Leading article

On drone strikes, David Cameron is repeating Tony Blair’s big mistake

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

Not even Jeremy Corbyn lamented the death of Reyaad Khan, who was killed by an RAF drone in Syria after joining the Islamic State. He was a straight-A student from Cardiff who had the freedom to do anything with his life, but chose to turn his back on Britain and join a band of Islamofascists. He had been working hand-in-glove with Junaid Hussain, a talented computer hacker from Birmingham who fled to Syria; the two of them had been making detailed plans for attacks on Britain.

But the RAF’s involvement in the strike marks a new chapter in British warfare. The motive for the action was simple: Khan was planning to inflict great harm on British people, and in the absence of alternatives, the RAF struck when they had the chance. David Cameron didn’t need to say much more than that in the House of Commons this week. Yet he seemed bafflingly determined to climb into the same legal traps that ensnared Tony Blair. Khan was ‘directing’ an attack, he said, so the strike qualifies as ‘self-defence’ — language aimed at complying with Article 51 of the UN Charter. Immediately, he waded into the fog of law. There is no intelligence to suggest that Khan was planning a specific attack, and the Prime Minister should have taken care not to suggest otherwise.

The UN Charter was written 70 years ago, when the idea of an ‘imminent’ attack carried a very different meaning. In the era of digital jihad, attacks can always be ‘imminent’, because it takes no time at all to organise one. The language of the UN Charter no longer fits the reality of modern warfare. As the Prime Minister says, the killing of Reyaad Khan is a ‘departure’ for Britain — but the rules of engagement in this new world need to be explained. The Americans have been debating the legality of drone attacks for years; in Britain, the debate is just starting.

That Khan was struck by the RAF in Syria is freighted with political significance. Both Britain and the United States are at war with the Islamic State and have been bombing its positions for months, but the RAF bombers stay on the Iraqi side of the border because David Cameron lost a vote over acting in Syria two years ago. It was a humiliation for him, and a deserved one. He was proposing to attack the other side, Bashar al-Assad. At the time, he was asked how he could be so sure that weapons intended for the ‘good’ Syrian rebels would not end up in the hands of the jihadis. He had no convincing answers.


George Osborne now describes the Syria vote as ‘one of the worst decisions the House of Commons has ever made’ — skipping over the small point that he was, then, unwittingly proposing to put the RAF at the service of the Islamic State by attacking its enemy, Assad. It might once have been possible to prevent the Islamist takeover of Syria — but not in August 2013; the ‘moderate’ rebels were already too weak. There was no question of boots on the ground and, as the British military told the Prime Minister, bombing campaigns don’t build free and safe societies. The kind of intervention that was planned — firing a few petulant missiles at Assad’s positions — would have failed.

Drones, however, are devastatingly effective. Barack Obama’s expansive use of unmanned aircraft has drummed al-Qaeda out of the Pakistani tribal areas and is now squeezing them out of Yemen. The combination of highly advanced intelligence (monitoring the mobile phones and even emails of targets) and the ability to send a drone with laser-guided missiles minimises collateral damage. Drones worked in Afghanistan, too, where allied forces had a ‘kill list’ in the form of the Joint Prioritised Effects List. The same method is being used against Isis to good effect. Just last month the deputy leader of Isis, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, was killed by a US drone in Iraq.

Mr Cameron is right to think it ridiculous that the RAF does not chase jihadis over a Syrian border that is effectively being erased by the war. But he got himself into this mess by making such a fuss about the need for parliamentary approval in the first place. None is needed; under the royal prerogative the Prime Minister can do what he feels is necessary.

As Lord Salisbury once remarked, a gram of experience is worth a ton of theory. Before his election, Cameron might have argued that lawyers must approve every step taken in the name of national security and the Parliament needs to vote on any new development. In office, he has found himself fighting a 21st-century war using a charter written in 1945. He can, if he chooses, keep stretching the definition of terms such as ‘directing’ and ‘imminent’ until they snap. Or he can simply say that Britain is at war with the Islamic State, and that people like Reyaad Khan are going to be casualties of that war. It is not a controversial argument: polls suggest that Khan’s assassination is backed by seven to one.

Iraq destroyed Blair’s reputation because, in the end, he could not bring himself to level with the British public. Cameron should not make the same mistake.

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Show comments
  • silent_pilot

    “There is no intelligence to suggest that Khan was planning a specific attack, and the Prime Minister should have taken care not to suggest otherwise.” There may be no open source intelligence available, which is different to ‘no intelligence’. To do so may put people’s lives at risk; sources, informants and other British agents.

    • Bonkim

      Shooting first was a good move – you don’t take any chances with poisonous spitting vipers.

      • Paul B

        That’s the “reasoning” I would use, were I like you, to eliminate you.

        • Bonkim

          You must have joined the evil Empire.

    • Paul B

      Well, it may do so, but that required me to trust those telling me this. And they have proven themselves not worthy of our trust. So I try to trust again telling myself we’re the good guys, but this requires a special leap of faith because our behaviour measured by the number of babies killed is very poor. We kill more of their babies than they kill of ours. So that test is failed too. Those telling us they’re killing babies for our own good aren’t trustworthy.

