Sir Winston Churchill made a famous comment that “to jaw, jaw, is always better than to war, war” in 1954 when the West faced the threat of international communism during the Cold War. At the time it made sense, for the world hung on a precipice where, without warning, we could all be thrown into a nuclear holocaust and the end of mankind.
Churchill’s logic was commendable. For all that Stalin and Mao both wanted to end capitalism, they were visible opponents. The lands they controlled had recognised borders. Their massed troops and their serried ranks of missiles could be seen by spy-planes. Sure there were spies but they were not terrorists – they stole secrets to gain an advantage but the killing of hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians was not part of their strategy.
There were nationalist movements in Asia and Africa that used guerrilla tactics that claimed, often intentionally, innocent lives – but they were tackled by the police and armed forces of the colonial powers until they were able to hand over democratic power as independence was delivered. There was much jaw, jaw to deliver those democracies.
I raise this point because the horror of Islamic State that confronts us now cannot be solved by “jaw, jaw”. It is not a war in the conventional sense – such as the two Iraq wars or even the Afghan war were. Saddam’s troops could be fought and the Taliban’s insurgents could be driven out of the towns and cities. ISIL is different. It wants to establish a caliphate – an Islamic reign of Sharia law – across the West and to do this it has no scruples at killing hundreds of people to strike fear into our hearts and weaken our resistance.
It is said that we should not bomb in Syria because it will mean the UK is targeted by jihadists – but it already is. Were our own people not ruthlessly killed in Tunisia just a few months ago? Was Glasgow not attacked a few years ago? I have no doubt our security services are thwarting attempts to do kill innocent British people on regular basis.
When France called upon its allies to give it military support in defeating the Islamist jihadists, it posed a serious question that had to be answered. Would we refuse or would we join and show our solidarity? If the murder of innocents had been in any of our Scottish cities and we asked France for help, what would our reaction have been if they said Non?
We can now see the answer that our politicians are willing to give. The Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and almost a third of the Labour parliamentary party chose to stand with France. The SNP and two-thirds of the Labour Party – including its leader – chose to advocate jaw, jaw. Jeremy Corbyn has said on more than one occasion that we should talk with IS to find a solution. This is as dangerously naive as it is ignorant.
The jihadists have no interest in talking. They have no interest in coming to an accommodation. They do not recognise the border between Syria and Iraq – only the British Tornado jets have been recognising that line in the sand. They will not stop until we are living under their Sharia law.
There is no doubt that firing missiles and dropping bombs cannot end the threat of IS in Syria – but then I have not heard anyone claim that’s what it is meant to do. It is about giving support to those on the ground – be it the Syrian or Kurd rebels or the Syrian army that are fighting IS so that they can win back their villages and towns.
It is about bombing military hardware and targets such as weapons dumps, fuel supplies, command centres so that their ability to spread their fear or defend their gains is made near impossible. The RAF bombing that has been limited to Iraq has been helping the United States and France do just that.
But it was absurd that we stopped at a border that IS did not recognise and yet could hide behind. Imagine arresting a burglar for breaking into one house but ignoring him robbing the next-door-neighbour? In military terms, commencing missions into Iraq therefore made sense, but it is still not the answer.
There will need to be fighting, often hand-to-hand, street by street, to clear the remaining towns and villages of the IS followers. The difficulty is that no-one is saying who will do this. The West could undoubtedly help but is unwilling to commit troops and for good reason. The opinion of the public in our democracies does not support such a policy after the Iraq experience.
Putting Western boots on the ground is also likely to play into the hands of IS by encouraging further recruits. What is needed is for the Arab nations to put IS to the sword – but are they up to it?
The West must ensure armies from Arab countries can provide the muscle to bring an end to IS’s reign of terror – and must end the double standards of how we turn a blind eye to Arab nations funding the jihad we are facing in Europe.