You asked me to get in touch with you and share my views on whether Parliament should authorise the bombing of Syria.
The real answer to that question is that I honestly don’t know.
Watching the news — seeing the Syrian people take to the streets against President Assad during the Arab Spring. Assad’s brutal intention and ability to grimly hang onto power through war against his own people, even as his peers fell. The request the Syrian rebels made for military help from overseas. The UK parliament’s vote against military action. The rise of ISIS. Their manipulation of the civil war in Syria and its power vacuum to build a territorial and ideological base. The streams of desperate Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean, fleeing a terrifying situation at home and arriving in a Europe which had no idea how to respond. The involvement of Russia in the Syrian civil war in an apparent pantomime of cold war or pre-first world war imperial politics played by proxy. ISIS’s attacks on the people of Paris, Beirut,Sharm el-Sheikh and the culture of Palmyra. — I am paralysed by feelings of horror, anger and frustration at the sheer waste of life.
Mr Corbyn, my first thought when you pose that question to me is to think that it is, in reality, only half the question. Do I support the bombing of Syria? Well surely it depends on what our aims are — I have heard people say it is to ensure the safety UK citizens. That’s still quite a leap — what change(s?) in Syria’s hugely complex situation is going to make me safer? The success of the Syrian rebels against Assad? The reinstatement of Assad to close the current power vacuum? Some notion of “defeat” of ISIS in that geographical location (surely for them to only move to the next unstable state?).
And what impact will any of these outputs have on the people of Syria, those who have chosen to stay as the refugees who have fled? Can I really sign up to any course of action, with the sole stated intention of making me safer, if it condemns others into ongoing misery and despair?
It is frustrating to see this debate carried out in way that focuses solely on the means without any serious discussion of the ends. As Leader of the Opposition (and indeed all politicians) I want you to help me understand what outcomes we should want for the region, what could we possibly and reasonably hope for out of such a complex, desperate situation? Is it possible for us to hope that we might improve the lot of the people of Syria, whilst at the same time making ourselves safer, at the same time putting no British troops at risk?
This seems too good to be true — I am not sure either bombing, or not bombing, ISIS in Syria can offer us all of these certainties. The bitter truth seems to be that any choice we make will end up in death for some.
Intrinsically I am a pacifist. Civil wars, clashes of identity, nationality and belief ultimately need a negotiated solution. However there seems to be no short term pacifist solution here. The Syrians are at war, ISIS are attacking international, civilian targets. British armed forces are already active against ISIS forces across the border in Iraq. To bomb ISIS in Syria is not to initiate a war, but to change our current involvement in an existing one.
And given that we are already involved in this war, then please let us be sure to win it. Let us spend time and effort debating what “winning” looks like. What does it look like for me and my safety? But also what does it look like for the people of Syria, and Iraq and frankly wherever ISIS go next. Because they will go somewhere next. They are a force without geographical boundaries — to fight them based on historical lines on maps seems archaic. This is a battle of ideas, of propaganda AND of bullets. It will be won by the Department for International Development as much as the Ministry of Defence.
In this context — are air strikes the right approach? I have no idea. I am not a military strategist. But I think we do need to fight, and I hope we can fight for our own safety and to improve the lot of the people of Syria. If that means that we put ourselves at risk of retaliatory terrorist strikes in the short term, I think it is a risk we need to take. It is nothing compared to the suffering of the Syrian people.