      • silent_pilot

        Interesting *ahem* argument you’re putting forward. Not sure the British have killed any babies in Syria? Maybe fewer spliffs would be the order of the day?

        • Paul B

          Perhaps not in Syria, but in next door Iraq and in Afghanistan, yes we have. In astonishing numbers innocent civilians have lost their lives at our hands directly and indirectly through our destabilisation of the region. For every death of one civilian on British soil (not *one* of these by Syrians, to refect your argument back on you) there have been somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 civilian deaths in the region arising from wars unleashed by us in response to 3000 killed 9/11 by Saudis and what was then a rogue gang of hundreds. It’s like blaming WW1 on the assassination of an archduke.

          • silent_pilot

            First, the article is about activities in Syria. However I shall humour you with a reply.

            Second, it is not deliberate policy for British or Western forces to target non-combatants; as you seem to be suggesting. I think I can take a reasonable guess that you have never been in a conflict zone, otherwise you would know that war is not clinical (despite our best technological and moral efforts) and there are casualties among those not engaging directly in combat. The Geneva Convention seeks to limit those casualties, but AFAIK the Taliban, LeT, ISIS, Boko Haram, AQAP etc are non-signatories and don’t play by the same rules as standing armies.

            Out of interest: How many of those non-combatants do you think were killed, by Western forces, as a result of being used as human shields by insurgent forces? How many as a result of insurgents using a protected place e.g. mosques and hospitals, thereby negating the protection for civilians? How many deliberately targeted by insurgents?

            I do agree with your comment about destabilising the region. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we should have left Gaddafi, Hussein, Mubarak and Assad in power. Almost certainly, fewer would have died.

            Your black and white view is inconsistent with the complexity of the situation. Which is surprising as you have, apparently, a better grasp of the causal events surrounding WW1.

          • Paul B

            One of the main issues here is that Cameron now wants to treat Syria-Iraq as if it is one territory. It may be, de facto, now that Islamic State exerts sovereignty more confidently than other jurisdictions in the region, but it is not de jure. There is no parliamentary approval to wage war in Syria. And we continually conflate people of the ME region together as if they are one. The initial response to 9/11 was the high altitude carpet bombing of Afghanistan killing an undisputed 20,000, the vast vast majority of those civilians.

            There are no “best” moral efforts. Our “precision” technology is so broad brush best we can do is within 100m, the stuff you see on YouTube is of the successful strikes.

            Some of what you say has some basis in truth, but the answers to your “out of interest” questions are immaterial. I don’t judge our actions in comparison to the barbarians.

            What the hell are we doing there anyway? All we’ve done is get everyone pissed off with us. People who didn’t think about us at all are now riled beyond reason because their families have been killed, their communities disrupted as a result of our interventions.

            And we too seem to be riled beyond reason. 40 deaths by what still seems like a lunatic in Tunisia has the whole country egging the PM on to bomb …. Syria!

            History will judge us harshly.

          • silent_pilot

            What you have told me is that you can’t or won’t answer my questions. Probably because the truth doesn’t suit your narrative not that they are immaterial. They are very material; how each person died is material. Maybe you should judge both sides by a common standard? The Geneva Convention works quite well for the purpose.

            ISIS, arguably ‘the enemy’ in the ME, doesn’t recognise the borders artificially assigned to the ME; by the British, no less. Tribally, they are not defined by those borders.

            There were an estimated 3,500 civilians killed during the carpet bombing phase. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/aug/08/afghanistan.comment Given the amount of ordnance dropped in the phase, it’s not a massive number compared to a similar action in WW2. I seriously question your assertion of “undisputed 20,000” unless you can provide a reputable link that says otherwise.

            Military GPS can guide munitions to within cm due to the use of a different channel used by the US and trusted ally UK. However, the effect of an explosion cannot be accurately forecast. There will never be no civilian casualties in a war; there may be no DELIBERATE civilian casualties, though. Why do I need to go on YouTube, when I’ve seen it first hand? My truth is based on what I have experienced and reading, not simply what I read somewhere.

            So islam isn’t barbaric? Read the numbers killed during Ramadan 2015 in the link. There are numerous passages in the koran inciting followers of islam to violence. Some take this as the gospel and act upon it; you don’t need to look too hard to find evidence of that. http://www.westernjournalism.com/the-religion-of-peace-the-sunni-version/

            “What the hell are we doing there anyway?” Well, pretty much certain that you won’t be anywhere near ‘there’ anyway. But perhaps you should address that question to your MP? It’s not a decision made on a purely military basis, that much is clear.

          • Paul B

            I am very happy to judge both sides by the same standard and I have been doing so. But their bad behaviour doesn’t justify ours. The pity of it is that our behaviour is every bit as bad as theirs. What’s the difference between beheading someone with a sword and beheading someone with a tomahawk missile?

