In his email to Liberal Democrat members - kindly reproduced by Lib Dem Voice - Nick Clegg gave three reasons why we should support renewed military action in Iraq:
- the threat from ISIL to Britain has already been made clear by the sickening sight of British hostages being executed on television;
- unlike the 2003 war in Iraq this intervention is legal – we are responding to a direct request for help from the legitimate Government of Iraq and Parliament will vote before any action is taken;
- we’re acting as part of a broad coalition of countries, including many Arab countries, to deal with a real and immediate threat.
And point 1 does not convince me. ISIL is an appalling movement, but it surely poses more of a threat to the Kurds and the Yazidis than it does to Britain. And as far it does pose a threat to Britain - seizing hostages, fomenting terrorism here - it is not clear that bombing will reduce that threat.
I am not a pacifist and will support humanitarian military action if it is clear what the goal is. But is it clear in Iraq today? Are we looking to contain ISIL or destroy it? And is that latter idea any better than a fantasy?
More than that, I think that Western leaders have lacked a strategy in the Middle East. We are afraid of the rise of Islamism, yet we have swept away the dictators who acted as a bulwark against it - Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and there were plenty who wanted to bomb Bashar Assad only last year.
At one time we were seeking a rapprochement with Gaddafi - one of the very first posts on this blog made fun of Tony Blair's meeting with him. But we seem to have concluded that both sides are pretty appalling and fought both in a piecemeal fashion.
And our leaders seem to lack historical perspective. Compare that with Paddy Ashdown, who recently wrote:
What is happening in the Middle East, like it or not, is the wholesale rewriting of the Sykes-Picot borders of 1916, in favour of an Arab world whose shapes will be arbitrated more by religious dividing lines than the old imperial conveniences of 100 years ago.That is surely right. Have we really gone to war to defend those borders?
Still, have a look at the video of Nick Clegg and decide for yourself. His arguments there are more developed and more convincing than those in his email.