Air strikes in Syria are the latest chapter in the unwinnable 'War On Terror'. Whilst we still await the Chilcot report, two governments on from the Iraq Inquiry, here are ten lessons will still haven't learnt from Iraq, which will doom us to fail to bring peace in Syria.
We forget our values after a tragedy
If you perceive the War On Terror as a clash of values (Islamism's barbaric, intolerant, fundamentalist tyranny vs. The West's liberty, pluralism, democracy and rule of law) then the most appropriate response to a terrorist attack should be to bolster and defend the freedom of Western citizens. This would not only be a middle finger to fundamentalism, but would illustrate that our culture doesn't bow to terror. However, it seems that after every terrorist atrocity perpetrated in a Western country, a state of fear and submission quickly takes hold.
During the search for the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombings, the city was put on lockdown. Citizens were no longer free to leave their homes, assemble, go to school, or work; as martial law took hold. The suspect was then discovered hiding in a boat after the curfew was lifted. Three people were killed by the bombing, yet the resulting lockdown cost Boston an estimated $1 billion a day. A similar week-long lockdown recently took place in Brussels to hunt terror suspects.
This kind of knee-jerk reaction is all too common after the loss of civilian life, yet we must maintain perspective. Less than 60 people have died from terrorism in the UK in the last ten years. The British are more likely to be killed by their cars, partners, bathtubs, furniture, pets, icy pavements, or tap water. We rightly don't allow these risks to justify an erosion of our civil liberties, and neither should the threat of terrorists whose goal is to destroy free society.
You can't bomb ideas
Bombing during the American war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos killed 2.5 million people, with millions more deaths after the war as a result of American chemical warfare. The justification for this genocidal level of killing was the fight against the ideology of Vietnamese communism. However, 40 years after that decade-long conflict, Vietnam is a country at peace that still espouses one-party communism. Despite 7 million tons of bombs being dropped during the conflict (six times the tonnage of bombs dropped by the U.S. in WWII) the idea of a unified, communist Vietnam still survived and defeated the U.S. Army.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Lebanon have all been bombed by The USA since 9/11, with the apparent objective of destroying Islamist terrorism. Yet whether it's in the form of The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or ISIS, the ideology of Islamism still persists. The reason for this is quite simple: ideas mimetically transcend a single human life. No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how many people we kill, Islamism will continue to exist as long as there is justification for people to fight for it. If we only provide further destruction as a response, rather than a meaningful alternative, terrorism will continue to thrive.
Drone strikes are terrorism
Military drones fly over civilian populations, invisible in clear blue sky, ready to bomb people on the ground at any time. The fear that drones instil in civilians, especially children, is unimaginable for someone who doesn't live every day fearing that invisible flying robots might kill them and their family.
The legality and intelligence behind so-called 'signature strikes' is equally terrifying. We have allowed intelligence agencies the power to commit extrajudicial executions of foreign suspects, without evidence or trial. The U.S. can now legally order the killing of American citizens without any intelligence indicating they are engaged in a plot to attack the United States. The CIA doesn't even have to know who they're killing, and terror suspects can be killed without positive identification based on minimal intelligence.
During the CIA's first targeted drone strike in Afghanistan, three civilians collecting scrap metal were killed because one man was thought to be Osama Bin Laden "due, in part, to his height". After the attack, The Pentagon stated both that "it was an appropriate target" and "we do not know exactly who it was". Under President Obama, 1.43 civilians have died on average per drone strike. However, we still can't be sure of the true scale of civilian deaths because The CIA counts all military-aged males in strike zones as 'militants' unless they have evidence to prove them innocent.
The fear and innocent death caused by drone strikes doesn't stop terrorism. It is terrorism.
Conflict just creates more radicals
Perhaps the greatest catalyst for someone to suddenly choose the path of martyrdom is having their home and family annihilated by a foreign military strike. It is much easier to convince someone to die for your cause when they have nothing left to lose; especially if you can offer them a sense of purpose and belonging, as well as revenge against those who took their home and family.
The idea that decimating civilian populations will defeat Islamism is perhaps the most wrong-headed attitude of our foreign policy. The mayhem and destruction caused by warfare leaves a political and social vacuum in which fundamentalism can flourish. It also creates a generation of young people raised in an environment of constant warfare; where life is cheap, the enemy is obvious, and Islamist militancy seems the only viable solution.
Western nations intervening in foreign wars also make their own citizens less safe. The Paris attackers shouted "This is for Syria" before killing 140 people, in a suspected revenge attack for the killing of Mohammed Emwazi. The endless cycle of violence and revenge only fuels radicalisation.
Our allies are as barbaric as our enemies
The barbarism of ISIS is often depicted by the Western media as a justification for military intervention. Grizzly decapitations are among the group's tactics of terror and control. In the first six months of 2015, Islamic State beheaded 66 people.
During that same period, our close ally Saudi Arabia publicly executed 102 people. Most executions are carried out by beheading, and decapitated bodies have been displayed in public to deter criminals. People can be executed under the age of 18, and for crimes including adultery, 'witchcraft', possessing banned books, and leaving Islam. Confessions are regularly derived using torture, whilst petty crime is punishable by dismemberment or public lashing.
This appalling human rights abuse is seemingly totally fine for Western leaders. Perhaps this is because Saudi Arabia is the world's largest importer of military equipment, and both the USA and UK's no.1 customer for arms sales. We cannot have a foreign policy that is so unprincipled and inconsistent that it denounces the abuse perpetrated by terrorist groups, whilst simultaneously selling weapons to 25 of the 27 countries on our own Foreign Office's Human Rights blacklist.
