So I have no problem with Cameron when he says that military action against ISIS is morally justifiable. My problem is that he doesn't appear to have thought clearly about what he intends to do, how he intends to do it, who he will ally with and what will happen after he has finished doing it. That is not a great combination, especially if you are the Prime Minister.
Before a Prime Minister takes us to war we are entitled to expect that he can tell us why the military action he is proposing to take will make the situation better. If our country is going to kill people in other countries then we need to be very sure that we won't end up making things even worse.
Put simply you don't have to be against all wars and a complete and total pacifist to be opposed to stupid ill thought out military action.
Dropping bombs on Syria fails any test of logic or common sense. Start first with the question of who you drop the bombs on. Where does your intelligence about targets come from? If it is from satellite observations then it is going to be pretty easy to mistake one vehicle for another. ISIS only needs to start painting red crescents on its vehicles or hide the odd weapon near a hospital and we could make some very bad mistakes that would be nearly fatal in the crucial propaganda war. If the intelligence comes from local tip offs then how do we know it is reliable? We learned in Iraq that local people don't always supply completely and totally objective neutral information to foreign forces. Sometime they try and settle old scores against neighbours with slightly different ethnicity or belief. Once again it is all too easy to end up bombing completely innocent people and providing a horrible propaganda victory for your enemies that does much more harm than good.
Even if you succeed in bombing the enemy and weakening them you cannot win any war without ground troops. You therefore need to be very clear about which forces on the ground you want to win and how they will work together to govern the country. There are only a limited number of options available to Cameron:
1. He could bomb those fighting Assad and work with the Russians. I don't think this is wise. Two years ago Cameron asked Parliament for permission to bomb Assad because he was using chemical weapons. Assad treated his people so badly that enough of them rose up against him to start this war. He ran a bad government that jailed, tortured and shot ordinary people for making the simplest complaints and then denied all chance of change through open and free elections. It is hard to see why we should use UK bombs to keep him in power even if he is considerably less of an evil force than ISIS.
2. He could bomb anyone fighting the Kurds in the hope that this would create at least one area of the country in which a reasonable government could be established. Unfortunately Turkey would do everything in its power to stop the creation of a Kurdish state on its borders. Which is going to be more powerful, UK bombers operating over some distance or Turkish arms supplies being leaked across a border to those fighting the Kurds? Without an agreement with Turkey on what areas of Syria the Kurdish forces should control it is highly likely that our military intervention will simply provoke an equal or more excessive military escalation from Turkey against those same Kurdish forces. It is also far from clear that Kurdish forces would be interested in losing a lot of fighters to occupy non Kurdish parts of Syria or would be welcome if they tried to.
3. He could drop bombs in favour of some other unspecified rebel groups. It this is the intention then it is far from clear which groups Cameron means to support and equally unclear that once in power the leaders of this group would behave any better to opponents and minorities than Assad does. None of the opposition groups seem to be squeaky clean liberals and none of them seem to be strong enough to control significant territory. Helping rebel groups of an uncertain nature to gain control over small areas of land does not sound like a worthwhile use of Britain's air power.
I don't know about you but none of these options sound good to me. Would you sacrifice any British airman's life in the pursuit of any of these strategies? Would you be prepared to watch images of Syrian children blown up by misdirected British bombs in favour of any of them? Do you think there is any prospect that any of these approaches could result in a victory? Does Cameron even know who he wants to win that victory.
We know from Libya that when you simply bomb the people you don't like without working to get the people you do like into power then you create worse chaos than if you had done nothing at all.
We therefore come down to the final and option, the one that will probably prove necessary sooner or later. Winning this war will need a ground campaign. Winning the ground campaign will need an agreement between Russia and the West (preferably with support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia) on how the country will be governed.
We learned in Iraq that it is relatively easy for Western forces to invade a country and win a ground war. We also learned that if you don't have a plan for how to govern that country then you don't get a good outcome. Indeed there is a very strong argument to be made for saying that when we helped to invade Iraq with a really poorly thought out plan about how the country should be governed once the battle was won we created ISIS. There were almost no extremist radical 'Islamists' in Iraq before we invaded. The weapons that ISIS is using against ordinary people now were captured from stores paid for by UK and US tax payers or were bought using money from sources such as the Saudi's.
That doesn't sound to me like a ringing endorsement of our strategy. Unlike some people on both the left and right I could be persuaded to back a well thought out military strategy to get rid of ISIS and build a decent replacement in Iraq. My problem is not that I don't want to defeat ISIS. Nor is it that I don't want to support British intervention when the UN has asked for it. My problem is that I don't want to see my country start killing people on behalf of a stupid, ill conceived strategy that can't possibly work.
It isn't patriotic to back Cameron when he is being stupid. Just because he makes vicious attacks on the patriotism of his opponents doesn't mean that he is serving the best interests of his country or is a great world statesman. It is time he was challenged properly. Either give us a serious strategy that we can support or stop blathering and putting forward daft ideas that can only make things worse.