For weeks Cameron has trailed a speech that would set out a comprehensive strategy for Syria, and for tackling Isis. He delivered that today and in a piece of party loyalty, or toadying, Crispin Blunt from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee gave it his limited blessing. Why – where was the strategy that the select committee had demanded? The talks in Vienna might be making progress but there was absolutely nothing new in what Cameron said, and no attempt to substitute political for wishful thinking. Less than a week after Turkey shot down a Russian plane, and its pilots apparently killed by Turkoman irregulars, it beggars belief that he did not address the politics of the multi-sided civil war.
Cameron is pinning his hopes on Kurdish forces and the free Syrian Army. But the Turks, who support the Turkoman irregulars and the Free Syrian Army in opposition to Assad are bitterly opposed to a Kurdish state in Syria and/or Iraq and are engaged in their own long running war with the Kurds. The Free Syrian Army, which is the weakest of the military forces, is actually an umbrella sheltering many different factions, about half of which according to some US military sources are ‘extreme Islamist groups’. If they were to succeed Syria might quickly look like Libya. Russia has made its choice, supporting Assad against Isis and the Free Syrian Army. Britain’s ‘allies’ Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Islamist opposition to Assad while doing little about supposed hostility to Isis. What is Cameron hoping to achieve by sending more bombers into the Syrian labyrinth? As long as allies are bitterly divided – indeed at war with one another – there is zero chance of a political settlement and a political settlement is what is required.
It is sometimes said that doing nothing can be worse than intervening; in Syria doing nothing would be infinitely preferable! In fact, there is plenty to do: put a stop to the Syrian civil war, in the first instance a cease fire involving the Syrian state and all those opposed to Assad who do not support Isis. Some of the present opposition would probably throw in their lot with Isis; we would be better for knowing who they are. Though this does not depend on the first step, an end to armed clashes between Turkey and the Kurds, with negotiations opened on self-determination for the Kurds. Third, serious pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to end support for Islamist extremists in the Middle East and funding for Islamist extremists in the West, including Britain.
The only lasting peace will be built by the people of the region. Britain should be sending peace brokers and politicians, not bombers.