The UK Decision on Syria: The Political Calculus on ISIS Has Changed


To clarify in advance:

  • I am not a wanton proponent of war or the use of force.
  • I do not pretend that air strikes are an answer on their own.

With those disclaimers out of the way, it is also important to understand when force is a necessary component to policy.

ISIS, unlike other terrorist organizations, will not go quietly into that dark night by way of savvy diplomacy or political charm. There is no negotiation to be had. Manifesting as a regime and in pursuit of expansionism at the point of a gun or blade, they are on a deadly imperialist march to remake the map. Like the Allies of the Second World War, we have awaited the right political moment to act.

It appears we have arrived at that point. The terms of the conflict have shifted dramatically in the last month. Whereas international political consensus had been largely confused and absent, the Russian intervention in Syria, the Paris attacks, and the UN Security Council Resolution have combined to cause a sea change in the international political dynamic. There is now international will to act to defeat ISIS.

So let us not pretend that there is a tactical solution to the crisis in the Middle East. The vote in the Commons last night should not be examined as a matter of the short-term effect of air strikes. Rather, its value is a reflection of the changes in politics and the opportunities this offers to bring a credible resolution to the problem of ISIS. This new political landscape is where a different, more effective response becomes possible, not only in the strategies of military action, but also in the wider strengths that we can bring to bear in this conflict.

More importantly, the new political dynamic offers hope for a better post-conflict setting as well. It is clear that the quality of the intervention as a whole will depend on learning the lessons of Iraq and Libya with respect to the critical importance of security and stabilisation after the fighting concludes. But the growing international political support to end the conflict makes the latter effort more likely. To this end, in support of both the most effective military response now and the best social, economic, and political actions later, the Commons vote must be followed by a consistent effort to broaden international support and participation.

Image: A Tornado GR4 from 125 Squadron. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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