Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Good Fight

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Good Fight

Article excerpt

It is a mark of the uncertainty of our policy in the Middle East that just over a year ago Parliament was recalled to debate whether to launch military strikes in aid of rebels in Syria. This year, it has been recalled to discuss whether the RAF should join the strikes against the rebels in Syria -- or, at least, the section of them that now call themselves 'the Islamic State'. It is a sobering thought that, had last year's vote succeeded, Damascus might have joined Raqqa, Mosul and Tikrit among the cities now being run by this pitiless band of barbarians.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, tells James Forsyth on page 29 that Parliament should have the 'courage' to support military action. This is not quite right: it was foresight, rather than cowardice, that informed the vote against intervention. The Prime Minister failed to make the case for war or to assure MPs that he had thought it all through. Specifically, he failed to answer the concerns of those troubled by the fact that some of the Syrian rebels seemed, if anything, worse than Bashar al-Assad's regime. A failure of judgment on the Prime Minister's part should not be confused with a failure of nerve in Britain or its parliamentarians.

The case for action now is clear and overwhelming. Public support is rising, but there are legitimate concerns. Our military is in an ever weaker position to take action, due to the relentless cuts forced through by the Chancellor. Operational concerns aside, the question that arises now is the same as that which gave the Commons pause last year: what might British intervention actually achieve?

President Obama's decision to lead a coalition of Arab countries in striking Islamic State positions is crucial to making the point that this is the Islamic world -- not just America -- confronting a problem that has grown in its midst. Saudi Arabia and Iran are united in the need to crush the Islamists. The US has the firepower and the F-22s stationed in the United Arab Emirates; the Arab world is driving the need for action.

The first Gulf war provides a better model for a response to Isis than does the second. George H.W. Bush made painstaking efforts to build an Arab coalition to help eject Saddam from Kuwait. It is easy to overlook the fact that in 2003 there were plenty of leaders of Islamic countries who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam. But they did not need to put their heads above the parapet, because Blair and Bush were prepared to do the job without assistance and backing. Such was the vanity of Tony Blair that he seemed to relish the lack of international support. …

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