The Battle of Britain

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“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” So said Winston Churchill. This week, the world witnessed the best and worst of a grand old democracy in action. Should Britain bomb ISIS in Syria was the question?

The unexpected star of the marathon debate was the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn. AS John Grace reported in The Guardian: “Syria may not be liberated, but Hilary Benn has been. Freed from the burden of his father’s shadow. Freed from the necessity of toeing a party line. Free to be himself. Free of doubt. Where others – both for and against extending air-strikes on Syria – had spoken with hand-wringing angst of the torment they had suffered in squaring their consciences, Benn knew only moral certainty. The vote to go to war had never been in question. What had been lacking was a leader the House of Commons could unite behind. Now they had their man.”

Here’s what their man had to say: “As a party, we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility, one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight and all of the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy – the means by which we will make our decision tonight – in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated and it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists were just one part of the international brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It’s why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice and my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote in favour of this motion tonight.”

Fascists. Calculated brutality. Superiority. Contempt for values, tolerance, decency and democracy. Denial of human rights and justice. Fascists. Hitler. Mussolini. Franco. Evil.
Benn’s speech, widely lauded as the best of the night, lacks for nothing in moral certainty. Sadly, the issue was not about dropping morals on Syria, it was about dropping bombs. Military certainty was the crux of the matter: would dropping bombs on Syria have any effect? Would it make the world a safer place? Or would it make things worse? Benn was silent on these crucial points. For him, invoking Hitler, Mussolini and Franco was sufficient.

For a leading light of the Left to claim the current crisis in any way resembles the Spanish Civil War or Nazi aggression in WWII applies Godwin’s Law in the most egregious, dark and dangerous way. ISIS has no army, navy or air force. It is not amassing two million troops on an international border. It is not using a nation’s vast industrial complex to make bombs and bullets. It has no Strategic Command and Control Centre, no NORAD, no Wolf’s Lair. There is no Fuhrer huddling in a Bunker in Raqqa. Today, there is no easily defined fascist-nation-state-enemy as Germany or Italy once were. This enemy attacked Paris with 8 suicide assassins. It did not invade France with an army of occupation.

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In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Reductio ad Hitlerum. By comparing ISIS to Hitler, Benn proves he does not know his enemy.

Surprisingly, some of the most compelling and coherent arguments against the motion came from David Cameron’s own party.

Conservative MP John Baron: “The short-term effect of British airstrikes will be marginal. But as we intervene more, we become more responsible for the events on the ground and lay ourselves open to the unintended consequences of the fog of war. Without a comprehensive strategy, airstrikes will simply reinforce the west’s long-term failure in the region generally, at a time when there are already too many aircraft chasing too few targets. And I suggest, just as in previous ill-advised western interventions, a strong pattern emerges. Time and time again the executive makes a convincing case, often with the support of intelligence sources, and time and time again it turns out to be wrong. We have stood at this very point before. We should have no excuse for repeating our errors and setting out on the same tragic, misguided path once more.”

Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie: “The ruling out of western ground forces is very significant. It tells us that, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the west appears to lack the will, and perhaps the military strength, to commit the resources that might be needed to construct a new order from the shaken kaleidoscope of Syria. As in Libya, it would be relatively easy to remove a brutal dictator from the air, and perhaps also to suppress Isil, but it would be extremely difficult to construct a regime more favourable to our long-term interests. We do not need to look into a crystal ball to see that; we can read the book. The result of over a decade of intervention in the Middle East has been not the creation of a regional order more attuned to western values and interests, but the destruction of an existing order of dictatorships that, however odious, was at least effective in supressing the sectarian conflicts and resulting terrorism that have taken root in the middle east. Regime change in Iraq brought anarchy and terrible suffering. It has also made us less safe. Above all, it has created the conditions for the growth of militant extremism. We should be under no illusions: today’s vote is not a small step. Once we have deployed military forces in Syria, we will be militarily, politically and morally deeply engaged in that country, and probably for many years to come.. That is why the government’s description of the extension of bombing to Syria as merely an extension of what we were already doing in Iraq is misplaced. We simply have not heard enough from the government about exactly what the reconstruction will mean. The timing of this vote has everything to do with the opportunity to secure a majority provided by the shocking attacks in Paris. Everybody feels a bond with the French, but an emotional reflex is not enough. Military action might be effective at some point, but military action without a political strategy is folly. We have yet to hear that strategy, so I cannot support the government’s motion tonight.”

Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis : “Honourable members are being asked to back airstrikes against Daesh to show solidarity with our French and American friends, yet a gesture of solidarity – however sincerely meant – can’t somehow be a substitute for hard-headed strategy. Indeed, the fact that the British government wanted to bomb first one side and then the other in the same civil war in such a short space of time illustrates to my mind a vacuum at the heart of our strategy. At least we are now targeting our deadly Islamist enemies rather than trying to bring down yet another dictator with the same likely results as in Iraq and in Libya.”

In the House of Lords, even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warned against doing “the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing”: “The just war criteria have, to my mind, been met. But while they are necessary, they are not by themselves sufficient, in action at this time… Our bombing action plays into the expectation of Isil and other jihadist groups in the region, springing from their apocalyptic theology. The totality of our actions must subvert that false narrative because by itself it will not work. If we act only against Isil globally and only in the way proposed so far we will strengthen their resolve, increase their recruitment and encourage their sympathisers. Without a far more comprehensive approach we confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God.”

David Cameron assured there were “around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters who do not belong to extremist groups and with whom we can coordinate attacks on Daesh. The House will appreciate there are some limits on what I can say about these groups, not least that I can’t risk the safety of these courageous people who are being targeted daily by the regime, or by Daesh, or by both. But I know that this is an area of great interest and concern for the House, so let me try and say a little more. The 70,000 is an estimate from [the] independent joint intelligence committee based on a detailed analysis updated on a daily basis and drawing on a wide range of open source and intelligence. Of these 70,000, the majority are from the Free Syrian Army. Alongside the 70,000, there are some 20,000 Kurdish fighters with whom we can also work. I am not arguing – and this is a crucial point – that all of these 70,000 are ideal partners. Some though left the Syrian army because of Assad’s brutality and they clearly can play a role in the future of Syria and that is actually a view that is taken by the Russians as well, who are prepared to talk with these people.”

A British Prime Minister cites military intelligence as grounds for military action. Sound familiar? Does anyone truly, madly, deeply believe there are 70 000 Syrian opposition fighters who will join the West in its fight against ISIS? Or are such claims, today as in 2003, as ever, the vacuum at the heart of our strategy?

Having slurred those opposed to bombing as ‘terrorist sympathisers’, David Cameron sent out a victory tweet: “I believe the House has taken the right decision to keep the UK safe – military action in Syria as one part of a broader strategy.” Orwell would be proud.

41 COMMENTS

  1. The Islamic STATE, now controls large swaths of land in the Middle East, and was expanding rapidly before Western intervention halted their advance.

    It is brutalizing their population, committing genocide. We have seen evil of this kind before, in the Nazi regime. Should we have left the Jews to their fate? Scared of collateral damage, the unavoidable cost of war? Well the consequences of a unopposed ISIS shall be far worse.

    • You did not even read the article. No army, navy or air force, no weapon production etc. The likelihood is that bombs will only increase ISIS support in Syria & other parts of the middle east. I would imagine we are in greater danger from lightning strikes than ISIS here in NZ despite what various groups will try & tell us.

      • Yes I read the article. My point is bombing ISIS logistics and military targets DOES have an effect, and has halted the advance of ISIS in certain regions in the past.

        And the second part of my point is it does not matter if there is a threat to us. We have a moral responsibility to protect the people in those regions.

        • Boyle do you protect people on the ground from 50k feet in the air?

          The solution to the IS problem is.

          -Strengthen democracy at home, make sure government responsibilities like education, health, police and the dole is properly funded.

          – increase the amount of refugees being taken in

          – make sure integration of refugees is seamless and effective with jobs programmes, full medical the works.

          -Stamp out corruption at home by increasing funding to government watch dogs, commissions is Children’s commissioner, raise the punitive damages if ministers fail to obey the law, particularly around OIA requests.

          -Funding boost for NZDF, SIS and GCSB to come back under the umbrella of NZDF, sack every one John Keys appointed to the spy agencies and re a point military general staff.