The government will continually arm radicals and tyrants
What do Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadaffi, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, and The Taliban all have in common? They have all been armed at some point by the USA. The UK has also helped Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad create chemical weapons - only for those same weapons to later be used as justification for military intervention. The wealthy arms trade between the West and Middle Eastern tyrants has been flourishing for decades, and continues despite many of the recipients of arms eventually using them to suppress their own people.
Even more disastrous has been the arming of fundamentalist rebel groups in attempts to overthrow governments that America doesn't like. Inevitably, the delivery of weapons into the hands of violent, disorganised and internally conflicting groups will result in those arms being used against Western interests in the future. We also arm terrorists indirectly by leaving surplus military equipment lying around after we leave a warzone. ISIS recently acquired $1billion worth of U.S. armoured vehicles left behind in Iraq to help expand their Islamic State.
We must realise that pouring billions of dollars of conventional and chemical weapons into a region gripped by tyranny and radical terror groups is only going to fuel further conflict.
Arms companies have a vested interest in war
In 2013, $1.75trillion was spent on the military worldwide; with the top 100 arms companies selling $402billion in weapons. The CEOs of these huge multi-national corporations are tasked with increasing profit year-on-year, and ensuring that their companies continue to grow, forever. The main client of arms companies are obviously national governments spending taxpayers' money. So the job of arms companies is not only to convince government that military spending needs to increase, but also that more weapons need to be bought every year and - in order to ensure continual demand - military equipment should be deployed as much as possible, so they can make and sell more next quarter.
The purpose of weapons companies is to make profit for their shareholders. Unfortunately, in order to do this, poor people on the other side of the world are required to have their homes destroyed and their families killed. The War On Terror was a dream come true for weapons companies. Overseen by George Bush's Vice President (and former CEO of Haliburton) Dick Cheney; a perpetual and unwinnable war guarantees healthy growth for the military industrial complex.
Billions in tax is being wasted on ineffectual military spending
Tony Benn often said: "If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people". The sad truth is that whether it's the £3.2million spent on a two-plane, six-hour bombing mission; or the hundreds of billions spent on nuclear weapons - an awful lot of taxpayers' money is spent on weapons designed to brutalise and kill other human beings.
A Watchmaker drone, operational for two hours, recently cost the UK taxpayer £1.2billion (the annual cost of benefit fraud). Then of course there is the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarines, set to cost a total of £167billion. The nuclear 'deterrent' will only be used if it is part of an arsenal that extinguishes the human race from planet Earth, and does not keep us safe from the threat of terrorism. Only nine nations possess nuclear weapons, and all except North Korea have suffered serious terrorist attacks since 9/11.
At a time when the police are facing a 25% budget cut, and hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing the misery inflicted by weapons we helped to create, you would think that we could put such huge sums of public money to more constructively defend against terrorism.
We need unity, not division
Islamist terror groups like ISIS thrive on division. In every issue of their propaganda, they promise that Western forces entering Northern Syria will bring about a final war in which God will grant Islam victory against Western 'crusaders'. They present the two sides of this conflict as totally incompatible, and use this narrative to groom maligned and marginalised European Muslims. If we want to defeat Islamist terrorism, we have to challenge their narrative.
Whilst elements of the British media use Nazi-like propaganda comparing refugees to cockroaches and rats, ISIS are using their magazine (Dabiq) to scare refugees into remaining in Syria. They want to portray Europe as intolerant and dangerous for Muslims, and even used the infamous picture of a dead child on a beach to warn refugees what will happen if they try to enter Europe.
If we want to break the narrative of division, then we must welcome as many refugees as possible and provide them with safety. We must show that we are happy to share our wealth with those fleeing from war, and that Muslims have a voice in pluralistic, democratic and secular society. Whenever the media and politicians opportunistically stoke up resentment and Islamophobia, they are doing terrorists a great service.
Constant violence doesn't create peace.
There are several factors that attract people to join terrorist groups: religious fundamentalism, endemic corruption, political instability, social alienation, and economic desperation - to name but a few. Yet, all of these factors are exacerbated by foreign military intervention. The insistence of successive Western governments to bomb and kill people in other countries has only created more refugees, conflict, division, instability, poverty, destruction, and terrorism in the Middle East.
There has to come a point where we recognise that our current foreign policy has failed to bring about lasting peace, but has just sown the seeds of future conflict. The war in Iraq contributed to the death of half a million human beings, and could end up costing the United States $6trillion. Yet here we are, twelve years on from when the war began, employing the same strategy, in the same place, against the same ideology. What evidence is there to suggest that Western military intervention in a multi-faceted civil war will bring about lasting peace? Will our involvement really result in a thriving, democratic, united and peaceful Syria, or will it just mean further misery for the people whose homes have been chosen as the stage for a global conflict?
Peace can only be achieved through a long-term foreign policy based on providing human rights, self-determination and liberty for the citizens of tyrannical and corrupt governments. We must respect international law, and negotiate with the governments involved in conflict to bring about a lasting peace process. Rather than sending weapons to a warzone, we should look at providing education, healthcare, and sustainable development to give hope and purpose to the people of war-torn nations. Finally, we must do all we can to contain terrorist groups, starve them of weapons and recruits, and undermine their propaganda.
Unfortunately, given the hegemony of an ever-expanding military industrial complex, the governments they fund, and the barbarous regimes they sell to - it is unlikely that we will ever see 'The War On Terror' come to an end.