I have no more love for ISIL than the Prime Minister. Like him, I would rather live in a world where there are no extremist groups using violence to gain power over worried and damaged communities. I wish him well with his wider strategy for tackling extremism.
I do however have the same reservations about bombing Syria as I did when I wrote to him with others when he last wanted to do it. We urged him not to.
Bombing remains a blunt weapon, for all the improvements in tracking and aiming technology. Whilst with modern intelligence and bomb aiming it is possible to kill more of the people you want to kill whilst killing fewer of the people you do not wish to kill, you can still end up killing the wrong people. In what is a war for hearts and minds as well you also leave yourself open to claims that you have killed bystanders and civilians, and open to extremists themselves killing others and claiming you did it. You also create martyrs of the dead in the eyes of those who support them, which can enable them to recruit replacements for those you kill.
It is not realistic to suppose you can kill enough of the extremists by bombing to get them to give up. They are too widely dispersed and too embedded in the civilian populations to allow easy success from the air. That’s why various military experts say bombing has be part of an invasion or wider campaign. In the end you only destroy ISIL power by fighting house to house and killing them or forcing them to retreat. This can be done, but you end up killing a lot of the civilian population you are trying to liberate. Most people agree that US and UK soldiers should not be asked to do this. You leave open the question of how then do you help the legitimate government establish proper control? Where the government is the government of Syria, you are left with the moral dilemma of do you want to help Assad re establish control over the country? If not, how do you also arrange for his defeat? What would you replace both ISIL and Assad with? How would the new government after a brutal war to gain enough control be able to unite the country and create successful peaceful administration?
The other problem I have with bombing ISIL is they are not the only nasty group to dislike. The UK has banned or condemned a long list of organisations. What about Boko Haram? Al Nusra? Abu Nidal? Adu Abyan? Abu Sayyah? Al Qaeda? Ansar al Sharia? -just to name a few from the A and B items on lists of such organisations. Extremism is a multi headed monster. Bombing one part of it has so far not ended or controlled it.
Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Defence who would take over the government of parts of Syria if Coalition forces are successful in displacing ISIL? He did not seem to want the current government of Syria led by Assad to do that. There’s more to creating better government than bombing some evil men.