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Inaction is easy; action is harder but needed now

14 August 2014

It’s easier to oppose than propose war. The conflict between Israel and Hamas inspired #NotInMyName on Twitter, and opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was spearheaded by the ‘Stop The War’ Coalition. It is easy for ‘anti-interventionists’ to cite negative consequences of action already documented, for example in post-invasion Iraq, than for ‘interventionists’ to make their case. Insults like ‘warmonger’ or ‘blood on your hands’ slip off the tongue more readily than complicated arguments to the effect that inaction can cause even more blood-letting and chaos, and that those who advocate it bear some responsibility for the ensuing carnage.

The present crisis facing the Yazidis, Kurds and indeed all sections of Iraq requires the rejection of the tired debate between anti- and pro-interventionists. Instead we should be demanding that governments #StartTheHelp #InMyName. The whole world, not just the West, must unite to counter the activities of the Islamic State (IS) and uphold human rights. This is achievable with sufficient political will.

In Syria, our failure to back the moderate opposition to Assad resulted in all the consequences that the ‘antis’ prophesised would result from western intervention: the breakdown of the territorial integrity of states, the advance of extremists across borders, the world’s biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis, and the use of WMDs. The priority in addressing the immediate crisis facing the Yazidis is not the recall of Parliament or more punditry, but for political leaders to take decisive, immediate action to save lives. Populations share in this responsibility and saying #InMyName can remind our leaders that more of us support action than not, as shown in the ITV/Comres poll earlier this week showing 45 per cent versus 37 per cent support for air strikes.

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The Yazidis face not just a humanitarian crisis, but, using the definition in the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, a campaign of genocide by IS. As signatories, we are duty bound to ‘prevent and punish’ this crime. Governments have begun to ‘prevent’ through US airstrikes and others providing aid drops, but much more can be done. The deployment of our Chinooks is a welcome first step, but they haven’t yet ferried any people off the mountain. It is inexplicable that the hundreds of military helicopters around the world lie dormant in hangars while civilians starve.

Furthermore, we have a moral obligation to assist the Kurds, given our history as a colonial power and also having abandoned then rescued them in 1991 with a no fly zone. At the very least, we should follow the US in arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga, and step up the reported ferrying of other weaponry to them by the RAF.

The entire world has a broader strategic interest in thwarting IS. Our leaders must know that providing limited humanitarian aid, arming the Kurds, or even an expanded air war will not succeed unless it is part of a wider strategy that involves regional and global actors. We should explore whether a UN or international conference could be convened, with all relevant powers attending, designed to co-ordinate the effort against IS. This would also provide an opportunity to bring peace and stability to Syria. It is conceivable that the defunct Geneva negotiations could be revived by this international congress on the basis of the original 2012 Geneva Communiqué, which outlined a transition from Assad’s dictatorship.

Isolation is not splendid, and ignorance is not bliss. Many argue that the Islamist terrorist threat was caused by the 2003 intervention. Yet the 9/11 atrocities occurred years before the Iraq war, during a period when the West’s policy was containment (notwithstanding interventions to defend Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia). 9/11 and the preceding attacks were prosecuted by Al Qaeda from bases within a country run by Islamist extremists whose rule was tolerated by the international community. Now, IS, who are so extreme that even Al Qaeda have shunned them, are occupying vast swathes of two major Middle East countries. This poses a direct long-term security threat to the region and the whole world. When I worked for Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair’s Special Envoy to Iraq, I was at a meeting outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, and nearby mortar and machine gun fire was audible. A female Iraqi MP leant over and, pointing in the direction of the fighting, said: ‘They are not just a threat to me and to Iraq, but to our region and the world’. She was right then and she is right now. The world must unite and confront this challenge. If Churchill were alive and using twitter, he might write #ActionThisDay.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant, member of the Labour Party, Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and Senior Fellow at the Human Security Centre. He blogs here and tweets @johnslinger.

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Show comments
  • Simon Fay

    “John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant, member of the
    Labour Party, Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and Senior Fellow at the Human Security Centre.”

    Pragmatic Radicalism, eh? A new one on me, much as the awfully-mysterious (and truly awful-sounding) ISIS was until a couple of months back, and the Yazidis even more recently.

    If intervention was manned and paid for entirely by the political class and those in the Davos crowd they front for, I’d have an easier time accepting it.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      You’re mad, sir.

      Udderly mad. Moo, cow. Moo.

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    It’s all a load of symbolism anyway.

