On September 26th, the English Parliament voted to join the U.S.-led bombing of ISIL, at least in Iraq. The news was received with relief by most in the Anglosphere world and throughout Europe. However, very little regard has been paid to the relative benefits and costs. The military actions that the UK has committed herself to conduct will have a low probability of achieving the stated objective of “degrading and destroying” ISIL. However, there is a much higher likelihood that air strikes from the UK will increase ISIL’s stated objective of projecting fear and terrorism deeper into the West. If that were to occur, the resulting implications for business will be difficult to project.
Despite apparent successes in very different conflicts in Libya and Kosovo, air power alone is unlikely to dislodge ISIL from its dominant position in Western Iraq and eastern Syria. The strategy is like trying to engage a boxer by throwing apples from outside the ring. It may bruise your opponent, but it will not result in victory. It may even cause retribution outside the ring, where the Queensbury rules do not apply. This is particularly apparent when one considers how the parliamentary authorization only applies to territory in Iraq, not Syria. If ISIL does not respect 20th Century borders, why should the West?
The U.S.-led air war appears set to achieve only limited degradation of ISIL’s capabilities. To succeed, air strikes would have to be coupled with a strong, organized, dependable and politically aligned ground force. That half of the equation is not available in Iraq or Syria. ISIL’s brutal “take no-prisoners” policies have been too much for the local, poorly motivated ground forces to confront. An air campaign can certainly be expected to slow ISIL’s progress but it should also be expected to heighten the likelihood of terrorist attacks, particularly within the U.S. and UK. Given the fragility of current markets, such an outcome could be financially catastrophic.
Why, therefore, did the British agree eventually to participate? This answer is far more complex than most care to admit.
The British approved of their government supporting the Allied cause in Gulf War I, which was seen as a legally justified reaction to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. But unlike Americans, the British public approved of George H.W. Bush’s decision to leave Saddam Hussein in place, after he was forced out of Kuwait.
Gulf War II, however, was a very different story. The British saw it as illegal and unwise to conduct an unprovoked attack on Iraq merely to replace a strong regime with sectarian chaos. Further, they feared the price in terms of blood and pointless military expenditures. Despite this, the need to preserve the Anglo-American ‘Special Relationship’ as the crucial tenant of UK defense policy proved more important to many British elites. But an already wary public turned away sharply when the WMDs could not be found and the invasion turned into a quagmire.
The aversion to further Middle Eastern adventurism came to the fore in August 2013 when the English Parliament voted by a majority of 13 not to join the U.S.-led bombing of Syria. Interestingly, the mainline media missed completely the crucial fact that this defeat was due largely to a rebellion by Conservative eurosceptic MPs who were angry with Cameron for failure to follow through on his “cast-iron guarantee” of an EU referendum.
Another ‘no’ vote could have been disastrous for Cameron’s political authority. So this time around his party whips took time to ‘bend’ the votes of malcontent MPs. As September is a period of Parliamentary recess and party conferences, this added to delays.
It also meant that Cameron needed to keep the bill highly focused, preventing Britain from joining the U.S.-led bombing outside of Iraq. In desert terrain, however, who will know whether British bombs are dropped on Syrian territory? Doubtless, British and even Australian Special Forces are already, or soon will be, working with Americans in Syria to identify strike targets.
Thanks to the ‘open-door’ immigration policies imposed on the UK by the EU, British civilians now are exposed irresponsibly and dangerously to Jihadist terrorism. Already, in some sectors within certain UK cities, sharia law rules, de facto. Mob scenes in Britain regularly depict banner hate that if shown or spoken by the native English would result in jail sentences. It is no accident that the bloodthirsty Jihadist responsible for beheading the British and American citizens spoke with an accent that grew up in immigrant communities within the UK.
British military probably warned their political leaders against an illegal, ineffective air war with the implication of a massive increase in domestic terrorism. However, in order to preserve the Special Relationship, likely they were overruled politically after delays.
Now, British and American civilians, with wide open borders and none of the personal protections granted their political masters, must face the threat of greatly increased, even horrific domestic terror.
Hopefully British and American politicians will decide eventually to spend on the effective policing of their borders and the physical protection of their people rather than wasting billions of dollars in pounding illusive targets on the enemy’s choice of ground-distant, near empty sands!
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.
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