            It is a decade now since civilian and military GPS differed in capability. You are wrong, and confidently. Military GPS is no more accurate than your phone today. Just as your phone can be corrected by DGPS ground stations so can the military. But much of our munitions is still not “cm” accurate, very far from it. Civilians are dying. And we deem those we kill to be military, after the fact, as exposed by Ms Manning.

            Were I wrong about the numbers it still seems you aren’t condemning us killing 3500 civilians indiscriminately with carpet bombs. And these civilians were every bit as innocent as the 9/11 ones. If we’re allowed to be still outraged by 9/11 to the point we’re still killing out of revenge why are they not allowed to be outraged by our murder of them?

            But I am not wrong, The Guardian’s report you quote was before the situation became clear, from 2002. Within months of that report The Guardian (and every other reputable source) were reporting 20,000. According to WP 91,000 definite direct deaths in Afghanistan to date but 451,000 if deaths by related causes are counted. In the early years practically all the deaths were at the hands of the USA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_in_the_war_in_Afghanistan_(2001%E2%80%93present)

            But once again, even if you were right there are still 3500 innocent civilians killed for no good reason by the USA as their immediate response to 9/11. It’s as if you’re arguing whether the holocaust was 1million or 12million. The perpetrators were still evil bastards.

            But you’re not right. Still *today*, despite your cm-accurate magic-channel GPS we are killing civilians in the ME in numbers much higher than we suffer. Perhaps that’s the unavoidable consequence of war but, IF SO, we don’t believe it when it is our civilians who die. No, for every one of our civilians we kill scores of theirs.

            And we do not make ourselves safer. We’ve turned a gang of 200 into an entire region who see *us* as barbarians. They judge us by our behaviour.

            Islam is not barbaric. Christian and Judaic scriptures are bloodthirsty in places. So are Islamic scriptures. The Christian God’s Resistance Army in Uganda wields the same holy book as is preached from in your local Anglican church. In the Anglican church they don’t preach we should stone adulterers but our bible says that. And in the mosques of practically all the nearly 2billion muslims thenasty passages of the Koran are ignored too.

            Of course there are Islamic nutters but look at this from *their* perspective. From the average ME muslim’s perspective a gang of criminals *saying* they are Islamic kill 3000 in NY. Then the Christian president of the most powerful country on earth declares a *crusade* and attacks Afghanistan and then Iraq and a million or so are dead and many millions are now displaced. And a radical version of Islam has been encouraged by all of this making everyone’s life a misery.

            It’s time to stop killing *their* babies because *they* killed our babies. The best way to understand we must stop is to realise that the “their” and the “they” in the 1st sentence of this paragraph are two *different* groups. But we push the second into joining with the first. What choice do they have. We demonise them, grouping all muslims together as if the same, and then we kill them. Essentially we are now going to bomb Syria because of Tunisia.

            We are barbarians.

          • silent_pilot

            “I am very happy to judge both sides by the same standard and I have been doing so.” Thus far, you have only mentioned contraventions by standing armies and not discussed the abhorrent TTPs of terrorist organisations. A prime example of this is your final statement: “We too are barbarians. And we’re much more deadly than them.”

            If you are referring to the decision to turn off ‘Selective Availability’ on GPS as somehow making civilian and military GPS comparable you would be wrong. Not only that, but the US government reserves the right to enable Selective Availability at any time. From the European Space Agency: “The levels of performance that the user can expect from GPS are specified in the Standard Positioning Service Performance Standard,[8] and the Precise Positioning Standard.[9] However, the values provided by these documents are very conservative, being the actual performances usually better than these official values. Moreover, the performance obtained with GPS depends strongly on the mode of operation. For instance, a stand-alone receiver that uses only the signals received from the satellites, the levels of performance are:[10]

            C/A-code receivers ~ 5 -10 m.
            P/Y-code receivers ~ 2 -9 m

            In case of using GPS in a differential mode, the performances that can be expected are:

            C/A-code DGPS receivers ~0.7 -3 m.
            P/Y-code DGPS receivers ~0.5 -2.0 m.”

            The P/Y-code is referring to the cryptographic military coded Precise Positioning Standard. Although it has since been re-designated the M code. Tip for you: don’t try and bluff someone who has been working with GPS for the past 25 years and knows how it works. 😉 The only struggle was finding a decent link to communicate it to you.
            http://www.navipedia.net/index.php/GPS_General_Introduction

            The point is this you plucked some random figure of 20,000 out of the air and proceeded to announce it as “undisputed”. Sorry, buddy, but I disputed your facts and you came up short. The Guardian report was from August 2002 and, admittedly the data may not have been complete, but there would need to be an exponential rise to reach 20,000.. Then you linked to Wikipedia! Did I not say ‘reputable source’? If you can find me a reputable source I’ll believe you, but Wikipedia isn’t it. Of course, you’ll need to split down those killed by the West and those by the insurgents in order to draw a comparison and “judge both sides by the same standard”.

            Wars happen and they will always happen. In the case of 9/11 a group of terrorists killed 3,000. Do you really expect the country with one of the biggest armies in the world to sit back and do nothing? Those 3,500 deaths were avoidable: the Afghanistan government at the time could have handed over the perpetrators and there would have been no war in the country. So were the 3,000 in NY: there was no compelling military need for Al-Qaeda to attack civilian targets in NY.

