I like to think I look at everything in the round, trying to see both the good and the bad.
I have always been anti-war.
I have always believed that disputes can be resolved by reasonable people sitting down and negotiating, or discussing their differences.
I have always believed that most actions have both a cause and an effect, even if these are not obvious at first glance.
Some months ago in this blog. I wrote that the time had come for the World to declare war on ISIS. That their acts were barbaric. That there was no place in the world for barbarism. That we could not sit back and watch.
We created a body the United Nations which was above all Nations to regulate relations between nations and countries. In this body we defined what was legitimate war. A concept that still sits uncomfortably with me as I don't believe any war is legitimate. However, we defined that it was legitimate to take up arms in self defence, that any invasion of foreign territory required a United Nations Security Council resolution, that it was legitimate to respond to a request for help from a legitimate government of another nation.
Unfortunately we never defined any punishment to a nation that broke those rules. Unfortunately we granted too much power to the major nations in giving them the power to veto.
For all it's failings the United Nations still represents a higher law to which all countries are subject.
In the past two and a half decades we have consistently undermined that higher law and attempted to rewrite it by creating precedents. Bosnia, Iraq and Libya for example. We approached Bosnia on a humanitarian basis without any attempt at United Nations validation. Iraq we used fancy language to invoke undefined “further consequences”, and then decided on our own that Iraq was not cooperating with the United Nations weapons inspectors and acted as Judge, Jury and Executioner. We have attempted to salve our conscience on a basis of “the end justifies the means”. Throughout history we have seen that this is always fallacious.
What was the end?
Similarly with Libya we persuaded Russia to support a motion in the Security Council that was open to interpretation, and oh, what a mess we have left! An ungovernable region with radical groups forming as fast as any oil comes out of Libya.
Russia will not support us when we have a record of using words that, say one thing and mean another.
Is Afghanistan, where we used the excuse of “self defence”, any better?
To quote Karzai, outgoing president, "We don't have peace because the Americans didn't want peace. If America and Pakistan really want it, peace will come to Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners. But Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war."
With over 30000 civilians killed during the 13 years, the Taliban undefeated, I do not doubt that we have created, yet another breeding ground for radicalisation.
Where does this leave us?
We are now once again engaged in a war, partially at the request of the Iraq government but partially illegitimately in Syria as well. Whether we say our bombing will only be in Iraq, if our action enables the USA to spend more effort on Syria, are we not simply an accessory where any innocent lives they take can be placed at our feet as well?
Now I called for a declaration of war against ISIS, and I still believe this right, but in the context of the world declaring war. We say we cannot get Russia or China to desist from vetoing, yet this seems only to be the case if we exclude Syria from being party to the resolution. If the resolution was clear that action in Syria excluded any attempt to overthrow the Syrian government of al-Assad, then I have no doubt that Russia would agree and China probably abstain from voting.
What is our problem with al-Assad?
He is both the de-jure and de-facto head of the Syrian Government. We might not like him for his support of Iran and his opposition to Israel, that is not enough reason to overthrow him. We might suspect him of using chemical weapons against his people … United Nations never made a judgement on this, can we be so sure that radical elements in the opposition to the Syrian government who we were arming (in contravention of base International Law), we have now seen just how barbaric some of these people are.
Only the most naïve amongst us would not recognise that Israel is one of the biggest problems in the middle east.
Perhaps I should quote from the address by Rouhani (Iranian President) to the United Nations yesterday. It was a fairly wide ranging indictment of the West, but one of the most balanced I have ever listened to.
“Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of madmen, who now spare no one. Currently our peoples are paying the price. Today’s anti-Westernism is the offspring of yesterday's colonialism. Today's anti-Westemism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism.”
“The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle-East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists. Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East.”
He spoke also of the shared core values of all religions but particularly the three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That these radicals were not followers of Islam, of how our media in branding them so were perpetuating Islamaphobia in the west. He denounced them for fighting in the name of religion.
He said that the situation could only be resolved by the people of the region without intervention from the west. That the collateral damages of our actions would only build hatred and breed extremism in the region.
Whether we can ever achieve cooperation between Israel and it's neighbours is highly questionable, however undoubtedly the radicalisation of Muslims will continue as long as Israel bombards Gaza and we in the West continue to say tut tut. The more we interfere with the internal affairs of countries in the middle east, by arming rebels for example, the more radicalisation will grow.
Radicalisation begins with a single statement;
“See what they are doing/have done to our brothers”
We need to remove the ability of radicals to point a finger at our actions.
Our best counter to the radical movements would be to start trying to undo some of the harm we have perpetrated in the past. We could begin by persuading Israel to start rebuilding all that it has destroyed in Gaza. We could consider making reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan for the collateral damage during our invasions. We could insist that western companies to hand back to the Iraq government control of the various oil facilities we took over after the Iraq war.
While I still believe that the world needs to declare war on ISIS, I am persuaded by Rouhani, that it should not have direct Western involvement. That foremost we need to start undoing some of the wrongs of our past behaviour, while providing all the nations of the region with the support that enables economic growth, promoting a sense of wellbeing and cooperation in the region.