Tuesday 12 December 2017

Vote for war puts UK back at top table to eradicate jihadis

Isil forces move through a town in Northern Syria
Isil forces move through a town in Northern Syria

Con Coughlin in London

Now David Cameron has won parliamentary approval for joining coalition air strikes against Isil positions in Syria, finding sufficient numbers of RAF Tornados will be the least of his worries.

Having spent the past five years overseeing drastic cuts to the size and strength of Britain's armed forces, the UK government should hardly be surprised to find itself scratching around in search of serviceable warplanes for Syria.

Dr Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, reckons that Britain will only be able to add another two to four Tornados to the eight-strong force the RAF is already operating from Cyprus against Isil targets in Iraq.

It is hardly the kind of response that will have Isil's barbarians quaking in their boots. But at least it means that Britain can now retake its place at the top table and work with its allies to eradicate the Isil menace.

As Mr Cameron would be the first to admit, however, bombing is only likely to make a limited contribution to the broader coalition objective of destroying Isil. To achieve that goal, the consensus, among politicians and military folk alike, is that ground forces will be required. And that is the one area where, before yesterday's all-day Commons debate even began, looked to be the Achilles' heel in the UK prime minister's argument in favour of military action in Syria.

It is now generally accepted that, during the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003, Tony Blair's biggest mistake was to rely so heavily on the WMD issue to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. When the WMDs failed to materialise, the Left gleefully seized on the topic to pillory Mr Blair and claim the entire campaign was undertaken on a falsehood.

So far as the Syria vote is concerned, the constant bickering over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership means the Left has become an incoherent rabble. While Ken Livingstone witters on about deploying Chinese and Brazilian peacekeepers to tackle Isil - has anyone on Copacabana even heard of them? - his allies on the Left are so bereft of informed argument that they have been reduced to good, old-fashioned scaremongering, telling MPs that they will be responsible for "killing babies" if they back air strikes.

Lame and offensive remarks did not seem to make much headway, particularly as MPs on all sides of the House now seem to have satisfied themselves as to the rationale for extending British military operations from Iraq into neighbouring Syria. But even if the Left has lost this particular argument, that does not mean to say it has given up, and determined opponents of military action will be looking for any opportunity to claim that Mr Cameron, like Mr Blair before him, has taken Britain to war on a false pretext.

Within that context, Mr Cameron needs to tread with some care when he claims, as he did in the Commons last week when setting out the Government's case for military intervention, that, when it comes to using ground forces to defeat Isil, there are "70,000 Syrian opposition fighters" to work with. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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