Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Advent in Syria

Last night one of the choirs I'm in led  an Advent Carol Service.

The first reading included Isaiah 2:4

. . . and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

A later reading was a poem by John Morgan entitled "The Seven days of an Advent Calendar."  I can't find it on Google but the conclusion was on the lines of  "how many Advents do we need to get the message?"

I would have liked to have the whole House of Commons packed into the church to listen.

We have had Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Just how many do we need to learn the lesson that military interference in matters we don't understand and can't control makes matters worse, not least by adding to the concept of "Crusader West" and fuelling antagonism towards us?

Proponents of air strikes claim "we cannot sit back and do nothing."  

But the alternative is not to do nothing.

 Energetic international diplomatic action to stop the supply of money, oil and arms to Isis, to encourage Muslim countries, especially those in the area, to "take ownership" of the problem, and a humane welcome to refugees are all positive steps that will do good. With or without air-strikes, we must redouble the efforts of the police and security services to discover and neutralise potential terrorist cells, though we must hope with rather more sensitivity  than that depicted on last night's BBC 1 version of John Lancaster's "Capital."  And, in the long run, before we really are all dead, I'd like to see this counter-productive notion of a "war on terror" replaced by international police action to catch criminals

Our Foreign Office claims to be full of "Arabists" with a special feeling for and understanding of the Middle East area,  based on long experience.  Well, let's give them a chance to show what they can do..

There is every sign that David Cameron is losing confidence in his own argument.  Why else should he rush the debate and attempt to smear opponents with the disgraceful description : " a bunch of terrorist sympathisers."?

I am deeply distressed that the Liberal Democrat MPs have announced they will be supporting the air-strikes.  This , if carried out, will be the first big mistake of Tim Farron's leadership.  

It hasn't happened yet.  I hope and pray for a change of heart, and that Cameron's intemperate language and inadequate arguments will persuade enough Labour MPs to follow their leader and so avoid this Tory folly.


  1. Energetic international diplomatic action to stop the supply of money, oil and arms to Isis, to encourage Muslim countries, especially those in the area, to "take ownership" of the problem, and a humane welcome to refugees are all positive steps that will do good

    Well yes but:

    (a) how do you stop oil tankers and vans full of arms, without putting soldiers on the ground, on the border, to turn them back at gunpoint?

    (b) what do you do when, despite all your encouragement, Muslim countries refuse to take ownership of the problem?

    (c) welcoming refugees is clearly better than not welcoming, but most of them don't want to be refugees: they want to go back to their homes. How can you make it safe for them to do so, without taking action to help stop the war which is raging there, and which cannot stop while IS exists as IS's entire reason to exist is to forcibly expand its territory?

    1. a) International armed police action.
      b) Keep trying.
      c) Agreed, but it is universally agreed that bombing will not stop the war, and with Russia, the US, France and others already involved in it, another contributor makes an already dangerous situation (Russian aircraft shot down by a NATO member) even more dangerous. And bombing will add to the number of refugees by making life in their homes even more dangerous.

  2. (a) Doesn't an 'international armed police action' mean international troops (ie, including ours) on the ground, atively engaging IS forces when they try to drive oil tankers through the roadblocks? Are you saying you're in favour of UK boots on the ground with orders to engage IS troops?

    [Also: I note the first air strikes have now happened, and have targeted an IS-controlled oilfield. Surely you should approve of that, fi your goal is to stop them selling oil to fund their activities?]

    (b) And when they keep refusing?

    (c) It is universally agreed that bombing alone will not stop the war, but I think it's also pretty clear that the war will not stop without bombing as none of the forces fighting IS are strong enough to destroy it without air support. And I'm pretty sure that lving in an area either controlled by, or under threat from, IS, is so dangerous already (especially if you happen to be, say, a 9-year-old girl wondering if you're going to catch the eye of an IS commander) that bombing isn't going to make it significantly more so.

    1. a) Yes, I know that this could easily lead to "mission creep" but police do try to stop smugglers and other criminals in their activities without actually declaring war on anybody, and trying to contain the use of arms to "neutralising" situations rather than killing people. Although it may make use of the same personnel I think the concept, and conduct, of police action is far preferable to the concept and conduct of a war. Such action also defines the targets as criminals rather than warriors, and so is less likely to feed the concept of "Crusader West" against persecuted Islam. Tracing flows of money is something for financial experts and the internet rather than soldiers (or policemen) on the ground.
      b) That's diplomacy for you, and that's where the Foreign Office's alleged special expertise come in.
      c) Extra bombs mean extra collateral damage.

    2. (a) So what, exactly, are your rules of engagement when an oil tanker turns up at the checkpoint with an IS escort, either (i) with or (ii) without civilian human shields in the cars / tanker, and refuses to stop, and how do those rules differ from 'war'? [Though to be honest I actually agree with you that this would be a good idea, in addition to air strikes, but it's a non-starter just to domestic political reasons; the idea of 'boots on the ground' is still toxic].

      (b) Answer the question: what do you do when they keep refusing to take responsibility (or, alternatively, when they say they will take responsibility and then do nothing)? No amount of 'special expertise' can make a country do something it doesn't want to do; only either economic or physical warfare can do that. Which would you use to compel Muslim countries to take responsibility, sanctions or gunboats?

      (c) They also mean a better chance of dislodging IS quicker, making things safer in the long run. Again, being a 9-year-old girl in an IS-controlled area is already so dangerous that I really don't think some extra bombs falling makes it much more so.

  3. bombing isn't going to make it significantly more so

    … and, indeed, has a chance of making it less dangerous in the long run, which not-bombing does not.