            You are conflating a church in Uganda who, apparently, suggest stoning people with the teachings of the Church of England? Violent texts in the Bible have been over-written by the peaceful teachings of Christianity both Protestant and Roman Catholic. It’s also been that way for several hundred years.

            “Islam is not barbaric.” Evidence, please? Here’s a sample of my evidence: Koran 2:191 -193 “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)” As evidence by the killing of Lee Rigby on a London street, the beheading of a female co-worker in the US ad infinitum. Koran 9:29 “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” That’s happening the world over. There is no central teaching of a peaceful islam, because each imam pretty much does his own thing and varies according to which madrassas he went to (no women, of course).

            “From the average ME muslim family man’s perspective a gang of criminals *saying* they are Islamic kill 3000 in NY.” The “average ME muslim family”? You mean the same ones who were cheering after the 9/11 attacks?

            Anyway keep practising your arguments on me, an amateur, and you should be good enough to become a professional SJW one day.

          • Paul B

            I’m glad you continue with about GPS argument because what I am able to do by addressing it is to show characteristics of your style of argument on an emotionless scientific and engineering issue. Having done so then I will then have demonstrated there is no point in arguing with you on more importance matters.

            You said the military have access to a more accurate GPS than we do. I said not true, our accuracy is as good as theirs. You then say the military can degrade our performance whenever they like. Yes, but they have not done so. The truth, with whichever bamboozlement of detail you try to obscure it, is this: The GPS the military have is no better than we experience day to day.

            You claimed “cm” accuracy and then you triumphantly present evidence saying you’ve proved you point, and nowhere is there cm accuracy.

            And then you argue from authority, “25 years”. Well, such authority hasn’t made you honest. Nor has it made you uniquely knowledgable. I know more than enough physics and maths to explain how GPS works from first principles and to explain why the accuracy limits are where they are. You haven’t told me anything I don’t know, but you forget to acknowledge there is nothing the military have, when it comes to GPS (or DGPS), that we ourselves do not routinely have. And that’s what I said. And nothing you write supports your initial incorrect assertion. An assertion difficult to understand being made by someone with 25 years experience in the industry, unless that person was setting out to deceive.

            And then having quoted what seems like reputable information you go on to repeat your initial false assertion by saying “Military GPS can guide munitions to within cm due to the use of a different channel used by the US and trusted ally UK.” No, there is no “different channel” except those provided by DGPS and civilian equipment can make use of same. Civilian GPS equipment, especially that manufactured outside the USA, is not encumbered in any way and uses the same technology and algorithms as military GPS equipment. And the accuracy limits of DGPS are still not what you claim.

            The GPS receivers used by smart bombs are the same as in your phone, in capability. The chips might be “hardened” but the signals are the same and the maths is the same.

            But even were your repeated false assertions true, it’s one thing to know where you are, it’s another to arrange that you get where you want to be. That’s where the munitions fail.

            You cannot follow the essential thread of an argument and you selectively ignore that which does not suit you. And thus we learn how to trust what you write.

            I’ll return to address your other “arguments” later today.

          • silent_pilot

            Read the link I sent you and you will see that military GPS is more accurate.

            You are just emoting with no real argument.

          • Paul B

            You’re just bleating stuff selectively, self-blinkered deliberately. I have read the article. There is nothing preventing any civilian GPS being as accurate than military GPS. I have read the article. Quote from it, why don’t you?

          • silent_pilot

            I did
            “C/A-code receivers ~ 5 -10 m.
            P/Y-code receivers ~ 2 -9 m

            C/A-code DGPS receivers ~0.7 -3 m.
            P/Y-code DGPS receivers ~0.5 -2.0 m.”

            0.5 m = 50 cm in my book. Oh, and your average mobile phone GPS does not use DGPS.

          • Paul B

            Yes but they can where available. WAAS is used by my aviation GPS, and those specs you’ve just quoted are used by common GPS chips, civilian as well as military.

          • silent_pilot

            Your aviation GPS/WAAS receiver with WAAS enabled is a completely separate entity to your mobile phone with a GPS receiver.

            Anyway that’s a distraction. In any case I’m bored with your sob stories about how nasty the westerners are. Time to dry your eyes princess and move on. See ya!

          • Paul B

            “completely separate entity”? Yes, they are two separate things. Neither military.

    • Fritz123

      It is more like the politician from Bavaria who suggested that there may be ISIS fighters amongst the refugees.

  • Frank

    Indeed, the trouble is that Cameron doesn’t appear able to engage his brain before showing-off. When you combine that trait with ill-judged initiatives by the MOD’s PR department, you get the kind of horlicks we saw in Parliament the other day.
    Cameron needs to accept that he is not Churchill and do his best to stay authentic and genuine!
    As for the MOD, better to keep all drone activity under wraps in the same way that they keep all SAS activity under wraps.