          – and finally, combat troops in Iraq and Syria. A whole battalion with all the bells and whistles, including air and sea lift capabilities to sustain them over 50+ years.

  2. As Max Keiser ( the best economist in the world ) affirms – the greedy terrorist Bankers are the true terrorists who generated this horrific mess we are now in. Their buddies in governments who are dictated to by these psychopathic insane mega-corporations are also massively responsible. So should we not be putting these criminals in prison and ending all wars immediately ? Is this not much more about who is responsible rather than the political system at play ? Maybe a completely new system of governing and a completely new system of law and order are very much needed.

    Neither France nor Britain cares much about this refugee madness going on and it is their very elite buddies in the banks and governments who are ===>>> THE REAL TERRORISTS ! ! !

    • Huh, so the bankers have been fueling sectarian violence in the Middle East for hundreds of years? News to me.

      • The bankers and their corporate war mongering; mineral thieving buddies have orchestrated these ongoing wars and bombings which is devastating the world. Of course religious tensions and racism have been building for MANY years but it is mostly about righteousness and greed on many levels involving many countries with assets to exploit and religious zealots to push their madness agendas.

        Check out The Tavistock Institute and Agenda 21 and so much more that points to the real terrorists. This is mostly all a pumped up drama meant to create fear and hate and no wonder so many tick negative to the truths about all of this. Check out what the likes of Max Keiser and Rosa Koire and Naomi Klein and Glenn Greenwald and Ken O’Keefe and so many more and what they are affirming.

        Also consider looking into “Nato behind the creation of ISIL.” — Webster Tarpley on the website – — Republic Broadcasting.org

      • BOYLE? Is that your real name because like your comment, it’s nonsense.

        The vast majority of producers and refiners hedge with futures years in advance for the past hundred fucken years (that’s the whole freaking point of oil futures run by, you guessed it, BANKSTERS) and lock in a price.

        Short term price fluctuations has no effect on their profitability, but very real empacts on local living standards.
        Audio visual aid of the problem:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4WmNd-th0E

  3. I fear that the British Labour Party fell for an old Tory trick here. The trick being if you want support for a military campaign from the opposition left then make them believe that it is a campaign against FSCISTS! As soon as you mention that word you are guaranteed to get the left motivated. But I doubt ISIS (or whatever you call them) are actually fascist Hard line, extreme and fanatical yes, but those traits are not confined solely to fascists, anyone can be like that. Fascism is just a spin term inserted into the mix by the political right to make sure that any left leaning governments (or opposition left) don’t start feeling guilty about backing the bombing of Syria.
    Either the British Labour Party caucus fell for it, or they used it as an opportunity to undermine their leader who a lot of them don’t actually want. Remember Corbyn won the leadership not on his popularity in the caucus but because of his popularity with the mass membership.
    All of this plays neatly into David Cameron’s hands, of course. He gets what he wants (bombing Syria) but if the whole thing turns to custard then the MSM will still be fixated by Hilary Benn and “Dodgy Dave” can worm his way out of another fix.

    • Good point. Seems to me the left has been gullible and unsophisticated when it comes to the PR spin coming from the right. At the moment the spin is winning the war on ideas. How does the left counter that?

      • Islamic terrorists (where did you invent the word “Islamists”?) and fascists have completely different histories and origins. They have nothing in common other than their willingness to use violence to achieve their aims.
        You could look them up in an encylopedia or Wikipedia but most trolls don’t seem to have either the required attention span or information processing ability.

      • It’s a good question really.

        Fascists (inititially) looked backward to the imperialist glories of Rome and meant or claimed to mean to construct a new muscular conquest-based civilisation in its image.

        There are among the militants groups that reference the glory days of Islamic expansionism – but the major trope is probably millenarian – a dangerous idea because societal failure or non-survival is interpreted as martyrdom rather than dysfunction.

        Everybody dead can be victory for millenarians…

  4. Unfortunately the time of unilateral action in Iraq and Syria has past. ISIS broke out of Iraq and Syria some time ago and have largely consolidated there positions, when they say they can launch attacks in multiple countries, we have to now take that threat seriously. That means boats on the ground which something Putin dosnt need any help with. We’ve slamed shut every door of cooperation.

