Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"Gonna lay down my sword and shield..."

British air strikes on Syria could leave innocent civilians’ lives endangered.
A lack of British air strikes on Syria could leave innocent civilians’ lives endangered.
Either way, whatever our MPs vote on Wednesday evening - and it now looks even more of a foregone conclusion, hence the fact the debate is even happening - there is no idealistic, winner-takes-all option.
As was put, not simply by the headline on this visit to Syrian refugee camps two long years ago, but people much more engaged there at the time and right now even more emphatically: there seem no answers, simply questions.
And more and more questions, all the time, as it has since turned out - with the bombardment of his own people by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad not replaced but critically complemented by the terror-fying rise of Islamic State.

Metro return to the Lebanese-Syrian border looms next week, following on from on-the-ground experiences in the immediate aftermath of the last Commons vote on Syria military action.
Way back when, David Cameron’s hopes of bombing Assad - and, as it turned out, Barack Obama’s aims as well - were stymied by a lost parliamentary vote.
Then-Labour leader Ed Miliband has taken much of hawks’ blame since then, although responsibility - for good or otherwise - also rests with various majority-denying, leader-defying Tory rebels.
And not even Mr Miliband then expected the prime minister to respond to such a brief setback by sweepingly writing off any prospect of military strikes at all.
So, no wonder Mr Cameron - even when fortified this time by a slim Tory majority rather than dependent coalition rule - should want to wait until assured of not only a vote in favour but emphatically so.
Unlikely new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ultimate decision - or enforced ‘decision’ - on Monday to allow not just his back- but frontbenchers a free vote only aided the PM’s prospects.
Not that this admirably consistent peace campaigner, thrust into the role of Opposition leader despite many MPs’ - and maybe his own - hopes, would be expected to agree. Nor indeed, expect.
And - as suggested by his loyal ally and shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott had indicated mere hours before when put up to BBC duty and dismissing a ‘free vote’ - nor was the diplomatically-described outcome of a heated shadow cabinet meeting ideal.
For all that Mr Corbyn’s fervent fans suggest some of Tuesday morning’s headlines were unfairly freighted, this biased correspondent here would insist that they - and the Metro one especially, natch - could be deemed fair enough.
Why, it described - so far as a headline, by its very nature, can - the situation, while hopefully the work of those pesky subs would be but a pointer towards the fuller words beneath.
Jeremy Corbyn announced his Labour MPs rwould have a free vote on Syria military action.
David Cameron then announced MPs would have a vote on Syria military action.
Evidently feeling he could finally have not only the majority suggested by the Tories’ 12-seat win last May but one emphatic enough - and despite backbench rebellions of his own - to support any such intervention. Intervention? No, bombing, sure.
As suitable to someone who grew up most loving the songs of John LennonPhil Ochs, or folk tunes such as ‘Study War No More’, being depicted here as a warmonger feels tough.
And apologies to a conshie great-grandfather whose little Bristol workshop was blown up by naturally-patriotic folk who just didn't get his intended message.
Both sides, agreed - up to a point, Lord Copper.
Have written previouslyfar more dove-ishly than hawkishly. And on Syria, an’ all.
Though have found, way over there, people surprisingly keen to see us Brits, well, invade. 
One Metro page from first on that Lebanese-Syrian border provoked allegations of cynical war-mongering. And yet that’s just what people there were saying, in refugee camps or indeed in makeshift refuges such as hidden basements or patches of field while covered by torn-down advertising hoardings.
The message then, two years ago, rocket-attacked by Assad and everything, was dominated by how much people wished to just, well, return home. While konowing they couldn’t ... for now. But maybe some time, soon, somehow?
Unfortunately, not. And the rise of IS has only made everything worse - while 10million displaced become not only refugees in the surrounding nations but so desperate to escape they will risk their lives on death-plunge boats. 
Why, how tempting could any of them be to a mere economic migrant?
Memories linger here still of individuals, the other year.
Families forced from their homes and in their millions into neighbouring nations such as Lebanon and Jordan - in mortal fear of Assad and his everyone.
Five-year-old Nour stared out, while father-of-six Adhma Al-Hamwi told Metro: ‘What have these children done to deserve to be abandoned like this?’
Two years on, not only does his brutal government still pose the ongoing threat, but the militant forces of so-called IS have emerged as even more bloodthirsty tormentors.
Way way back then, Barack Obama and David Cameron had mooted idea of air attacks against Assad installations.
But both countries stepped back from such an option - having both given Assad neat notice to shift munitions elsewhere and given Syrian refugees hope of help only to feel disappointed.
Maybe rocket attacks today could do the kind of targeting once promised - only this time against IS.
After all, the RAF today insisted their past two weeks’ anti-IS across the Syrian border in Iraq have killed nor injured a grand total of ... no civilians. Similarly insist the French.
Of course, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies: ‘Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?’
And, sure, military or governmental assurances over casualties of any stripe will invariably be partial.
Why, witness how - for all the unavoidable and tragic-each-time revelations of British military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq - figures for how many thousands of troops suffered life-transforming injuries often remained opaque.
Still, France - maybe understandably - goes on attempting to wallop IS capabilities in Syria - 20 rockets pounding down per Sunday night, albeit meagre against the 100 each day during Iraq’s ‘shock and awe’.
Yet what happens next - or ought to happen next - is, for all the frothing punditry, pretty much anyone’s guess. 
The one and only easy answer may well be that there is no one and only easy answer. If any answers at all.
French insistence their latest raids are precision-targeting only IS stockpiles, arms routes and HQs are to be welcomed - with instinctive misgivings, mind, about civilians being killed as well, even if IS capital Raqqa has been well and truly ransacked already.
The attacks do, however, pose questions of why - if such capabilities were known - they have stayed unhit during previous months, even if the recaptures of key areas such as Sinjar last month suggest IS is actually on the defensive as well as sporadic attack.
What little the rest of us without key codes or influence can do is only too limited, whatever our many opinion-forming. 
So: emotions, instead.
Ah, but still. 
‘Something must be done’ is such a cliche.
‘Something must not be done’ is an instinct, with plenty of virtue towards it.
But IS will still exist, either way.
And, for all our Western liberal knuckle-gnawing, they are a pretty evil and unreachable and nevertheless lethally dangerous phenomenon, going nowhere fast.
Whatever happens next, the world may or may not change.
A terror attack on Britain could well follow, as has happened towards IS-bombing Russia and France - and yet also, elsewhere, in ‘war on terror’-notional nations such as Bangladesh and Tunisia.
Inevitable as all our splenetic divisions are, however, it feels dispiriting and depressing if no nuances are permitted.
The idea that all those even considering backing air-strikes are evil war-mongerers is as damaging as writing off all those with further concerns as no-good, other-worldly hippies.
Debate, by all means.
Abuse and attack? Well, go for it.
But surely better reflect on how best to tackle - and effectively strike - and safeguard...
Foreign policy has been described as the art of choosing the least-worst option of all bad ones available.
Few examples are as definitive as Syria right now, though small humanitarian aid-zone solutions could yet improve the lives of many.
As for the rest - well, that’s what we elect MPs for, eh...
So, to answer your question ...
I dunno.

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