  • tony ibbotson

    Right straight off, where do ‘YOU’ get to the fact that the PM did NOT as you say and I quote’, There is no intelligence, how on earth would ‘You’Know’, do you have some type of form of your own intelligence to state differently, or perhaps you have a direct line to our Intelligence agency’s, no I thought not, so please stop with the so called there is NO intelligence, you are simply guessing, fact is you dont have a clue. But the PM does.Far too much ‘guessing from the press who know nothing yet claim they do, far too many back room General’s. especially in the press.

  • Nick

    First things first,I’m glad that those creatures were killed in the drone strike.

    Secondly,why does Mr.Cameron make such a good decision one minute (the drone strike) and then make a daft decision (allowing 20,000 migrants to come to the UK) the next minute?

    Or is a bluff on his part regarding the 20,000 immigrants and really he’s not going to allow that many in over the next 4 years?

  • cartimandua

    Perhaps media could just stop claiming expertise and knowledge they cannot possibly have.
    Get over yourselves. You are not elected. You are not party to all the information and worst of all you just seem to want to disable anything government does.
    We do NOT want boots on the ground.
    We DO want to support local troops with aircover.
    Anyone who went to join ISIS is complicit in crimes against humanity before they plan anything against the UK.

  • sfin

    The mistake Cameron has made, in this particular case, has been to allow it into the public domain. Direct targeting of individuals has existed in military circles for a very long time. Intelligence is painstakingly gathered (and I mean real intelligence – not the confection that was presented to the British public prior to the Iraq debacle), the Army Legal Services pick over the minutiae of the legality and the target is…well, targeted! These two individuals were not the first and they won’t be the last and it has never, in the past, been something that the media and public need know about.

    The imbecility of Cameron’s current position on Syria (especially given the aftermath of his Libyan ego trip) is his insistence on removing Assad. To be replaced by what and whom exactly?

    Surely the lessons of recent history have shown that artificial states – by which I mean states whose borders were arbitrarily drawn on a map, taking no account of ethnic, religious or cultural boundaries – can only be kept stable through ruthless, secular dictatorship.

    War in the Middle East, has been an inevitable consequence of the blundering intervention of Blair, Bush and now Cameron and Obama. The nature of the threat to us has changed – as have the necessary methods to combat it.

    • cartimandua

      If nothing else the area Assad holds has not been destroyed completely.
      He needs to stop bombing the rest of Syria though.

      • Bonkim

        Shrinking fast though. The Russians are already on the ground protecting their naval bases.

    • Clive

      The lesson of South America is that if you support ‘ruthless, secular dictatorship’ you finish up with a population that hates your nation and is alienated from your values for generations.

      It is these ‘ruthless, secular dictatorships’ that are the first part of the problem. They conceal genuine social tensions which ought to be aired politically. Once the dead hand of dictatorship is taken away, the political tectonic plates shift and there are eruptions of social discontent.

      That phenomenon has been happening all over the world for many decades. It has happened over and over at decolonisations – Vietnam; Algeria; Nigeria; Uganda; Malaya – the list is lengthy.

      The biggest example in recent times was the USSR. Its breakup gave rise to the Nagorno-Karabakh war; the Abkhazia/South Ossetia war with Georgia; the Second Georgian war; the Chechen war and now the Ukraine war. Do you want the USSR back ?

      • sfin

        No I do not.

        And I agree with your analysis – you could have listed, pretty much the whole of Africa in your examples – up to the point that “ruthless, secular dictatorships’ that are the first part of the problem.”

        I would argue that the arbitrary drawing of lines on a map (actually the division of ‘the spoils’ amongst the colonialists) were the first part of the problem. That problem, in the short term, needed unsustainable, dictatorship to maintain stability – Incidentally, Europe is currently producing future instability in reverse by importing disparate peoples and forcing them to live under one political system.

        Idiot progressives, like Blair and Cameron, think that the answer to these artificial states is instant ‘democracy’ – failing to realise that the losers in a democratic contest, in these kinds of states, generally do not have ethnic or cultural ties that would keep them bound to that state – the ‘democratic’ contest runs much, much deeper than differences of opinion (Africa, where it is allowed to, still votes, pretty much, 100% on tribal lines).

        States have to evolve over time and politicians have to realise that people want to be with their own kind.

        • Clive

          I agree with most of your comment. Especially your last paragraph. It should be applied to the EU. If the EU evolved politically instead of a bunch of politicians thinking they can ‘invent’ a state from inside their heads it would have a chance.

          I don’t agree that the lines on the map are arbitrary. Iraq looks messy at first sight but bear in mind that if it had been separated on religious/ethnic lines the Kurds and central Sunnis would have had no deep water port (Basra). They would have been landlocked. At the time the map was drawn, that would have been a major drawback.

          I don’t think Blair and Cameron are idiots – I’m sure you didn’t mean they are just plain stupid. The problem is, what alternative is there that is politically acceptable and manageable ?

          Arguably the old ‘mandate’ system would solve a lot of the world’s problems with the USA, say, holding a UN mandate over Iraq but politically, it would be the target for every nutter in the ME not to mention the Left everywhere.