    The west have been out manuavered, out played. We are 6 months behind ISIS at every turn. We’ve let every oppertunity to intervene go like passing ships.

    The U.S have run out of bombs ammo and ideas. They’ve blown 20k ordnance in the last 12 months, with a price tag north of 100k.

    As Tsun Tzu once said. “He who has to resupply his army has already lost.” We just don’t know it yet.

  5. The only way to defeat IS is to shower them with gifts, show them deep ( albeit faux ) respect, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan completely and profusely apologise for any offence to Allah and Mohammed while placing weapons embargoes on their weapons suppliers, namely us ( The West et al ) but more specifically Israel. If that were to be done done? They’d be defeated from within by their own kind.

    The pro offensive morons have no idea what they’ve done and stupidly believe they know what they’re doing as I write. The dopiest of them, idiots like cameron and old dufus obama, still seemingly under the influence of the weed he smoked back in the day, are muppets to corporates, I think we can all agree on that. So, are we going to let those corporates drag us into a living Hell for as long as the earth can support human life ? Yep, looks like it. Then weapons-up boys and girls , it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

    All the animals must be looking on thinking “ What a bunch of stupid nobs ! They’ll be gone soon so back to the fields and forests for us ! Yay ! “

    Someone once cautioned me . ” Never shag the wife of a guy with a head injury . ” Huh ? Huh ? Metaphor? Hello ?

  6. Syria, like Iraq, states that no longer really exist, but for those still clinging to colonial age borderlines, after the Brits and French took over from the Ottomans. So where is this battle heading? Has the Assad government agreed to this interference, or not? Do the Brits still cling to old borders or not? What is the fallout going to be, doing the same as ISIS have done, ignoring past borders? Is this not a free for all, so Turkey can march in again and reclaim Aleppo and other places once part of its empire?

    I see rules flouted all over, a free for all, a replay of WW1 and WW2, in its beginning. Let the Russians shoot down a Turkish or US or French jet, and see what the reaction will be, let it go vice versa, the only winners in this are clear, the so called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, I fear.

    How dumb, I think Bismarck may have done it much smarter than these modern day new colonialists or say imperialists, from east and west. Full power and steam ahead into WW3, I reckon.

    • Cameron’s assertion that military action in Syria will make the UK safe is a version of ‘War is Peace’. I’m sure Mr Orwell would appreciate his observations are still current. As is irony. Bloody armchairs….

  7. Hilary Benn’s speech was just rhetoric. He proffered no rationale for bombing Syria other than platitudes. Adducing the Spanish Civil War, as if the two situations were analogous: good grief! Does he know nothing?

    I never thought to hear such thoughtfulness from Conservatives; now we know who’s learned the lessons of the disastrous recent past. And it sure as hell ain’t Benn!

    What a god awful mess, and once again, a British poodle PM blunders into it. And oh, the hypocrisy of it all, given how, only a month ago or so, he was castigating the Russians for doing exactly what he’s now got Parliamentary approval to do.

  8. The Russian with sanctions from Damascus elected govt of Syria President Basha Assad are the only legal international force fighting ISIS and doing an exceptional job defeating ISIS with co-ordinated efforts from the Syrian Army the only true ground force with intimate knowledge of their country and they also are battle hard from 5 years of fighting these terrorist groups which I may add have been funded by the west and its allies to overthrow an elected sovereign leader Basha Assad.
    https://www.facebook.com/SouthFrontEnTwo/videos/503507386486024/

    http://en.alalam.ir/news/1758978#sthash.0plziX4P&st_refDomain=t.co&st_refQuery=/vWRaCUWvwy

    http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/syrian-army-kills-the-most-famous-isis-executioner-in-east-aleppo/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2O-g42eIdw

    http://sana.sy/en/?p=63375

    • Don’t forget Iraq. ISIS now operates in several countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the list is quite large and we can now include the continental United States. Iran has sent 5000 of there best troops to Syria armed with mortars and rocket propelled grenades. Along with Russia’s contributions to keeping Assade in power, they really don’t need our help, unless coalition forces are willing to take orders from Russia

  9. In this ‘jihadists vs the rest’ game you need to see many more than two moves ahead. You need to be a supreme tactician. I doubt if there are any. Give it up! But when you think about it, the combined alliance could bring a lot of nonviolent resource to the table.Hastening the reduction in oil dependence is just one part of the puzzle. Overcoming all racial prejudice is another. Aid – not guns, is another. The list goes on. We need to be combining in positive fashion. There needs to be the promise of hope and peace for all – something we can all be happy with. Redefine the game board. This is not naive – it’s the warmongers who are naive.

