Issues surrounding the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Should UK forces be authorised to bomb so-called Islamic State terrorists in Syria? I may be asked to vote on this issue in the Commons shortly.

As ever, it’s a tough call.

The refugee crisis shows us how desperate things are in Syria. Who can blame those thousands of refugees trying to escape the horrors of a brutal civil war? Most of them are just like us, ordinary people who want a safe and secure life for themselves and their families.

And it truly is a brutal civil war. On the one hand is the Syrian government of President Assad. He has used chemical weapons on his people and still drops massive barrel bombs on to civilians from helicopters. He is a crony of President Putin of Russia. Two bedfellows most welcome to each other.

On the other side is Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state. These are a cruel, brutal, sectarian and above all fascist regime. The UK has a proud history of fighting fascism in Spain and Nazi Germany. There can be no negotiating with IS. We already use military force against them in Iraq. But while we recognise the international border between Iraq and Syria, IS does not. We can attack their fighters in Iraq but can’t pursue them across the border. For me it makes sense that we can take the fight to IS.

But then I ask myself, why always us? Why must it always be the UK to take on this responsibility? At some point, IS will be need to be defeated on the ground, and I am clear that there is no appetite in Britain for us to be involved in a ground conflict.

Indeed, the current situation was caused in part by the failure of the war in Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein - a war I opposed at the time – to be followed up with proper support to rebuild Iraq. So we have to ask, is another war going to make the situation any better?

If we bomb IS, will we also bomb the Assad government? Is attacking both sides in a civil war going to help? And how do we stop countries, like Qatar, from apparently funding IS?

Even in Chester we can’t ignore this debate. Whether it is helping refugees or facing the threat or terrorism, we can’t duck the issue much longer.


Showing 8 comments

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  • commented 2015-11-28 13:42:27 +0000
    Hang on, I just remembered! I did actually get a bit of experience of tyrants from fighting that pesky Sheriff of Nottingham! Although we did only have bows and arrows, and he didn’t have air support, so I don’t think it really counts, and it was such a long time ago…
  • commented 2015-11-28 13:35:15 +0000
    Should we bomb Syria? I’m really not the right person to ask here, honest! I have no experience of removing tyrants or rebuilding war-torn countries, or anything remotely close! I’ll try and recount my own (pityfull) understanding of the situation, as seen through the lens of a TV set, which will probably just show up how little I know, and how flawed my sources are.

    During the Arab Spring, Syrian idealists were marching through Damascus calling for Assad to stand down, saying that however much violence he used against them, they must surely win because he couldn’t possibly kill them all. Assad seems to have been trying to prove them wrong ever since. I remember there were calls for a Western enforced no-fly zone made at that time, along with charity appeals for refugees, as well as international missions to find and dispose of Assad’s chemical weapons. There was no major Western intervention though. At first the war seemed to be going with the rebels, but then it seemed to be going against them, and then ISIS appeared, apparently taking advantage of the conflict to sieze large amounts of territory, and carry out horrific attrocities. The story seems to be that ISIS came from Iraq, and grew out of the aftermath of the 2003 war there. They exploited the breakdown in Syria to advance their psychotic ideology, and increase their military power.

    I have very little knowledge of modern Syria, absolutely no first hand experience, and this was all pieced together from following the mainstream news sources. The only conclusions I can draw from it is that fighting dictators is difficult, especially if they have modern weapons, and also that war breeds more war and destroys countries. I also feel incredibly vulnerable to misinformation, as in I could watch a report on the BBC and conclude one thing, switch to Sky and conclude something completely different, flick onto Al Jazeera and get another view again, and then onto Russia Today to find out it was all an American conspiracy all along, and that capitalism is on the verge of collapse! I end up feeling a little bit like Charles I (the monarch who’s high-minded arrogance led to the British civil war of the 1640s), who historians say always used to agree with the last person he spoke to, since he was incapable of knowing his own mind. Maybe he was just the victim of a sustained misinformation campaign though, waged by his many advisors. Likewise today, all the various news outlets seem to be desperately trying to influence their audiences. There don’t seem to be any reliable sources anymore.

    So instead of relying on the news alone, I thought I’d try and watch some of today’s House of Commons debate (Thu 26th Nov), to see if it could ease any of my misunderstandings. It just left me feeling even more confused though. So now I really know how Charles I felt! No wonder he tried to get rid of you all!

    I was left with the following questions:

    Are we still talking about supporting the Arab Spring rebellion, and if so how realistic is this? To what extent are the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’ really free, Syrian, or an army? Is there any way we could assist them short of bombing? And if we were to support them with RAF airstrikes, would that bring us into conflict with the Russians? Is it possible that we could end up fighting WW3 against Putin, under the leadership of Donald Trump?

    Are we instead fighting ISIS, a new target who weren’t around in 2011, and effectively trying to keep the streets of Britain safe by dropping bombs on people in Syria? If so, how can this actually work? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on culturally-sensitive policing in the UK, and working with immigrant communities to counter the threat from home-grown terrorism? Wouldn’t that kind of thing be better?

    A lot was made in the Commons debate of the RAF’s capability for ‘precision bombing’, but doesn’t this depend on first knowing which targets to bomb? How are we supposed to find this out? Would we be using the same kind of methods the CIA were in their drone campain against Al Qaida in Yemen? And hasn’t this led to an all-out civil war? Surely if the wrong targets are chosen, that could increase the chance of terrorism in the UK, by converting more people to terrorist ideologies.

