Jeff Smith

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Air strikes on ISIL targets in Syria

Many constituents have contacted me to ask my position on the government proposal for air strikes against Isil targets in Syria. I wanted to lay out my thinking at this point ahead of the parliamentary debate and vote.

A number of colleagues who've been MPs for many years have told me that this is the most difficult decision they've ever faced. It is a fine judgement call, and it's not one I'm going to make lightly. I will continue to look with an open mind at the case presented by the government and at other evidence; consider the advice of experts on the issue (including Syrian people); and consider the many representations I am receiving from constituents and others. There are further briefings and discussions taking place over the next two days before the debate itself.

Authorising military action is the most serious decision an MP can make and deserves to be treated as such. Those who characterise it as a purely political Tory v Labour issue are being unhelpful. The socialist president of France has asked the UK government to join action. There will be Conservative MPs who will vote against. This is more important than party politics.

Similarly, those who are trying to reduce it to a question of support for the Labour leadership are wrong to do so. If I vote against, it won't be because of support for Jeremy Corbyn, just as if I voted in favour it wouldn't be because of support for David Cameron. This is a decision that MPs will have to live with for the rest of our lives. I will make my decision because I think it's the right thing to do.

Neither does either side of the argument have a monopoly on principle. I have decent, thoughtful colleagues who will be voting for and who will be voting against increased military action - in either case it's because they think it's the best way to help save lives and end conflict in the long term. Both decisions deserve to be respected because I know they will not be made lightly.

Isil are a group of fascists who have committed mass murder in recent weeks in Tunisia, Ankara, Paris, Sinai and Beirut. They have been behind seven thwarted attacks in the UK, and they will undoubtedly try to strike here again. They target Muslim people as viciously as non Muslims. The question is not whether their poisonous ideology and murderous activities should be stopped, but how.

It's generally agreed that there needs to be an approach which includes diplomatic, political, and economic as well as military action. We also need a comprehensive humanitarian plan to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as a thorough reconstruction plan.

For those who say we shouldn't get dragged into military action, it needs to be pointed out that we are already involved - carrying out air strikes against Isil targets in Iraq. They have made a difference to the campaign against Isil, and minimised civilian casualties. The government are now proposing we extend air strikes to Isil targets in North Eastern Syria. The  language of people who refer in very general terms to "the bombing of Syria" is very unhelpful. No one is proposing indiscriminate bombing of Damascus. There are specific Isil military and economic activities around Raqqah which are proposed to be targeted. There is a logic to extending the strikes against Isil which are currently taking place in Iraq to the same targets across a border which Isil do not recognise and does not effectively exist.

I am not opposed to military action in principle. I agree that a strong moral and legal case for action has been made. United Nations Security Council resolution 2249 calls on all member states to take "all necessary measures" to tackle the "unprecedented" threat of Isil.   But the key question now is whether the government's plan for action in Syria is likely to work, and to do more good than harm. That is where I have concerns.

Based on briefings we've received, I believe that UK aircraft would add to the coalition strike capability. But it's clear that this will not defeat Isil without a wider military strategy, including ground troops. David Cameron has rightly ruled out the possibility of UK troops on the ground. The government has said there are 70,000 Sunni fighters who can make up a ground force. This seems to me a very unconvincing claim. These fighters are in a large number of disparate groups many of whom are focused on fighting the Assad regime. They do not look like a coherent potential ground force. And without a wider military strategy that includes ground troops, air strikes in isolation will not defeat Isil. It may be a gesture of support and solidarity with our allies that brings its own dangers.

In my view there is a real risk of Isil using an escalation of military activity to boost their (effective) propaganda war. In 2003 I argued that action in Iraq would lead to increased radicalisation. Unfortunately I was correct. While this is a quite different situation to 2003 Iraq, it's important to learn the lessons of past mistakes. My worry is that Isil will exploit escalated action to further add to their narrative of a growing world war between the west and Islam. This is a particular concern if an attack goes wrong and there are significant civilian casualties. This danger of increased radicalisation, and playing into Isil hands, is one that needs to be taken seriously into account.

The political and diplomatic strategy also needs further development. The chaos that Bashar Al-Assad has reaped in Syria has been a key factor in driving people into the arms of Isil. There are Syrian people whose judgement I trust who tell me that we can't defeat Isil without removing Assad. The way to remove him is not through military action; there needs to be a negotiated transition plan to a post Assad Syria. While I welcome the progress at the discussions in Vienna, I'm not convinced the plan is yet sufficiently advanced. Until we have a coherent plan that will lead to a ceasefire in the civil war, moderate Sunnis who are fighting the regime will surely not be part of the ground force that is necessary to defeat Isil. And without a coordinated ground force, air strikes alone run the risk of being counter productive.

