Bombing Syria: a myth, and four conditions to be satisfied before we bomb
Things which everyone knows but which ain’t so: that in 2013 the House of Commons voted against UK participation in the bombing of Syria in response to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against the rebels. No, it didn’t, actually. Today’s Guardian publishes the following letter from me:
Mary Dejevsky is in extensive and starry company (including the prime minister) in her assertion that “Two years ago, parliament rejected a plan for air strikes on Syria”, but it’s still wrong (The well of trust is still poisoned by Iraq: a war on Isis will be a hard sell, 21 July). In 2013, parliament simply rejected two rival sets of suggested criteria for a decision to take military action against Syria. Mr Cameron unaccountably (but fortunately) chose to misinterpret this as parliamentary rejection of any military action at all. What the government now proposes is completely different: UK participation in military action against parts of a sovereign state controlled by an armed insurrection against its government, not this time against the recognised government’s own forces as in 2013.
Parliamentary approval for what is now proposed should be strictly conditional on (1) legality – meaning either the explicit authority of the UN security council or a request for military support from President Assad, the former difficult and the latter distasteful; (2) explicit, attainable military and political objectives with a high chance of success; (3) specific measures to minimise civilian casualties; and (4) a plausible exit strategy. Unless all four conditions are satisfied, I hope parliament will this time reject not just the government’s suggested criteria for this war but the proposed military action itself.
London [Guardian, 23 July 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/22/the-case-for-rejecting-air-strikes-on-syria ]
Actually the heading given by the Guardian to my letter (and one other) – “The Case for Rejecting air strikes on Syria” – is wrong, too. I’m not arguing that using military force against ISIS in Syria is necessarily wrong. I merely suggest the four minimum conditions that I hope parliament will lay down as needing to be satisfied before it allows any such military operation to go ahead. In the meantime parliament has not voted against this proposed intervention. But it hasn’t approved it, either.
(It has recently come to light that a number of RAF pilots on secondment to (or ’embedded in’, a curiously unfortunate term) other allied airforces such as the USAF have been taking part in air strikes against ISIS in Syria, with the UK Defence Secretary’s approval but in the absence of UK parliamentary authority for British participation in such operations. This raises several interesting issues, none of which I have attempted to address in my Guardian letter or in this post: but please see the Guardian letter immediately underneath mine at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/22/the-case-for-rejecting-air-strikes-on-syria.)