          I think that once you introduce the democratic system, it gets a life of its own if it survives (big If). For instance, when government changes in Pakistan they seem to throw the previous leader in jail for corruption. At least the democracy continues. Maybe in the future they will stop doing that. Not the corruption – too much to hope – but the jailing.

          Once you go to military rule as in Egypt – even after ‘elections’ – it looks like totalitarian business as usual. It will be interesting to see where Burma goes next.

          One crucial point is that democracy is the antidote to Islamic State; Al Qaeda and other Islamist nutters. They hate it – they make a point of saying so. For that reason alone I want more of it.

          I think it also means that in the long term they cannot survive. I believe democracy is a ‘natural’ system like capitalism. It is the default humans fall back on given time and freedom of choice.

          • sfin

            Good points – much of which I cannot disagree.

            I remember a conversation I had with a young Zimbabwean lawyer. He was fantastically educated (Oxford and Harvard) – and was as erudite, urbane and sophisticated as any professional London club member…His words:

            “The problem you westerners will never understand is that democracy in Africa is one man, one vote – once.

            Telling us that we can change our ruler every five years or so, is like us telling you that you can change your parents every five years or so…”

            He was (minority) Ndebele in a country with a majority Mashona tribe and had resigned himself never to be represented whilst “his people” were in a demographic minority. The same thing happens closer to home – Northern Ireland, along ancient religious divides – and even amongst some parts of the UK which “culturally” (i.e. unthinkingly) vote Labour (more so) or Conservative (less so).

            Any democracy is dependant on the educational standards of its electorate – its ability to reason and think. I would argue that ours (i.e. Britain’s) has vastly diminished, Europe’s is diminishing and, in both cases, the policy is deliberate.

        • Fritz123

          Africa is a very good example. I had a friend, dont know what has happened to him, two brothers doctors in Sweden and two brothers in Nigerian politics. All I know of Nigeria I learned from him. And from some Nigerian officers with whom I spent some weeks in a summer school in Italy. We shared a lot of common experiences, but one day he said: Actors are all liars.

    • Fritz123

      Well, the artificial maps, isnt it all desert there? The towns are all older than the temple in Jerusalem and only a few things have changed.

      • sfin

        Well let’s take Iraq. A country carved out of the region by French and British mandarins – post the Ottoman empire and comprising of Sunni muslims, Shia muslims, Marsh Arabs and Kurds – all as culturally different from one another as we are from the French and the Germans – and with no concept of nation state, only family and tribe.

        The country was always governed by some form of autocracy and, external wars aside, was relatively stable – any dissent or questioning of the autocracy being met with ruthless suppression.

        Then the idiots that are Blair and Bush decide to remove the autocracy and enforce democracy – despite being advised by regional experts that the consequence would be civil war, as old tribal and cultural enmities were suddenly free to surface, and that the democracy would be a sham as the people would vote on tribal lines.

        But, of course you can’t tell megalomaniac idiots like Blair anything – that’s why people like him are so dangerous.

        • Fritz123

          Those are not states like ours. Blair is not the only one to ignore it. There is that famous movie from Israel on the first Lebanon war with the name “Waltz with Bashir”. For me it was incredible with which expectations the soldiers were driving into the Lebanon. And they were surprised when the massakker happened. They were surprised again when some orange revolution did not work. The Lebanon is Syria and Iraq in a nutshell. It only works if there is a consensus amongst all groups that this consensus is best for all. In a small state this works without some dictator, see the constitution of the Lebanon. It a bigger state it is nearly impossible. But this dictator must not be much more than a watchdog. Insofar I dont understand what a “moderate opposition” could do in Syria. Assad is basically a nice man. A doctor. Maybe his father was a better politician because his massaker with 20.000 deads saved many lives. But in any case, such a consensus is very fragile and can be easily destroyed. This is what mercenaries on the Saudi payroll did when they started to “liberate” the cities by killing all policemen. Syrians may have been supressed, but they had not done this by themselves. And when it had happened they liked it. At least the idiot asylum seeker in Germany that I spoke to some years ago when it all started. Yepp. Putin and Iran are doing the only possible right thing — and Carla del Ponte is watching seeking to bring them all to “justice”. Well the UNSC will not agree and she will start to cry because there will be another “impunity gap”… In 2019 we will have 100 years of 1919, maybe we will be woken up until then.

  • cartimandua

    The two young Syrian men executed for being “spies” by being tied to a building and blown up.
    The intelligence may well have come from people like that.
    Media truly disgusts me.

  • Clive

    I do not agree with the earlier commenter who said that the wars in the Middle East are entirely a consequence of western policy and intervention. It is a western-centric view encouraged by left wing media who blame western intervention for everything bad.

    The war in Syria started when 15 teenagers were arrested in Deraa (remember that place ?) for putting anti-government graffiti on a wall. The ‘ruthless, secular dictatorship’ in charge fired on demonstrators but they did not back down, more and more demonstrators took to the streets. Civil war broke out.

    Mohamed Bouazizi started the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia because he got fed up when a corrupt policewoman took his vegetable cart from him. He set fire to himself. He was not alone in his frustration. Many others were in a similar position and they had had enough.