These are complex issues that MPs have to take into account in making a judgement. There is no easy answer. In making a decision, I will continue to consider representations and evidence, and will wait to see the wording of any proposed motion. But while I am not against further military action in principle, I am yet to be convinced that the case for this action is made.

Reactions

commented 2015-12-18 01:16:11 +0000
I recommend to everyone the brilliant and scrupulous analysis by medialens at

http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/808-the-new-mccarthyism-keep-the-war-versus-stop-the-war.html

regarding the unrelenting McCarthyite campaign of media slurs against Jeremy Corbyn, the Stop the War Campaign, and anyone on the left who opposes the current military intervention. This campaign is now so shamelessly dishonest that when a former diplomat or establishment analyst remarks that “the inevitable blowback [of the airstrikes] on our streets will be severe” such a remark is reported without comment by the media, whereas when US journalist Chris Floyd wrote a piece making essentially the same point which was posted on the Stop the War Campaign’s website, the hysterical screams of “terrorist sympathisers” from the warmongers and their hirelings were so threatening that the piece was removed from the Stop the War website. In my opinion Stop the War’s decision to remove the piece was itself an act of moral cowardice, albeit understandable cowardice in the current environment. This disgraceful episode does not augur well for the future of free speech in our country.
commented 2015-12-06 14:53:41 +0000
50’000 Yezedis were saved on Sinjar mountain through air strikes , thousands saved in Kobone . Heavy weapons are being hidden because of air strikes it’s absolutely clear air strikes save lives, possibly 300 people accidentally killed by allied planes but maybe 100’000 lives saved it’s a no brainier air strikes are saving lives
commented 2015-12-05 23:58:18 +0000
Jeff – you chose not to interact with the people who tried to interact with you. Shame on you.
commented 2015-12-04 01:30:49 +0000
I agree with this Jeff but was saddened by the number of members on both sides who characterised the vote as for taking action or no action. Even worse than taking no action is taking the wrong action. Tory MP Julian Critchley gave the best speech I heard which totally deconstructed Cameron’s case. I cannot understand how Benn got the plaudits.
commented 2015-12-03 19:04:35 +0000
Thanks for your vote, Jeff
commented 2015-12-03 18:54:39 +0000
Well done for voting No. Sound reasons and an honest opinion.
commented 2015-12-03 17:21:50 +0000
Thank you Harriet. These are indeed difficult and scary times. I’ve never voted other than labour but after the previous Blair mistakes it has been an uncomfortable ride.
commented 2015-12-03 17:15:24 +0000
Wasn’t aimed at you, Mick – I thought you were somewhere quite near the vote!
commented 2015-12-03 17:04:30 +0000
Fair point Harriet!
I was very late posting but was getting increasingly angry listening on the car radio before getting back home late to my computer. Well done Jeff and thank you.
commented 2015-12-03 10:00:37 +0000
Thank you for not voting for further war. No good can come of this. We are now engaged in a long term war in which there will be no winners other than the IS propaganda regime. Why can we always find the money for war, but not for schools and hospitals?

I spent over 10 years not being able to vote for my labour MP as they had voted for the Iraq war. I am glad that I will still be able to vote for you at the next election.
commented 2015-12-03 09:35:30 +0000
I would like to commend you on voting “No” yesterday evening.
commented 2015-12-03 09:35:27 +0000
I would like to commend you on voting “No” yesterday evening.
commented 2015-12-03 09:09:26 +0000
Thank you for voting the right way
commented 2015-12-03 09:09:15 +0000
Nice one Jeff!!!!!
commented 2015-12-03 08:56:03 +0000
Thank you for voting the right way.
commented 2015-12-03 02:58:51 +0000
I too would like to thank you for having listened to rational argument and to the voices of your constituents, many of whom, as you will by now have realised, are increasingly well informed, despite the systematic attempts of the corporate media to suppress or distort salient facts.

