Understand this- the West faces an existential threat from ISIS. This is a brutal, sadistic and militarily capable organisation dedicated to coming over here, killing us and destroying our way of life. This is why the debate on military intervention is so frustrating: for our own safety and security, and the liberty of those who live under its abhorrent regime, we simply have no choice other than to confront and defeat the Islamic State.
Certain voices within our establishment are willing to stand up and be counted in this struggle. Tony Blair consistently argues persuasively and coherently for large scale military intervention; Andrew Parker, Director-General of MI5, recently gave a rare speech to articulate the extent and severity of ISIS’s terrorist threat on British streets. But in general we have seen a frustrating cowardice on the part of our political leaders to commit sufficient resources and troops to combat ISIS. Two points are particularly salient. Firstly, we must act with a greater confidence. The West has a military capability the likes of which has never before been seen; our ability to project total and devastating force is unparalleled. Secondly, we must join the dots and recognise that across the globe, a thread of radical Islam is forming. There are many different arenas of operation (Boko Haram in Nigeria, AQAP the Yemen, ISIS and AQIM the Middle East), but there is a real and relevant link between all of them in an aggressively sectarian and perverse interpretation of the Quran. We have to see the big picture, and seek out destroy militant Islamism wherever and whenever we encounter it.
There are several important points to make. The fight against ISIS is radically different to that against al-Qaeda or the Taleban. ISIS is not a group of insurgents or extremists ensconced within a broader society; they are a protean state and heavily armed occupying force. This makes the battle longer- certainly- but also easier; it is clear where and what ISIS is and which targets we must degrade and destroy. This is why the campaign is so radically different to previous operations the West has launched against radical Islam: for the first time in many years we face a quasi-conventional struggle against an occupying force, armed with traditional weaponry and with identifiable headquarters. Our efforts against ISIS have enjoyed success recently, both by saving the Yazidis from unimaginable violence and by liberating the strategically important town of Kobane. But we must do much more. With the parochial factionalism of the al-Maliki regime at an end, our chances of success are radically improved. Now is our time to act.
So the three points of my argument are simple. Firstly, ISIS is a morally repugnant organisation; the stories of beheadings, crucifixions and hurling homosexuals from hundreds of feet are nauseating. We owe a duty to the Syrians who live under this regime, and the Kurds who are threatened by them. Secondly, by funding and inspiring terrorism, and publicly stating their aim is to wipe the West off the map, they pose a real and serious threat to our way of life and our security. Any one of us could have been Charlie. Finally, we have credible and effective military options to deploy, both in ruinous airstrikes and significant numbers of troops on the ground.
Certain consequences of a decision to commit to the total destruction of ISIS are unpleasant. For one, in the absence of a credible, secular and democratic alternative, we have no choice but to work more closely with Bashar al-Assad. But know this: non-intervention is also a choice. Not acting means permitting the development of a Caliphate dedicated to the destruction of our secular and tolerant values, and willing to visit unimaginable cruelty and violence upon the people whom it rules. Not acting means stating that ISIS can televise the murders of our citizens with impunity. This is wholly unacceptable.
War is a bloody and nasty business; collateral damage is almost inevitable. But there are also inevitable and unimaginable consequences to not escalating the conflict against ISIS. This is not only a generational struggle, but the central struggle of our generation. As a group of civilised, progressive and enlightened nations, we are beneficiaries of extraordinary fortune. But with this fortune comes the heavy responsibility not only of preserving the precious flame of liberty in our own nations, but spreading it to light the world.