Philip Hammond made quite clear on the Today programme that this government is ‘utterly opposed’ to everything that Isis stands for: it’s difficult to say anything else when militants who clearly luxuriate in evil have beheaded a journalist who was covering their monstrous deeds. The Foreign Secretary was asked whether this country was prepared to ‘wage war’ on Isis. He dodged saying that the West was waging war, but explained that as Isis was doing this, we have to deal with them on that basis. Here’s his full quote:
‘Oh look, it’s far too late for that debate: we are very clear that we are utterly opposed to the evil ideology of this organisation and the barbaric, cruelty that they have displayed. We are opposed to them with every breath in our body and will continue to oppose them, so any kind of threat that they make that if they oppose them, they’ll come after us, frankly we’re long past that point. They are waging war on moderate Islamic opinion, they are waging war against the West and we have to deal with them on that basis.’
But then dealing with Isis ‘on that basis’ turns out to be rather less of a clear cut thing, not just in terms of what Britain and other western countries are prepared to do, but also in terms of those who are also ‘dealing with Isis’. As John Humphrys pointed out, this includes the Assad regime: from one year to another we have flipped from mulling assisting those who are fighting Assad to fighting the most dangerous elements of those Syrian rebels. So does that mean that our enemy’s enemy, Bashar al-Assad, is now our friend?
‘I don’t think we’ll be having any liaison with President Assad, but it is perfectly possible that we will find that we are fighting organisations which are also fighting against the Syrian regime, also fighting against the Iranians, for example.’
‘I don’t envisage us having any kind of relationship with the Assad regime, but that is not to say we may not find ourselves fighting common enemies.’
But the point is that the West is fighting Isis, and whether or not the boots that are going in are aid boots or advisory boots or combat boots (Hammond has been making that distinction elsewhere this morning), Isis sees this as a war.