Dropping bombs in a moral quagmire

SHOULD Britain join the air campaign against Isis in its Syrian strongholds? This is debateable – except that, in a strict sense, it isn’t.

David Cameron only wants to commit to a Parliamentary vote on this matter when he knows he can win. So there won’t be much to debate – just a desire to set about “smashing the bastards” as one Tory MP with a military background told Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer last Sunday.

Nothing about this matter comes without qualifications. The prime minister sought and failed to secure Parliamentary approval for airstrikes against Syria in 2013, and the experience was raw. Now he only wants to hold a debate he can win – officially because a second defeat would present Isis with a propaganda present wrapped in a nice democracy bow. But also because it would be a personal humiliation for Cameron, so he wants a non-debating debate. What in other circumstances you might call a fix-up.

Traditionally the outcome of a debate depends on the passion and skill of the speakers on the day – not on massaging everything beforehand so that the debate goes in the desired direction.

Are airstrikes against Isis in Syria the answer? Nothing about this question is straightforward, unless you belong to the ‘bomb the bastards’ contingent. And plenty of MPs on all sides do, although there are doubters in all parties too.

When David Cameron finally gets his no-debate debate, he will have a moral quagmire to cross. When he failed to win the last debate, the stated cause was to punish and remove Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Now the aim is to attack the Syrian dictator’s biggest enemy: so we’ve moved from punishing Assad to taking out his biggest opponent.

So Cameron will be balancing on some bristly tussocks as he crosses that quagmire. The bombs he now wants to drop will assist the man he previously swore to remove. Won’t that take a bit of explaining?

The atrocity in Paris has made Cameron’s job much easier. The desire to act against Isis is understandable – indeed, how could we not want to do something to help in the fight against these demented barbarians who believe they have divine sanction to kill whoever they wish?

Perhaps in the end that desire outweighs all others – outweighs all doubt too. David Cameron will certainly be hoping so, and his job is being made easier by the mounting hostility in the Labour Party to the pacifist leanings of their leader.

Jeremy Corbyn seems to lack support among his own MPs who feel embarrassed by his equivocations. In one sense this shows how difficult it is for a political leader to express pacifist views – or even own up to a doubt or two – amid the bellicose ranks of MPs. And that’s a great pity, yet pacifists in whatever shape have always been shouted down.

David Cameron insists that bombing Isis in Syria would make Britain safer at home – but the opposite could be true, with a retaliatory Paris-style attack being directed at London or another major city. Those who wish to drop more bombs have to admit that the actions they desire could in fact make life more risky for Britons. That’s not to say we shouldn’t bomb Isis, more that we should be open about the risks.

This pacifist-inclined man on a ledge generally disparages the ‘bomb the bastards’ contingent as being morally dubious. The trouble is the do-nothing alternative seems morally questionable too.

That’s why it’s a quagmire.

Well, at least we’re not being led into this marsh by a former TV PR man gifted with a different face for every occasion. Oh, hang on…

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