    Of course you can believe it’s all a conspiracy but I leave that to fruitcakes mainly in Russia and the USA. Where there’s a local screwup and/or a last straw in an unsustainable system to be had, I’ll take it over a conspiracy every time.

    What really connects these stories is a lack of isolation. The Internet and mass media.

    First, people in these regions knew there was a better life elsewhere. They had seen some instances of democracy’s beginnings in the Middle East (ME) and they knew what life was like in the West under that system – from the Internet and from Al Jazeera and other new ME-wide stations.

    Second, they used social media to communicate where mass media were compromised by totalitarian government. Whether outrage, organisation or just argument, these ideas seem to have spread like wildfire. I don’t mean deep philosophical discussion. I mean why should we put up with this crap and how can I beat somebody up for it ?

    It is this phenomenon which is changing the world – for better or worse. It is also interesting that what emerged in the post-spring flutter of democracy were old fashioned religious movements.

    Ennahada, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), were elected in Tunisia. They were probably elected by old people. Old people with ‘traditional values’ a bit like me. Ennahada is not bad as MB groups go and they still have some power in Tunisia.

    The same thing happened in Egypt but it was reversed in a military coup. That was probably a backward step but there is no question that Mohammed Morsi (MB) was dangerous. Whether he was dangerous enough to merit overthrow was questionable. It has set the democratic process back.

    IS and Al Qaeda (‘The Nutters’) use the Internet very skillfully. We do not combat them effectively. I believe MI5 has many more IT literate people than it used to and that is good. They will always find it difficult to combat The Nutters because of the public nature of the internet and mass media war.

    It is in the nature of western democracy that the instant the hand of government is detected in any action, suspicion is aroused. That is part of our own – longer – legacy of mass media.

    So what we need are politicians local and national with the nous to beat The Nutters at their own game but we show no sign of doing it. These killings are a good example of that failure.

    The Nutters will always want to move the argument from what they do to what we do. That’s a tradition that goes back a long way. I always wondered why CND never made an issue of not being able to demonstrate in the USSR. They picked the ‘soft target’ – western governments – instead.

    Now, that tradition is amplified a million times by the internet. We have Nutters and their sympathisers ranting at our social and legal organisation. It went on endlessly over Guantanamo – the issues of which were never properly aired. What do you do with people you capture in a worldwide undeclared war ?.

    It was comprehensively won by The Nutters over the Iraq War. In truth, they have never exploited that victory as extensively as they might. Not many suicide videos mention Iraq (despite the BBC looking for them, I’m sure). They mention Chechnya a good deal more.

    Those public relations battles – I won’t dignify them by calling them ‘arguments’ – have gone. They are history. Guantanamo was bad, the Iraq War was bad – these are now ‘the received wisdom’. This whole propaganda phenomenon is rolling right over us.

    The issue that seems to be our peculiar PR weakness is ‘legality’, not ‘humanity’. This despite the fact that ‘international law’ seems to be something of an oxymoron. Anyway, what IS are doing is certainly against the 1948/1951 ‘ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide’ so we can do whatever we want to them. Never mind UN article 51. There it goes, you see – legal argument – as though any of The Nutters give a toss about that.

    Perhaps we need more flexible legality in the UK for these situations. Perhaps we need a system where the politician who makes the ‘kill him’ decision only gets called to account if he kills the wrong bloke.

    We certainly need something or we will lose.

    • Bonkim

      The Bedus of the Mid-East were fighting each other for centuries – were a hotch potch od undeveloped barbarians, See Lawrence of Arabia.

  • Peter Stroud

    I agree wholeheartedly with the point made in the penultimate paragraph about declaring war on ISIS. Surely this would be a sensible move, as it would allow the use of SF, other assets typically involved in war, including drone attacks, to be employed without any involvement of parliament. Why should every move that is supported by the vast majority of voters, need to be defended against criticism by the far left pacifists residing in HM Opposition?

  • Adrian Wynne

    The article states it was an RAF attack yet the photo shows an American officer on the right ????

  • William Cameron

    Very significant that this typical media article has no named author, presumably therefore it represents the “editorial view” of The Spectator, whose editor is Fraser Nelson, so one must suppose he approved it personally. For the first time ever I find myself disgusted by Mr Nelson. Perhaps the PM could simply have done what he did, quite rightly in my view, and either not announce it in Parliament (clearly wrong) or have not sought to justify it under international law, as he did. The important thing is that a number of traitors have been dispatched summarily – I do not propose to waste one more second on this non-story; evil misguided people have been got rid of & good riddance! A lot more horrible things are going to have to happen before the scourge of Daesh, al-Qa’ida and the odious Assad regime are is removed. War is not neat nor tidy and we are at war. Those who wish to continue second-guessing our political leadership are perhaps motivated solely by notions of right and wrong, but I do wonder sometimes if our society has become so complacent in the long post-war more-or-less peace and prosperity since WWII that we are unwilling to face up to the real danger we are faced with.