    If we are trying to keep Britain safe by bombing ISIS (as opposed to deposing Assad by supporting the ‘Free Syrian Army’), then won’t this mean we end up siding with Putin and Assad, joining some kind of coalition of totalitarianism? Doesn’t this coalition also include the two sworn enemies, Saudi Arabia and Iran? What happens if Israel wants to join as well? That could be a bit worrying! Maybe the PM thinks it’s an amicable coming together of all the world powers in the name of fighting terrorism, but then given the recent history of the Middle East, how long would it take for such a disparate coallition to fall apart? Does everyone even agree over who is a ‘terrorist’, and who is actually a ‘freedom fighter’? From what little I know of ISIS, they seem to have an apocalyptic vision that they’re fighting the war to end all wars at the end of time. We seem to keep playing into these lunatic’s hands, are we helping to make their nightmare vision come true?

    Last question, if the RAF are already bombing ISIS in Iraq, then doesn’t that satisfy the UK’s responsibilities to support our allies in the fight against ISIS? PM Cameron says we shouldn’t bother to respect the Iraq-Syria border, since ISIS don’t, but isn’t the difference a fundamental case of sovereign territory? As I understand this, the responsibilty for securing law and order within a tract of land falls to the sovereign government of that land. If the UK was to assist in this, then we would have to work alongside the respective, internationally recognized, sovereign governments. Whereas the Iraqi government is apparently on the side of ‘The West’ (regardless of what the Iraqi people think), the Assad regime seems to be more closely allied to Russia, with Assad being Russia’s own puppet dictator in the region. Since we’re already involved in Iraq, following the tragic 2003 invasion and all that came after, do we really want to get involved in Syria as well?

    The more I think about this the more I feel like Charles I, being drawn deeper into a conflict we should probably try harder to avoid! On reflection then, I think we should skip the bombing (for whatever my opinion’s worth), since there are too many questions, too many risks, and I’m not entirely sure that the PM is being completely honest about everything (so nothing new there).
  • commented 2015-10-15 19:28:40 +0100
    Finding out what is actually happening in Syria is virtually impossible. There are literally dozens of factions in this civil war. We have seen the same pattern repeated time and again when the oppressive regime is overthrown in a complex tribal society. In the West we apply our standards to countries whose customs and culture we don’t understand, nor do we want to understand. Most of the time it’s not clear what the USA and British policy is in the middle east. It is a sobering thought that all the cost in lives, property, environment and human suffering on a vast scale has not produced any stated objectives by the Western powers. Certainly the terrerist threat is now much worse than 5 years ago. I am with Jeremy Corbyn on not making more of the same mistakes that were made in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Until a coherent international agreement is reached on dealing with ISIS, British policy should be directed to bringing together a broad based coalition to counter ISIS and that includes Russia. Depriving ISIS of weapons, ammunition and funding will be more effective than dropping bombs.
  • commented 2015-10-01 18:48:13 +0100
    The situation has become more complicated since Chris opened this discussion as a result of Russia beginning its bombing campaign. This has not been directed against ISIS but seeks to shore up the Asad regime by hitting other opposition groups – and in the event has mostly hit civilians, including one community that was in the process of rebuilding their homes after intense bombing by the regime 18 months ago.
    I agree with Matthew’s conclusions – although not the way he reaches it. There is no danger of clashing with Russia in bombing ISIS, because Russia is coordinating (at least informally) its operations with the western coalition. The problem is that if Britain joins in the bombing it will effectively be allied with Russia and therewith the Asad regime – the main perpetrator of crimes against humanity in Syria. That is not a place for a democratic country to be. Its a complicated situation – but I would suggest starting from the Hippocratic oath – “First do no harm”. And that means staying out of this confused operation.
  • commented 2015-09-30 20:16:15 +0100
    Bombing ISIS will not work in my opinion. ISIS needs ammunition to fuel it’s soldiers and so by bombing them they can say that innocent Muslims have been killed and you should join us in fighting back. This is the case in both Iraq and Syria. Syria has an extra layer of complexion to it by having the huge possibility of us bombing Assad’s forces and possibly Russian forces. Fighting both sides of a civil war will just end up in an even worse stalemate and we could easily catch Russian forces within the bombing raid.
  • commented 2015-09-22 19:31:35 +0100
    Thanks Chris for opening the discussion over this important issue. Its not quite accurate to refer to “both sides in a civil war”. There are at least three “camps” in this conflict : the Assad regime and its allies ; ISIS; and the rest of the armed opposition to Assad. The latter are opposed to both to ISIS and Assad, and have been far more effective in defeating ISIS militarily than anyone.
    However you calculate it, by far and away the most destructive of these forces is Assad – in terms of neighbourhods and habitations destroyed, innocent civilians killed, or detainees arbitrarily held and tortured. If we look at the last two years (roughly the lifetime of ISIS). ISIS is responsible for about 1400 civilian deaths; the regime for at least 85 000. Another way of putting it is that the Assad regime is responsible for some 95% of the death and destruction in Syria. If we have a humanitarian concern for the Syrian people – or even just a pragmatic concern about the causes of the refugee flight – what is the point of focusing on a minor player like ISIS while ignoring the real cause of the problem? I would not support Britain joining operations against ISIS as long as there is not a serious effort to protect the Syrian people from the attacks of the regime (via a No Fly Zone or some similar arrangement). Indeed a one-sided intervention is likely to backfire, since it will allow ISIS to make the claim that we are supporters of the regime and they are the protectors of the Sunni community.
  • commented 2015-09-17 16:21:54 +0100
    When did war in the middle east solve anything?
    Do we not remember history?
    I do not have an answer but it has to start with Palestine and yes it will mean talking to people whose views we do not agree with.
    I agree that we have to look to how ISIS are being funded and apply pressure there.
    Also if we do nothing about the refugee crisis now we are creating even more crises for future generations.
    Jackie Davis
  • published this page in Debating Corner 2015-09-17 13:45:44 +0100