Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Why I don't agree with Nick on ISIL

While not being too pleased with an e-mail I received today from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, promoting something purporting to be an engagement with members on the referendum campaign, a further communique from Nick Clegg arrived this evening that was more troubling.

On the subject of ISIL, the leader sent out the following e-mail to the party membership:

Dear Andrew,
On Friday Parliament is to be recalled to debate Britain joining the coalition of nations who have launched air strikes against the ISIL terrorist organisation in Iraq.

Liberal Democrat MPs will be supporting Britain joining this coalition for three reasons. Firstly, the threat from ISIL to Britain has already been made clear by the sickening sight of British hostages being executed on television. Secondly, unlike the 2003 war in Iraq this intervention is legal - we are responding to a direct request for help from the legitimate Government of Iraq and Parliament will vote before any action is taken. Thirdly, we’re acting as part of a broad coalition of countries, including many Arab countries, to deal with a real and immediate threat.

I know that given our party’s history this will evoke strong feelings. Earlier, I recorded an interview for broadcasters in which I explained why we were supporting this action. You will see some of this on the news this evening but I wanted party members to see the interview in full.

This is obviously a developing situation and I will be in touch with you again over the coming days.

Thank you,

Nick Clegg

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

The problem with Nick's position - as with that of the Blair government in 2003 - is that it shows a grotesque misunderstanding of the situation in Iraq. It fails to consider ISIL's possible motivations for committing these sickening murders, and may in fact be providing the very response ISIL are seeking. It also fails to recognise the tribal nature of Iraq, the current political situation and the reality of dangerous power struggles emerging between rival factions. The rise of ISIL has as much to do with these power games, and of undermining the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi; it also is a product of the West's inability to deliver anything resembling a peaceful or democratic Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion.

Furthermore, it takes the misguided perspective that an enemy of my enemy must be my friend. This is no basis for international military action in the 21st century.

As for the notion that this conflict is legal - I have two points to raise. The first is that Clegg is seeming to suggest that the Liberal Democrats would have supported the 2003 invasion if it had been "legal". (I wouldn't have - there were several reasons why the action was flawed and reckless.)  Secondly, the fact that something is legal does not make it desirable. Thirdly, the existence of a "coalition of countries" does not mean that alternative means of resolving the issue should be overlooked.

It is not that I would rule out any kind of military intervention. There are times when action is necessary, and when a failure to act constitutes a dereliction of duty. But ISIL is not a dictatorial regime; it is not even HAMAS. What Clegg and others do not address is that ISIL is not simply a military operation. It is a political movement, with its roots in key elements of Iraqi society, that is far more interested in prompting Turkey into responses as it is in goading the West. It craves recognition and has been brazenly seeking the kind of retaliation that will lend substance to its propaganda. It is not, as Clegg is suggesting, a threat to the UK - the brutal killings of UK citizens are not aimed at threatening the UK, but provoking it.  It certainly makes so sense to me to commit to military intervention in Iraq on the basis of gruesome murders of British citizens in Syria.

The question of how is as crucial as the issue of why. Attention should also be given to the potential ramifications of any action, including how to build a less divided Iraq in the aftermath.

A "coalition" is no substitute for a United Nations Resolution. There are appropriate international bodies that cannot continue to be shown disdain. "Coalitions" of Arab countries with vested interests - and human rights records ISIL would be proud of - should not be sided with uncritically. I am not suggesting doing nothing, but action must be based on an understanding of political and military reality that seems somewhat lacking in Clegg's e-mail. Action must be considered, proportionate and planned with potential consequences in mind. 

As it stands, we are risking everything on removing ISIL while adopting a strategy that might actually strengthen their hand. Will intervention be to the benefit of the area's long-term future? Is the strategy realistic? How will it improve the West's standing in the area? How will it work to undo the damage of previous Western interventions?  None of these question shave been addressed.

I'm uneasy about intervention but not necessarily opposed. I remain to be convinced. E-mails such as this - providing little detail, demonstrating limited understanding of the many issues at the heart of ISIL's emergence and depending upon perceived threats to the UK for its argument - anger me because they seek to justify a position without giving any adequate answers to the multitude of questions people like myself have.

On the positive side, at least Clegg does invite responses. He's showing a willingness to engage with members, and that is appreciated. However, if you're going to make a case for military action, it has to be a bit more sophisticated than "they're bad" and "they represent a threat to the UK".


Caron Lindsay said...

I feel uneasy about it but persuadable. I'd like to know what good it is going to do. It's no Bush/Blair dodgy dossier stuff and we know that these people are pretty brutal, chasing whole communities up mountains and leaving them to starve. There are humanitarian grounds. I just don't know whether airstrikes or inaction would make the situation worse and which would make it better.

I have a lot more faith in Nick than I have in either Cameron or Miliband on this one.

Andrew said...

Like yourself, I am open to persuasion. But I'm very uneasy about it. Anyone trying to persuade me is going to have to work a lot harder than simply stating how bad ISIL is.

There are humanitarian grounds for doing many things, but the murders occurred in Syria...we're looking to intervene in Iraq. The reason the Iraqi PM wants us to intervene is to prop up his government. We're intervening in a political struggle, not merely a humanitarian one. Nowhere in Nick's e-mail or speech are any of the complex realities explored or even identified.

I'm with you - I am unsure whether airstrikes would actually improve or worsen the situation. There is certainly scope for either outcome.

I have little faith in Cameron, and less in Miliband. I hope Lib Dems can be led by evidence on this rather than emotional argument.

cynicalHighlander said...

Clear as mud.

Why not Saudi Arabia they have beheaded 19 people this month already or is selling arms more profitable than human life.

Faith in Nick Clegg you are jocking tell that to the students.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if you illegally invade a country, kill hundreds of thousands of its citizens, wreck it's infrastructure, both physical and administrative, and its economy, in order to rid the country on one man, whom you insist, absolutely without basis, is harbouring WMDs, then having wreaked havoc, you leave the country in complete chaos, you haven't just invited terrorism. You have acted as a recruiting sergeant for it.

I'm sure you are right, Andrew. I have no doubt that the UK is being goaded into yet another war, which will recruit many thousand more terrorist volunteers in the ME and in England.

Atrocities and abuses of human rights are everywhere. As CH says in Saudi Arabia, and in Bahrain where the King had people slaughtered for protesting against his dictatorial rule and doctors treating the wounded were imprisoned. It didn't stop the Uk inviting the kings of these countries to Buckingham Palace to fete the wedding of William.

But human rights abuses may be seen as a matter of cultural opinion and go on on all over the world.

Indeed I'd argue that the Scandinavian countries might well see ex-soldiers being left to die because they can't afford to eat or keep their insulin cool, or people with uncontrolled epilepsy being driven to suicide because their benefits were cut, as an abuse of human rights.

Britain and the West in general has no understanding of the Middle East. It does, however, wish to sell arms to any side willing to pay for them.

There is a lot of money to be made in a war, and no personal risk to the people who make the decision to wage it.

Al said...

The cost of the bombing is reported to be £3billion. Scotland's share of that would be about £300million. That sum of money would allow Scottish FE to be expanded by well over 50% and that is just one alternative way of spending it that we could have had with a Yes vote.

Is this supposed to be the best of both worlds? If so, then neither of them are planet earth and both have toxic atmospheres!