The wise words of rebuke uttered today by the father of the House of Commons, Manchester MP Gerald Kaufmann, will come to haunt those who were foolish enough to be duped by the crude and mendacious imperial bombast of the warmongers:
“I am not going to be a party to killing innocent civilians for what will simply be a gesture.”
As the inevitable disastrous consequences of the terrible decision taken today unfold, and yet more innocent blood is shed, the people of this country will remember whom to hold accountable.
commented 2015-12-03 02:20:40 +0000
Threatening Jeff a couple of hours after the vote seems rather pointless. You can read the list here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2015/dec/02/syria-airstrikes-mps-debate-vote-cameron-action-against-isis-live#block-565f8399e4b05c30c3e4905f
commented 2015-12-03 02:06:03 +0000
Thank you for listening to your constituents, and taking so much time to think about the decision to vote no. Despite the defeat, I’m proud to have an MP that stands on the right side of history, and has acted in the best interest of people, both here and in Syria. Principled decisions matter more than reactionary, bloodthirsty and reckless ones. The ineffective bombing campaign that will regrettably follow will only prove you were right.
commented 2015-12-03 01:04:07 +0000
Vote? doubting. You will but if you vote yes I will do by best to vote you out. Xxx
commented 2015-12-02 21:59:08 +0000
I implore you to vote No please , Jeff
commented 2015-12-02 21:54:34 +0000
Vote no or lose my vote
commented 2015-12-02 21:06:34 +0000
As my representative in parliament please vote NO to airstrikes in Syria
commented 2015-12-02 20:34:33 +0000
commented 2015-12-02 19:51:28 +0000
As my representative in parliament please vote NO to airstrikes in Syria
commented 2015-12-02 18:39:59 +0000
Dear Jeff Smith MP,

As a long-term resident and registered voter in your constituency please vote NO to airstrikes in Syria during tonight’s vote.

What evidence exists to show that bombing “ISIS” will have the desired effect? In fact, what is the desired effect of this bombing? If it is to destroy a merciless terror group that is now embedding itself among civilians to avoid detection, then bombing ISIS will inevitably result in many civilian casualties.

Please demand that the Prime Minister and his government pursue non-violent alternatives to address the current geopolitical crisis caused by the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, ask Mr Cameron why the PM values his political and economic ties to the Saudi regime when their wealth has helped to support ISIS?

Committing to bombing Syria will not stop ISIS nor the country’s civil war; instead it will result in civilian deaths and global insecurities. Please vote NO.

Sincerely,

Dr Nicola Scott
commented 2015-12-02 17:31:36 +0000
Dear Jeff Smith,

As my representative in Parliament I urge you to vote NO to the motion today.
commented 2015-12-02 16:56:53 +0000
Dear Jeff Smith,

as my representative I urge you to vote against airstrikes in Syria. This will give you and the government time to figure out a solution to the conflict which won’t cause unneccesary deaths of civilians.

Sincerely,
Henrike Kraul
commented 2015-12-02 16:39:54 +0000
As my representative in parliament I would ask you to vote NO
commented 2015-12-02 15:59:20 +0000
Dear Jeff Smith MP
Thanks for your reply on this important issue. I accept it is not a simple question to deal with, and like you I am not a pacifist, but I am conviced that any escalation in military action will be counter productive and Isil will never be defeated militarily. They have powerful ideological and theocratical backers in the Middle East, not least in Saudi Arabia, a country with which our own elite share many corrupt and bizarre business and social relationships.
Unlike Isil we should remember that the Saudi Royal Family have control of a nation and are every bit as backward and every bit as brutal as ISil – and yet our establishment treats them with reverence. 151 official beheadings in 2015 and a big batch awaiting execution at this very moment. Why is Cameron not being taken to task on this?
Why no action against the Saudis?
There are many involved in selling Isil’s oil in the west who are allegedley on “our side”. Why no action against them?
It is my belief that political and economic action alone can solve this problem and bring to an end the mindless and inhumane abuse of the peoples of that region.
In many ways this issue is no more complex than that faced by Harold Wilson when asked by the USA to participate in the Vietnam War. He took a principled decision and history proved him to be right. It is my belief that the sooner Britain becomes a force for peace in the world the better, but now I’m in danger of setting my sights far too high, or am I?"
Yours
Malcolm Cowle.
commented 2015-12-02 15:49:46 +0000
I urge you, as my MP, to vote NO today. As you make reference above there is not a coherent argument nor strategy proposed that makes the case for us to engage in airstrikes within Syria. I firmly believe that this will not benefit people within Syria or the UK. Thank you also for having laid out your thinking on the issue. I trust that the views of your constituents, as demonstrated below (who seem to overwhelmingly wish you to vote NO), will be taken into account.
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