  • arnoldo87

    A very timely article, but I fear it will be some time before the West in general wakes up to the fact that we are already in a war with the Islamists. At some point we will need to increase our defence expenditure and encourage the rest of NATO to combat these savages.
    But with the election looming all our major parties are running scared of putting the brave and principled hat on.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Come off it. The will to intervene is not matched by the will to win. And either way the fifth column already operating here will limit any options to let loose the dogs of war. Cameron is the equivalent of the toy poodle of war yapping in someone’s back yard half way up the street.

    The chance was missed to kick Saddam out of Iraq in the first Gulf War. Then the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq and the ignominious retreat from Basra followed. Afghanistan with its ludicrous US Cavalry fort and road based strategy where the Taliban are as active as ever and which will go the way of Iraq as soon as the last Western troops leave. Libya which is proving to be equally disastrous.

    If you are going to intervene you have to make it worth while. You have to be determined to defeat the enemy not just bring them to stalemate and then to prematurely boast “Job done” and pull out. Defeating the enemy requires plenty of treasure, absolute determination and the willingness to expend blood. During the war the Allies defeated Germany unequivocally they didn’t deploy half-baked forces in the hope of bringing them to the negotiating table.

    And its no good calling on the West to unite against ISIS when they are fighting like ferrets in a sack over the correct response to Putin and Israel and NATO seems to have adopted the European “hide under the bed and hope that it all goes away” fighting model. And even if they did unite Cameron has emasculated the armed forces so that he could increase the foreign aid budget by 30% and boast about hosing £11 billion of borrowed money overseas.

    Hard to believe that this is the same country that defeated the communists in Malaya. And the lefties are whining about how that was done now too.

    • kyalami

      Indeed. Don’t get involved unless

      – you have the ability and will to win overwhelmingly
      – you have a plan to get out and leave the country in better shape than when you started

    • Andy

      Totally agree with you. If they had overthrown Saddam after the first Gulf War I doubt there would be quite the same mess in the Middle East that we have now. But maybe we should face reality here. Across the Middle East the only way to rule seems to be dictatorship. The very concept of Democracy and the Rule of Law is alien to Mussies.

      • Shazza

        There is no democracy in islam.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      The ISIS fish swim in a Sunni sea, and they are supported from Saudi, Jordan and the rest of the neighborhood party friends (and Washington and London too, quiet as it’s kept). Geography is history, as they say. You cannot exterminate this group, and there’s really no sense trying. You can help certain others help themselves, in Kurdistan, if you’re lucky.

      It’d be really nice if we got Washington and London to back off helping these islamofascist murderers, as a first step, and pressure the locals to stop it as well. That would be a great start here .

  • The Masked Marvel

    Give it up, Slinger. They’re not being killed by Jews, and enough people blame Blair and Bush for starting this. The lives of these people simply aren’t valued that highly.

  • kyalami

    “It is inexplicable that the hundreds of military helicopters around the world lie dormant in hangars while civilians starve.”

    No, really, it is not inexplicable.

    Most military helicopters are not suitable or large enough to make a difference. The really big ones like Chinooks are relatively rare. To get them there requires a long flight, significant maintenance and logistical support – and that’s just from the UK. If you want to bring them from the USA it’s 2-3 days to strip them down to fit into a transport jet and another 2-3 days on the other side to build them up again.

    • Alexsandr

      and you have to ‘desrtify’ them so they work in hot sandy places.

  • obiwan

    ‘They [Isis] are not just a threat to me and to Iraq, but to our region and the world’

    This is the crux of the matter – all else is just some people talking. Politicians need to stop dithering, grow a spine and confront an evil ideology every bit as odious and disgusting as any the 20th century threw up. Isis are determined and relentless; they won’t negotiate the terms of their new Caliphate and they won’t show any mercy to ‘unbelievers’ and ‘heretics’ they meet along the way.

    • Shazza

      They (ISIS) are already here in our towns and cities – why else would they be handing out leaflets in London as they did yesterday?
      Breitbart London reports that ISIS supporters have clashed with Kurds in Sheffield (yes, England) yesterday.
      The same ideology is being preached in the schools as in the Trojan Horse plot.
      Anjam Choudry and his ilk freely walk the streets and preach ISIS doctrine.
      All those Hamas supporters who march in the streets are by proxy ISIS supporters.

      Wise words obiwan – “Politicians need to stop dithering…..threw up” only I believe that this ‘evil ideology’ is worse than anything the 20th century threw up. None of those rewarded their followers with promises of paradise.

      As to the politicians’ growing a spine’ ha ha ha ha ha…

  • Shazza

    The biggest mistake the West made was backing the wrong side in Bosnia/Kosovo.

    • HookesLaw

      We should have backed the other side in their ethnic cleansing/genocide?

