Paul Mason writes: Isis attacked civilians irrespective of their position on Islam or imperialist war; it attacked, specifically, symbols of a secular, liberal lifestyle. It did these things because that is what it is fighting: the west, its people, their values and their lifestyle.
In formulating the UK’s response – with or without Nato – the problems are large. The electorate mistrusts offensive military action. It fears – rightly on the basis of the evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan – that expeditionary warfare creates mainly chaos, opening a space for sectarian conflict, jihadism and killing civilians. Western electorates have no taste for the kind of allies we would need to reimpose the old “order” on the territories Isis operates in. Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are not only serial human-rights violators; they have each proved ready to attack those fighting Isis – the Kurds and the secular resistance.
But the biggest challenge comes if you imagine what victory would look like. Isis-held territory being reoccupied by armies that, this time, can withstand the suicide bombings, truck bombs and kidnappings that a defeated Isis would unleash. Mosques and madrassas across the region stripped of their jihadi preachers. A massive programme of economic development focused on human capital – education, healthcare and institution building – as well as physical reconstruction. Nonsectarian, democratic states in Iraq and Syria and an independent Kurdistan state spanning parts of both countries. To achieve this you would need to unleash surveillance, policing and military action on a scale that could only be acceptable to western electorates if carried out with a restraint and accountability not shown in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The alternative is to disengage, contain Isis, deal with the refugees and try to ignore the beheading videos.
In reality, this question is only really posed for three countries that have the power diplomatically and militarily to take significant action: Britain, France and the US.
But that’s not the main question Isis posed last Friday. The main question is the one John Maynard Keynes threw at Britain’s political leadership in 1939: what is the world going to look like when we win?
By answering this, the British and American populations were persuaded to endure total war in the fight against Nazism. So the question now is not how many bombs we want to drop on the HQ of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It is: what do we want at the peace conference, and what will our own society look like after the struggle is over? [Continue reading…]