    • Paul B

      Which is a loss of respect for due process and the rule of law. Without those (and the freedom of speech, which is also being chipped away in the name of this so-called war) there is nothing to distinguish us as the good guys. When anything goes through expediency then everything goes.

      • Bonkim

        You don’t give freedom of speech to vermin. The good guy is the one that survives – shoot first – and make the kill and think later.

        • Paul B

          That is an unpalatable definition of “good”, those who shoot first. It makes the word good unnecessary and irrelevant. And demonstrates that you lack a moral compass. Similarly your use of the word vermin. Vermin, by your usage, is merely the other. Certainly you lack the inclination to offer an argument. By your set of values I should eliminate you now, or at least as soon as I have given you a bad name. It seems to me you lack humanity or, in other words, that you are not fully human.

          • Bonkim

            May I call you the Masque of Death instead of Paul B!
            Now M of Death, hope you survive the coming Armageddon between Humane Religious Devils and the Pragmatic shoot-first Brigade. Either way your mask will betray you – neither side likes you..

          • Paul B

            In many facets of life we are presented with a choice. To win by cheating or to play the game by the rules. Sometimes it’s better to die than to be evil. That’s something which Lance Armstrong would never understand. You neither.

  • Paul B

    So, what is it that distinguishes the barbarians from the civilised? When one believes passionately in something, and if the end justifies the means, then any behaviour is justified. That’s how we know these extremist so-called jihadists are barbarians. Anything goes in their pursuit of the caliphate. Murder, mayhem, terrorism.

    And similarly on our side, we have bombed civilians from the air indiscriminately, killing 20,000 in Afghanistan to no good or focussed end in revenge for the 3000 in NY. By remote control we decapitate people, occasionally successfully the targeted people, often not, and far too often scores of innocents are affected. We’ve not improved anything in Iraq, for most Iraqis it was better under the despot Saddam. The end justifies the means?

    They (whoever they are and we say who they are) kill our babies. We kill their (often different nationality different country) babies, and in much greater numbers. Can we just not stop?

    The law of unintended consequence means the end is often not achieved. The dubious means is therefore not justified, even if one believes in the “end justifies the means” doctrine.

    And our loss of respect for the rule of law, due process, now has us executing people extra-judicially who (we are told) are potentially planning something against us (but they would say that, wouldn’t they?). This would not be legal in the UK. It wasn’t legal in Gibraltar with the extra-judicial execution of some admittedly nasty IRA types. And it isn’t legal in Syria.

    Without the rule of law and without due process what is it, given our behaviour, which distinguishes us from the barbarians?

    • Bonkim

      Try arguing that with ISIS or Al Khaida – even the Muslim on the average street..

      • Paul B

        I’m asking these questions of you. Well, not you, what’s the point? Of us.

        • Bonkim

          What s the point?

    • cartimandua

      NO WE DIDNT bomb indiscriminately in Afghan and not doing so cost 100s of soldiers lives.
      The civilian death toll there was overwhelmingly by the Taliban and you have to question the other 15%.
      Blame it on us you get comp. Blame it on a Taliban IED they might just come back and kill you.
      Lastly though the death toll for such a conflict while we were there was tiny.
      Compare it now to the well over 220 thousand in Syria.

      • Paul B

        You desperately want to believe we’re the good guys. So do I but the facts get in the way. It is not disputed by *anybody* reputable that 20,000 civilians were killed by wave after wave of high altitude bombing of Afghanistan by the USA following 9/11. The munitions were largely cluster bombs. Indiscriminate, therefore, by definition.

  • WTF

    This is has an element of Thatchers Belgrano moment that in a war, you don’t wait for your opponent to strike, you take measures to protect your own. That’s what you do against religious or political fascists that you can’t negotiate with. You certainly don’t invite psycho killers into your home for a tea and biscuits.

    The Belgrano warship incident was a clear and present threat to our forces which ever way it was pointing and Argentina was warned beforehand that if any of their ships or planes presented a threat as we saw it, we would sink them or shoot them down. We set the ground rules or exclusion zone and they ignored that warning and it was sunk, tough.

    In this case, ALL Jihadists or any nationality that presented a threat to the UK would be taken down. They were warned, they ignored the ground rules and had to suffer the consequences, tough.

  • Bonkim

    No problem getting rid of vermin – legal or not Vermin is Vermin..

  • cartimandua

    Just get the Hague to announce that anyone joining ISIS is complicit with crimes against humanity and deserve the death penalty.
    Job done.
    We should have the death penalty for crimes against humanity , genocides, multiple murders, multiple rapes, terrorist murders.
    These people are guilty out of their own mouths.

  • cartimandua

    It doesn’t occur to smug journalists that the “intelligence” gathered to target the monsters will have been gathered by people on the ground risking horrible deaths.
    Those two young Shia men tied to a building and blown up the other day was it them?
    Just trust our military and security services and frankly Fraser Nelson get over your smug self.
    Its not you risking a horrible death for that intelligence.
    You have no right to know any of it and if you maunder about the rights of terrorists you are complicit in the deaths of their victims here and abroad.

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