Statements by various politicians such as the one by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron saying “we are facing an existential war” with Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), will remain in the realm of empty rhetoric unless they are turned into actions. In other words, it is about time that the world community hastily adopted a comprehensive strategy to face up to this global evil. Cameron undoubtedly meant well, following the Tunisia crime at the resort town of Sousse on June 26, the cold-blooded killing of 38 western tourists — among them 30 Britons — when commenting: “We must work together and deal with Daesh’s source in Syria and Iraq.” However, Cameron’s was clearly the first hint so far by a major western leader about not only what needs to be done to face up to Daesh but, more importantly, of realising that confronting the evil of this murderous organisation urgently requires a global effort. In other words, a collective effort by East and West, Muslim and non-Muslim, Arabs and non-Arabs.
It is not clear yet how to proceed towards “working together” and dealing “with Daesh at source”, but it potentially seems that the United Kingdom will, at the most, be heading towards involvement in the ongoing air campaign against Daesh targets in Syria. Cameron’s Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has started, in the wake of the deadly attack in Tunisia, frantic attempts at lobbying members of parliament to secure the House of Commons backing for such a campaign. In 2013, the former British coalition government attempted, but failed, to obtain the parliament’s approval to launch attacks against targets linked to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. But after the Tunisia massacre, some believe the political climate may have changed in Britain and Europe, as the goal now is substantially different. The air campaign is currently being waged against Daesh targets by the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, along with other Arab allies. Canada is, so far, the sole Nato country — apart from the US — to join the air campaign.
However, from a military point of view, Britain’s desired participation in the air campaign against Daesh targets in Syria, though it would add some useful capability, may not be enough on its own to bring about a marked change in the quality of attacks. However, at the political level, such a contribution would be immensely significant. Firstly, at least it would send a clear message to Daesh that the air campaign by the alliance is growing and positively attracting new members such as Britain. Secondly, it is a message to Washington that London is back on track as a reliable and special ally, as it had always been in the past. Though Britain is involved in the air campaign in Iraq, a decision is now needed to bring Syria into the ambit of the same campaign. This will certainly highlight the solid resolve of the western alliance to carry out its campaign until Daesh in vanquished.
Now, following the Tunisia, Kuwait, France and Nigeria massacres and in view of the latest statement by Cameron, can the world community seriously build up a comprehensive strategy to fight Daesh? Such a strategy is a necessary precondition for any potential success to defeat Daesh. This should not only involve the current alliance, but it should get Russia on board as well. Unfortunately, neither Washington nor Moscow has anything yet that we can call a strategy. Declaring intentions as Cameron has recently done is only a good start, but to move forward towards an effective strategy it has to be comprehensive and has to be a combined big air campaign as well as small (helping local NGOs) campaign to further the objectives of such a strategy. The air campaign could go on for years without changing much of the political map if there are no forces on the ground.
Based on the record of events over the past four years, the world community has widely failed to rescue Syria from its current misery. More than half of the civil population now comprises refugees either in neighbouring countries or inside their own state, totally deprived of basic human rights such as education, health care, clean water and proper food. Any strategy for the immediate future and beyond must not be limited to military operations because it will not go far enough to sort out Syria’s acute problems. What happened in Iraq over the past 10 years, or to be precise since 2003, is evidently a sad example that urgently needs to be avoided. The western alliance, led by the US, dismantled Iraq and its old and much-hated regime and left the country without building a solid alternative that could ensure a stable future for the beleaguered nation.
Instead, ambitious Iran has emerged as a decisive player in Baghdad’s fate. What is happening in Syria now is not very different from what happened in Iraq. The only difference is Turkey, a leading Nato member, is now being allowed to play a sinister role in tearing Syria into pieces.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London.