    • Bruh, we have being bombing al Qaeda and its pointer group ISIS since 2002, both groups have only gotten stronger. And our collective democracies have gotten weaker.

      As the old saying goes, save the woman and children first

      • Not too quick to pick up on the satire huh? Point is we (whoever that is) haven’t being bombing them. They are proxy armies to get rid of Assad and to secure oil (and sell it – successfully).

        You really think a bunch of guys in white Reeboks and driving Toyota pickups around the desert can’t be eliminated by the world’s most powerful military? When the USAF can put a reaper drone onto anyone they care to?

        • Steve … what about the idea I’ve seen floated where if you bomb – metaphorically speaking, a wasps nest the wasps fly off elsewhere … and in the present case, change tactics. That’s a lot of reaper drones buzzing around all over the show… .

          • You are missing the point – why haven’t the US military destroyed ISIS assets like oil wells? Why do they pre warn ISIS oil convoys for “humanitarian” reasons? Because the will isn’t there.

            Now Russia has will. A lot of it. That has changed the game. The West still wants Assad out but has to deal with Russia.

            ISIS is very conciderate in that it provides terror attacts at just the right time for NATO and the US to ramp up its “boots on the ground” war-talk. Perfect timing you might say.

            • I was listening to a state department official say that they don’t target oil wells and what not for environmental reasons as well as for the economic security of local populations.

              So they have good timing and a well rehearsed game plan

              • In latest news “US military gives a shit about the environment and local civilian population. Holds off destroying massive income stream for brutal terrorists.”

                LOL – you really believe.

                • Dont put words in my mouth.

                  IS is still a thing, they’ve gone from a regional threat to a global threat.

                  You need to take the tactical out of your comments and and focus on something you have knowledge about.

      • It’s called satire.

        ISIS/Al Qaeda are proxy armies to battle Assad. We (I’m guessing you me US/Nato) are none too concerned about bombing them while they serve our purpose. Russia entering has completely changed the game.

        Do you really think a bunch of guys wearing white Reeboks and driving Toyota pickups couldn’t be destroyed by the world’s greatest military if the will was there?

        • Lol. In what terms are you talking about?

          -population?

          -weapons and ammunition?

          -religion?

          -production?

          -geo politics?

          It should be noted that Turkey actively supports ISIS and the U.S actively supports al Qaeda.

          Do you live on this planet or what goose?

      • It’s called satire.

        ISIS/Al Qaeda are proxy armies to battle Assad. We (I’m guessing you mean US/Nato) were none too concerned about bombing them while they served our purpose. Russia entering has completely changed the game.

        Do you really think a bunch of guys wearing white Reeboks and driving Toyota pickups couldn’t be destroyed by the world’s greatest military if the will was there?

        • We killed Osama. That’s a mission victory isn’t it? Then we had al Zarqawi, he dead now. We have also had three ISIS commanders. Two are dead, the third al bahgdadi lives.

          We are actually fighting a bunch of words plastered around the Internet. IS dosnt even have to communicate with cells in Foriegn countries, they just take responsibility for crimes that would ordinarily be labeled hate crimes ect (or what ever the rhetoric of the month is for crime)

          We in New Zealand have to start reducing inequality at home if we have any chance of reversing IS’S power base.

          Hard power just simply isn’t going to work by its self. We have to be able to respond to were ever IS wants to take the fight. Which includes but is not limited to

          – The Jungle

          -Desert

          -Arctic ( unlikely because Arabs don’t like the cold, how ever do operate in Northern Europe, which is cold)

          – the sea

          – the air

          – urban and regional cities

          – the Internet

          -financial exchanges

          – political movements

          What I’m getting at in pointing out all this is that air strikes are good for responding to threats in the physical realm. The are no solutions to combating problems in the Internet or financial exchanges be cause no one involves go to jail but are jealously protected by an oligopoly that profits from war.

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