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14th December 2015

We must not repeat our mistakes in Syria

IS are arguably a result of our previous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan—the conflict in Syria shows how hard it is to cease such ideology

Rightly or wrongly, our foreign policy of the last 20 years has been one resulting in unending destruction across the Middle East. Yet again, we have committed to another intervention, which will see our involvement in the region increase to Syria, the chosen targets on this occasion being IS. Irrefutably, this barbaric group is one of archaic destruction, wishing to re-establish a caliphate based on their warped interpretation of the original texts of the Qur’an. Nonetheless, our policy must not solely be reactionary in its nature. From the various failures from our past interventions, we must attempt the adoption of different tactics in the face of terrorism.

There have been a plethora of reasons which were presented by the anti-air strikes campaign which was convincingly defeated in parliament—by a majority of 397 to 223, sum of 174 votes. I would argue that there are three key themes, which I hope are addressed from the past. The first of these is what bombing achieves. The government highlight that they will be targeting key infrastructure, such as IS training camps and oil refineries in their control, with their extremely precise Brimstone missiles claimed not to have killed one innocent person in a whole year of bombing in Iraq. A claim, which will remain unproven. With densely populated towns like Raqqa where insurgents disperse amongst the local population and hide in tunnels when fired upon, our efforts will undoubtedly result in ‘collateral damage’—a factor that our government must admit to.

Whilst our entrance shows to our international partners, we are a part of a united coalition to stop IS and the terrorism it also represents more than that. Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5 from 2002 – 2007, highlighted that the joining in of the Iraq war had brought out the conception of the view of the West threatening the Islamic world, allowing for anger and resentment to grow amongst its inhabitants. These impending attacks will be further seen as an attack against the Arab world. We are feeding the IS propaganda reel, fuelling their vicious rhetoric about our ‘imperialistic’ countries attempting to obliterate the Islamic world, facilitating their demand for the personal obligation of every Muslim to defend Islamic lands against the penetration of the infidels.

In combination with our further disdain and neglect to cope with the migrant crisis and the subsequent rebuilding of borders across Europe, this will combine to exasperate the anti-imperialist rhetoric espoused by the hate group. Since the bombing of Iraq, terrorism has exponentially increased, estimated at around the 600 per cent mark. In 2014 alone, terrorism had increased by 80 per cent. Despite our nation already facing a grave threat from a terrorist attack, Manningham-Buller argues that bombings have “undoubtedly increased the threat” after Iraq—a claim that David Cameron had also made about the Russian bombings in 2013.

Secondly, boots on the ground. Military leaders and politicians alike have all acknowledged that without boots on the ground, air strikes will be rendered completely ineffective. David Cameron’s response was to produce a spurious number of 70,000 free Syrian troops ready for combat despite being hundreds of miles away from the desired area, consisting of many different factions, with largely different intentions—most of whom are not in-line with our own. History should have taught us about funding, training and arming militias with unknown intentions. Both Afghanistan and Libya provide examples of this. During the first war in Afghanistan, it has been known that the West had adopted a similar policy which we wish to adopt today with the original mujahideen—ultimately resulting in the displacement and collapse of the Soviet Union, accompanied by the formation of the Taliban and the subsequent proliferation of Al Qaeda, backed and armed by a coalition of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US.

Libya however, provides a more congruent example. In the deposition of Gaddafi, UN Ground Forces were not deployed. Instead various armed militias such as the Libya shield and Libya Dawn were encouraged—resulting in the growth of Jihadist groups. Given the ready availability of arms, this led to the further destabilisation of Libya with these militias allowed to roam unchecked, establishing their own territories, destabilizing the situation and undermining the goals of the West. Many factions of the various Free Syrian Army has held the overarching aim of defeating Assad, a despot who had murdered an exponentially higher number than IS but continues to be propped up by our allies, the Russians. It must be questioned—will they simply throw in the towel with Assad in pursuit of our goals? And furthermore, can we trust groups we do not fully know?

Finally, reductionism and short-termism. The situation we now face has become increasingly complex and multifaceted. A theme that has been inherent in our foreign policy, has been the continued lack of understanding and consequent lack of planning for the aftermath of our interventions. In Afghanistan, we had failed to understand the various power struggles between different creeds and racial groups, resulting in a labelling of various groups as ‘Taliban’ whether affiliated or not.

Similar criticism can be levied with Iraq, where the failure to understand the struggle between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims and local conflicts had resulted in the creation of a government that did not represent all communities, resulting in marginalisation and proliferation in terrorism. Both conflicts had failed to implement a clear exit plan. In Libya, after decades of autocracy and little democratic history, post-Gaddafi power vacuum and ensuing chaos should have been predicted. The current melting pot in Syria consists of the IS, who had gained their ideology from Wahhabism which originated from Saudi Arabia. They coincidentally have funders who support the group yet remain the West’s ally, whom oppose both IS and Assad. With Assad being supported by the Russians, who are also the West’s ally despite bombing the Free Syrian Army. The West wish utilise the Free Syrian Army against IS along with the Kurds—who are the enemy of Turkey. Turkey is also the West’s ally, yet are enemies with Assad, Russia and the IS. However, it has been supposed that Turkey and other G20 countries have purchased oil from IS…

The conflict we face is non-linear, presenting endless contradictory variables. The impalpable situation we face in Syria now has its roots stemming from our previous interventions. Vested interests subversively dominate whilst death and displacement are inherent. The existential threat IS present is enormous, exemplified by the events in Paris. Regardless, we produce less emphasis on why the phenomenon of terrorism occurs, simply prioritising the who, what, and where. It is unknown as of yet what our participation in this will achieve—we can only hope the failures of past interventions are taken into consideration to prevent a reoccurrence.

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