think again … and please cast your vote against supporting this government’s military endeavors in Syria.”
This debate, although full of articulate and interesting views, has nothing to do with Syria or with how to defeat the world’s most barbaric terror group ISIS, but is merely a reflection of the dismal state of British politics, particularly the British left. The radical left, and its anti-war camp, is indulging in a hungover state, still living in the shadow of a bygone era of the Iraq War while ignoring the growing threat of radical Islamism within Britain.
Once the intention to strike ISIS surfaced, the British left and the anti-war coalition launched a social media blitz using the hashtag “Do not bomb Syria”—I guess because a hashtag advocating “Do not bomb ISIS,” which is the actual mission suggested by the British PM, would look terribly silly. The Do-not-bomb-Syria slogan is more enticing; it gives a false connotation that the mission is about bombing a civilian population of a functioning country, á la Iraq, arousing the demons of the failed Iraq War!
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued against airstrikes in Syria under the pretext that they can kill innocent civilians. In his interview on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr. Corbyn failed to mention Assad’s endless atrocities against his own people, which have been going on for four years in Syria. Mr. Corbyn instead focused on possible civilian casualties from the British airstrikes.
It seems that Mr. Corbyn has two tiers of civilians: The first tier includes those who could potentially be killed by British airstrikes and whom, in his view, should be saved by every possible means. The second tier includes civilians who are already the victims of ISIS barbarism and Assad ruthlessness, to whose suffering Mr. Corbyn is oblivious and not willing to offer anything to them except advocating for “a political settlement” in Syria. Mr. Corbyn offered no insights into how this elusive political settlement between a butcher like Assad and his victims can actually work, let alone eradicate barbaric terrorists like ISIS. Mr. Corbyn says France and the US should focus on peace—as if those who behead, crucify, and throw people alive from high buildings want or can be partners of peace.
Furthermore, Mr. Corbyn and his supporters conveniently ignore how the coalition airstrikes have stopped ISIS’s march towards Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. ISIS has transcended borders; if not stopped, it will continue to spread its bloodshed and anarchy throughout the region.
It is true that the British government and the anti-Isis coalition have not yet formulated a coherent plan against ISIS. Strikes can be an effective tool in bombing oil fields and transport trucks, but without an overall plan, strikes will not stop the ruthless terror group. Declining to fight against ISIS, however, is not and should not be the answer.
The Islamic state is a complex enemy that needs a multimodal counter-terrorism approach. As Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International studies (CSIS) rightly highlights, air power is the primary weapon against ISIS’s ability to take more territory, massacre more minorities, raise funds, and create a growing force of foreign volunteers to threaten Europe. Hassan Hassan, author of one of the bestselling books on ISIS, explains that Britain’s greatest contribution to the fight on the ground would be to finesse the campaign. In his words, “Britain is better positioned than other countries to do so through its connections with Syrian forces as well as its alliance with the US.”
Britain has also maintained a good relationship with Turkey, and it can help convince Ankara to start seriously addressing ISIS’s smuggling empire. ISIS smuggles its oil by trucks; those trucks are not invisible, and they have to be stopped. In a suburb report by Buzz Feed published in November 2014, Mike Giglio reported from the Turkey–Syrian border on how ISIS smuggles oil into Turkey while the border guards close their eyes. A year later, it is highly unlikely that the reality at the Turkish border has changed much. Turkey may have started to tighten its borders, but controlling a vast 565-mile border is not an easy task, especially for Erdogan’s government, which openly backs certain players in the Syrian quagmire, like Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group and Turkmen rebels.
Hence, sealing the border completely is not viewed as a strategic priority in Ankara. A British presence within the anti-ISIS alliance will increase the pressure on Ankara.
Robert Fisk argues, “We [British] are not ‘at war’. ISIS can massacre our innocents, but it is not invading us.” He is wrong. ISIS already has a huge supportive network in Britain. In a study by Brooking Institute, 46,000 Twitter accounts support ISIS, with Britain is ranked the tenth on the list of country locations claimed in their profiles. Moreover, a 12-month undercover investigation revealed how a group of British women have been filmed urging other women and children to support and join ISIS. Mr. Fisk is wrong: ISIS has already invaded Britain, albeit on a small scale. Ignoring these homemade cells that are clearly linked with the parent group in Syria and Iraq is not like ignoring a new carcinogenic tumour just because it still has not spread widely. Mr. Fisk also argues that there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria. With such logic, if all the anti-Assad fighters are radicals, how can Mr. Fisk and Mr. Corbyn expect a peace deal to be reached in Syria between the pro- and anti-Assad factions?
Moreover, the British left is alarmingly regurgitating the terrorist propaganda that airstrikes are the prime reasons behind their terrorist attacks on Western cities, conveniently ignoring how ISIS killed and raped Iraq’s Yazidis and killed innocents in Tunis despite Tunisia never attacking them. Perhaps leftist intellectuals and politicians think that barbaric groups like ISIS admire Western societies and will not attack them unless provoked?
Mr. Corbyn and his supporters are taking a high moral stance against their opponents and will continue to curse the war on ISIS regardless of the House of Common vote. It is time for the British left to wake up from its delirium and join the fight against the world’s most notorious terror group. There is no time for disingenuous moralism. The region’s dynamics have changed tremendously. Assad’s Syria is not Saddam’s Iraq. Fighting ISIS requires our unity, not an appeasement camp that seeks elusive peace with those who behead people to reinforce its brutal rule on its occupied territories. War is never an exercise in perfection, but an act of necessity.