Military action will not strike a blow for the fallen of Paris - writes Matt Gaw

Protesters at Whitehall in London, during a demonstration organised by Stop the War Coalition agains

Protesters at Whitehall in London, during a demonstration organised by Stop the War Coalition against proposed bombing of the Islamic State in Syria. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 28, 2015. See PA story POLITICS Syria Protest. Photo credit should read: Hannah McKay/PA Wire - Credit: PA

David Cameron is on the verge of leading us into Isil’s blood-soaked trap, argues Matt Gaw

It was without doubt one of David Cameron’s best performances in the Commons.

As he outlined the case for airstrikes on Isil’s Syrian stronghold in Raqqa he was smooth, assured, statesman-like. To be honest, he reminded me a bit of Tony Blair delivering his infamous speech on Iraq in 2003. You know the one; all “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “this will determine the pattern of international politics for a generation”.

And if that’s not enough to set alarm bells ringing, what is? Well, I would argue it’s not just the prime minister’s patter that raises the spectre of a disastrous conflict which cost an estimated one million Iraqi lives and effectively birthed Isil – it’s the content of his speech. Or perhaps I should say the lack of it.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Cameron insisted that “airstrikes can degrade Isil and arrest its advance”.

He is no doubt alluding to coalition claims that the geographical area controlled by Isil has shrunk by 30% in the past year. But sadly such statistics seem shaky at best. After all, in the same timeframe terrorists have seized control of both Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.

Perhaps more important though, as pilots already engaged in military operations in the area have highlighted, is the sheer lack of physical targets left after a year of sustained bombing raids.

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Add to this Isil’s experience at “digging in” among civilians and a lack of en-masse military ground movements, and it’s not hard to see why so many jets are returning to base still with full payloads. This factor undoubtedly played a part in the withdrawal of Canadian and Australian air support and poses the question of what really could the RAF do differently?

Of course, Mr Cameron has admitted that to make airstrikes worthwhile there need to be “partners on the ground”. He has categorically ruled out the possibility of British boots being deployed, but who else is there? The Free Syrian army has already proved to be ineffective and the Kurds simply don’t have enough troops.

And let’s not forget the “70,000 moderate Syrian rebels” that Cameron referenced in his speech. These are not some hard-boiled fighting machines waiting to be unleashed on Isil, but a fractious set of factions – many of whom are much more intent on sorting out Assad than helping the West.

But even if the issue of ground forces was unproblematic, it remains worryingly vague what their mission would be. Is it an operation to destroy troops? To disable infrastructure? Or perhaps just to remove military leaders? The prime minister hardly provided a clear answer when he claimed military action was about “transition” rather than regime change.

In fact, when all is said and done, there appears to be very little hard strategy to these proposals of military action at all apart from a sense that Britain would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with France. It is a touching and understandable gesture, but misguided nevertheless.

Of course, there should be some kind of response to the horrific bloodshed in Paris and elsewhere – the prevention of Gulf states delivering weapons to Iraq and Syria and the closure of Turkey’s border would be a start. But channelling the white hot anger and pain caused by Isil’s brutal and cowardly actions into bombing raids will, in the long term at least, only serve to benefit the terrorists.

It must be remembered that Isil are a creature of war, born of war. They feed on fear and bloodshed. Their strategy consists of destroying the grey zones of a multi-cultural and tolerant society – summed up succinctly by numerous Parisians who described the nightmarish events of November 13 as an “attack on our way of life”. By creating the crude and bloody binary opposition of war, we give Isil exactly what they want.

The PM, who is thought likely to call a vote on airstrikes this week, said he will only do so if he is sure the motion will not be defeated by Conservative rebels, the SNP and a split Labour Party. To lose he said, would be to hand “a publicity coup to Isil”.

But on the contrary, to send our jets to Syria would be to repeat previous mistakes and to walk straight into a trap set and baited by Jihadists – answering appalling acts of violence with retaliatory bombs, a tactic that invariably ends up killing innocent people and creating fresh recruits for the terrorist cause, whichever banner they are fighting under.

Military action of this kind does not strike a blow for the fallen of Paris, Egypt, Bangladesh or Russia. Instead it turns each attack from an isolated and unjustifiable horror into part of a successful Isil campaign.

We cannot let this happen, we cannot let them win.

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