THE REALITY OF BOMBING
This week the Prime Minister will demand support in a Commons vote to extend a British bombing campaign into Syria. He shall not get it from me. This is why.
In the last 100 years there has only been one bombing campaign which has achieved its objectives. The two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima undoubtedly provoked the end of the war in Japan. However, most people would argue that the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable in other conflicts.
All other bombing campaigns have failed or only been effective when they were accompanied by reliable troops on the ground.
Thus from the First World War Zeppelins, to the Blitz, to the firestorm in Hamburg, to napalm in Vietnam right up to the present day the story has been the same. Great things have been claimed for the bombers and they have all failed without exception.
In 1999 Blair persuaded Clinton to bomb in Kosovo to stop the Serbian army.
The campaign proceeded. For weeks on end the Nato planes hit bridges, the Chinese embassy, Serbian television, refugee convoys – just about everything in fact except the Serbian army.
In the event the Serbian demagogue Milosevic withdrew his forces but only when Nato assembled an army on the border and told him to withdraw. And he was then deposed in a Serbian election by the people he had led to disaster.
Of course that was 15 years ago and we are told that things are different now. With drone and satellite technology apparently everything has changed. Now we are told that precision strikes only take out the bad people and leave civilians untouched.
Except of course it is not true.
President Obama is the least gung ho president in recent American history. That is to his credit. However, his understandable queasiness post-Iraq of putting US troops into harm’s way has resulted in a huge reliance on remote controlled killing. It has not worked out well.
His very first drone assault in Yemen six years ago killed the one al-Qaeda suspect and also 14 women and 21 children. A few days ago Americans accepted (and the acknowledgement is to their credit) that one of their strikes on Syria had resulted in civilian casualties, including a “small image”. The “small image” means a child.
Meanwhile thousands of civilians have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan.
The Russians meanwhile have recently entered the fray in Syria and up until November 20 have already killed an estimated 403 civilians including 166 women and children.
These numbers, though hugely tragic, are still small compared to the many thousands who have been killed by their own Syrian Government.
Thus far the coalition led by America has dropped some 20,000 bombs and this level has been intensified greatly in recent days by France and Russia.
Britain has not been bombing in Syria but in neighbouring Iraq, which at least has the virtue of having Kurdish and Iraqi Government ground forces to fill the vacuum left as Daesh retreats.
However, Britain contributes a mere 10% of the bombing raids in Iraq and the Kurdish Peshmerga, our only reliable ally on the ground, are frustratingly lightly armed.
The reason we don’t give them heavy weapons is because it would upset their historic enemy, the Turkish state.
That is our Nato colleague Turkey who have just recklessly shot down a Russian plane which wandered into their air space for only a few seconds.
The case for adding to the 10 countries already bombing in Syria is wafer thin.
Cameron’s tactics are aimed to divide the Labour Party not to unite the country. No doubt this will be successful but on this issue of such importance there is something demeaning and indeed plain wrong about Government ministers spending the weekend phoning round rebellious Labour MPs pleading with them to desert their own leader.
Cameron told the Commons last week that the British weapons are uniquely safe in avoiding collateral damage but forgot to mention that we had already sold these Brimstone missiles to Saudi Arabia.
In any case if that were the real argument then why not just increase the British contribution to the Iraqi raids and release our allies to increase their own missions in Syria?
Daesh are a murderous death cult. They are perfectly capable of using what’s left of the population of Raqqa in Syria as a human shield to protect themselves against even the smartest of bombs.
Some people say that public opinion is cautious about military interventions because of the disastrous quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq. That would be understandable.
But we should not forget this Prime Minister’s appalling and more recent misjudgments.
Four years ago he spent 13 times as much bombing Libya as reconstructing the country.
The result was a failed state in which terrorism now flourishes, including almost certainly the genesis of the cell which slaughtered British citizens in Tunisia.
His record should give no confidence in his judgment now.
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Ahead of the vote on Wednesday on whether or not to extend airstrikes into Syria, over one hundred MPs signed a cross-party amendment against. Key signatories included SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Hywel Williams of Plaid Cymru, SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell and Labour MP Graham Allen as well as Conservative John Baron MP.
During the debate on whether or not to extend airstrikes into Syria, I gave a speech urging Members not to give the Prime Minister permission to take a course of action that has no exit strategy or evidence that it will make any conceivable difference.
“We cannot do nothing”, said the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), but that is not an argument for doing anything; it is an argument for doing something that works, as part of an overall strategy that has some chance of success.
I find myself in the unusual position of complimenting some Conservative speakers. We have heard some fine speeches thus far, but some of the best have come from Conservative Members dissenting from the Government line. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) did the House a service by reminding us of the proportionality of what we are discussing. We are discussing adding perhaps an extra two Tornados and a segment of Typhoons to the bombing campaign in Syria. We make up 10% of the current flights in Iraq. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we will not make any conceivable difference to the air campaign in Syria, where there are too many planes already, chasing too many targets.
I was invited on to Broadcasting House's paper review on BBC Radio 4. You can listen to the show by clicking here.