      • Shazza

        What do you think they are doing to us?
        What do you think Hamas wishes to do to Israel?
        What do you think those ISIS supporters handing out leaflets in London want to do to us?

        • HookesLaw

          ‘They’? So the people, Bosnians, who were going to be murdered by the Serbs are the same people as ISIS or Hamas?
          So lets be clear you would have supported the Serbs in their ethnic cleansing and murder? That is you support Christians behaving in the same way as extreme islamists and in the name of religion.
          You support the killing of ”more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, as well as the mass expulsion of another 25,000–30,000 civilians, in and around Srebrenica? You support and would have western democracies suport ethnic cleansing including unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians; the targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and
          professionals; the unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians; the unlawful shelling of civilians; the unlawful appropriation and plunder of real and personal property; the destruction of homes and businesses; and the destruction of places of worship.”
          (all as Karadzic indictment).

          You think its a neat idea to be put on trial for war crimes do you?

          • Shazza

            The Bosnian Muslims were just as guilty as the Serbs when it came to committing atrocities. The MSM were very selective regarding their coverage as they are now re the Hamas/Israel conflict.

            It seems that moral outrage only occurs when moslems are the victims.
            Where is the outrage for all the Christians being slaughtered in Africa/ME and other islamic countries? What happened to the 100 Christian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram?

            • fundamentallyflawed

              I am with Hooky on this one… arguing that we were wrong to try to prevent mass war crimes (and the UN failed in that anyway in Bosnia) as it has somehow encouraged Muslim extremism is monstrous by any standards

              • Shazza

                Both sides were equally vicious – however, Serbs wish us no harm, I can’t say that for the other lot.

                • fundamentallyflawed

                  No.. substantially more Muslims were killed plus there was systematic rape of muslim women. The Muslim war crimes were mainly against prisoners of war

                • Shazza

                  Google LM Archives The Hidden Side of Yugoslavia War.

                • fundamentallyflawed

                  It mainly details Croatian atrocities against the serbs not Bosnian Muslims…

          • The Masked Marvel

            The various methods of placing value on human lives have become rather clear lately, haven’t they?

    • The Masked Marvel

      We got no thanks for saving Muslim lives then, but that’s not an excuse to allow these things to fester. Even Alex Massie understands that, while you may not be interested in war, it will eventually be interested in you.

      • Shazza

        The Serbs posed no threat to us.

        As for ISIS I believe the only course of action now is full on destruction mode by us, USA and the rest of the civilised West. We need to wipe this obscenity from the face of the earth before it spreads any further. We are facing an enemy that is hellbent on the destruction of us and our way of life.

        A stitch in time ……..

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …so when will you be boarding the plane to get over there and get busy with the “full on destruction mode” ?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        That quote is attributed to Lenin, as I recall. He wanted war, and lots of it .

        • The Masked Marvel

          Yes, but he wasn’t wrong about the folly of isolationism.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            You may be conflating a sober foreign policy with “isolationism”.

            • The Masked Marvel

              Or possibly not. One uncomfortable aspect of this entire debate is that everybody seems more concerned with blaming somebody for creating the situation than actually doing something about it. In most cases, it seems that not doing anything at all is justified because one doesn’t like how it all started. This is surely not a secure basis for foreign policy.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Sorry, but that’s just a whiny diversion, and the antithesis of sober foreign policy.

                • The Masked Marvel

                  From my point of view, the entire debate of whose fault it is has become the diversion.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  You seem the only one interested in whiny diversion, lad.

                  The goal here is and should be a sober foreign policy.

  • HookesLaw

    What a pity then Mr Slinger that the Spectator cheerleaded for non intervention in Syria.

    What a sham the Spectator has turned into. Blowing in whichever way the wind allows it to attack the government. Both the owners of the press and the journalists in that press have no other self serving motive than to weaken any government.

    • Alexsandr

      But Cameron and Hague were 100% wrong on syria, cos they wanted to help the rebels. Now whose side were ISIS on? The governments?

      • Shazza

        I agree and they were wrong on Egypt, crying into their bibs over the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood who, BTW are soulmates with Hamas and ISIS. Their little adventure in Libya is working out well for us too…..

        The only thing that Miliplonk did that deserves credit is his kiboshing of arming the anti Assad ‘militants’ (love that BBCspeak, gives a romantic hue to ‘terrorist’).

        What a mess.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          That wasn’t the Millipede’s doing. UKIP caused them to flip flop and turn against the Camerloons re Syria.

    • Ordinaryman

      I’m puzzled and intrigued over what is their motive to “weaken any government”?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      It’s good you’re finally siding with your socialist nutter comrades, laddie. That’s where you Camerloons belong.

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