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Coffee House

Inaction is easy; action is harder but needed now

14 August 2014

1:16 PM

14 August 2014

1:16 PM

It’s easier to oppose than propose war. The conflict between Israel and Hamas inspired #NotInMyName on Twitter, and opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was spearheaded by the ‘Stop The War’ Coalition. It is easy for ‘anti-interventionists’ to cite negative consequences of action already documented, for example in post-invasion Iraq, than for ‘interventionists’ to make their case. Insults like ‘warmonger’ or ‘blood on your hands’ slip off the tongue more readily than complicated arguments to the effect that inaction can cause even more blood-letting and chaos, and that those who advocate it bear some responsibility for the ensuing carnage.

The present crisis facing the Yazidis, Kurds and indeed all sections of Iraq requires the rejection of the tired debate between anti- and pro-interventionists. Instead we should be demanding that governments #StartTheHelp #InMyName. The whole world, not just the West, must unite to counter the activities of the Islamic State (IS) and uphold human rights. This is achievable with sufficient political will.

In Syria, our failure to back the moderate opposition to Assad resulted in all the consequences that the ‘antis’ prophesised would result from western intervention: the breakdown of the territorial integrity of states, the advance of extremists across borders, the world’s biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis, and the use of WMDs. The priority in addressing the immediate crisis facing the Yazidis is not the recall of Parliament or more punditry, but for political leaders to take decisive, immediate action to save lives. Populations share in this responsibility and saying #InMyName can remind our leaders that more of us support action than not, as shown in the ITV/Comres poll earlier this week showing 45 per cent versus 37 per cent support for air strikes.

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The Yazidis face not just a humanitarian crisis, but, using the definition in the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, a campaign of genocide by IS. As signatories, we are duty bound to ‘prevent and punish’ this crime. Governments have begun to ‘prevent’ through US airstrikes and others providing aid drops, but much more can be done. The deployment of our Chinooks is a welcome first step, but they haven’t yet ferried any people off the mountain. It is inexplicable that the hundreds of military helicopters around the world lie dormant in hangars while civilians starve.

Furthermore, we have a moral obligation to assist the Kurds, given our history as a colonial power and also having abandoned then rescued them in 1991 with a no fly zone. At the very least, we should follow the US in arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga, and step up the reported ferrying of other weaponry to them by the RAF.

The entire world has a broader strategic interest in thwarting IS. Our leaders must know that providing limited humanitarian aid, arming the Kurds, or even an expanded air war will not succeed unless it is part of a wider strategy that involves regional and global actors. We should explore whether a UN or international conference could be convened, with all relevant powers attending, designed to co-ordinate the effort against IS. This would also provide an opportunity to bring peace and stability to Syria. It is conceivable that the defunct Geneva negotiations could be revived by this international congress on the basis of the original 2012 Geneva Communiqué, which outlined a transition from Assad’s dictatorship.

Isolation is not splendid, and ignorance is not bliss. Many argue that the Islamist terrorist threat was caused by the 2003 intervention. Yet the 9/11 atrocities occurred years before the Iraq war, during a period when the West’s policy was containment (notwithstanding interventions to defend Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia). 9/11 and the preceding attacks were prosecuted by Al Qaeda from bases within a country run by Islamist extremists whose rule was tolerated by the international community. Now, IS, who are so extreme that even Al Qaeda have shunned them, are occupying vast swathes of two major Middle East countries. This poses a direct long-term security threat to the region and the whole world. When I worked for Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair’s Special Envoy to Iraq, I was at a meeting outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, and nearby mortar and machine gun fire was audible. A female Iraqi MP leant over and, pointing in the direction of the fighting, said: ‘They are not just a threat to me and to Iraq, but to our region and the world’. She was right then and she is right now. The world must unite and confront this challenge. If Churchill were alive and using twitter, he might write #ActionThisDay.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant, member of the Labour Party, Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and Senior Fellow at the Human Security Centre. He blogs here and tweets @johnslinger.

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