I have mixed feelings about increased UK military action against ISIS. On one hand, I am acutely aware of the privilege by the UK n the West pseudo-left taking calling for a pacifist position. It is easy for the left to critique military assaults when ISIS are not knocking on your door. There is a distinct human cost to not militarily confronting Daesh – looking at ISIS’s nostalgia for a glorious past, celebration of violent masculinity, and inability to deal with difference inside controlled areas, it looks a lot like an aggressively expansionist proto-fascist regime.
Further, attempts to make equivalences between the UK’s currently proposed interventions and 2003-style occupation can be naive, and frankly, more to do with Western ignorance of Middle Eastern politics than legitimate objection “military intervention by right wing leaders in Middle East? must be bad!” Simply because Daesh arose from a power vacuum created by Western imperialism does not mean it should therefore be militarily ignored. Likewise, concerns about Saudia Arabia’s role in feeding Wahhabism are correct, and should be addressed. But I once again return to the privilege of pacifism – one can and should address the ultimate causes for ISIS, while dealing with its proximate consequences.
On the other hand (and my hands are getting heavy now), there are some obvious issues with feeding extremism through indiscriminate bombing. As far as I can tell (and I am not an expert), support for Kurdish forces on the ground in the north has been a largely successful in terms of collateral damage (note that the map is six months out of date now).
I worry that Kurds have control of limited areas of Syria, support is often geopolitically blocked due to Turkey, and that this intervention, in light of Paris, is more about appeasing moral sentiments and countering Russian influence. The rhetoric and outrage over Paris as an attack against “humanity” nauseates me because it reinforces the idea that humanity lives in the West, and that ISIS vs. NATO is a struggle between civilization (West) and barbarians (everyone else). Timed with the refugee crisis, it taps into middle-class fears of hordes of Others on the borders.
This is a toxic reproduction of neo-con fantasies and a (flipped) version of Daesh’s ideology. Critically, any victory against ISIS will be political. These discourses help justify the very ideologies that they purport. As mentioned above, one can and should address the ultimate causes for ISIS, while dealing with its proximate consequences. I fear that military intervention will nominally address the proximate, at the cost of the ultimate.
Then there is material difficulties of bombing in urban areas. Strikes on oil supply lines deep in ISIS territory is one thing, but urban centres, like Aleppo and Homs is another. Cities are geopolitical cluster-fucks. Multi-fronted urban warfare where front-lines are intangible and alliances constantly moving is difficult at the best of times, let alone when you have little presence on the ground. These are areas where air-based military action, in any conflict, is difficult to achieve without large amounts of ground intelligence.
And so, in response to “should the UK militarily intervene against ISIS”, I’m mostly “Huh???” It is difficult, and perhaps naive, to sum up opposition or support for the the UKs proposed plan in a single yes or no position. I can neither condemn nor condone air strikes in general, although I can point to specific parts of both discourse and action that I like/dislike. Compared to many strident commentators, at least this is honest.
[Edits based on comments]