Four step plan to defeating Islamic state
I supported this action but with a heavy heart.
IS has done unspeakable things and we have seen images of dead children, beheadings, mass executions and exhausted refugees.
It poses a threat both here and in the Middle East so we need to act decisively. However the decision to support air strikes was not straightforward because we have not fully thought through what happens next. We must urgently do so.
This is how history will judge whether we were right. We need vision and staying power if our efforts are to be constructive, not destructive. This time the public deserves more than short-term fudge masquerading as longterm strategy.
We have to recognise the realities. This summer saw the region begin to fall apart. Bashar al-Assad’s cruel reign continues in Syria, as does tribal conflict within Libya. IS spread across Syria and Iraq, suppressing people with its brutality and inspiring them with its ideology.
Communities and governments failed to defend their land. Millions of refugees flooded into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, each of which now faces mounting challenges to maintain order and functioning economies.
Across the region resentment is building in a younger generation which sees power and wealth being monopolised by autocratic elites. A tide of Islamist extremism is rising from this chaos, with IS being the latest murderous form. Air strikes will check its advance and our wider collective response will relieve some of the suffering but none of this will make the problems go away.
So we must get serious about lasting solutions and this means focusing on four things:
Picking the problems off piecemeal, country-by-country, will not hold in a region where most borders are irrelevant to the ideological threat.
The area might eventually regain a balance but it will be one enforced by bloodshed and intolerance which will eventually upset the global order we fought so hard to establish. Instead, we must look at the whole region.
Second, we must focus on achieving a stability which is sustainable. Multiple tensions keep the area at boiling point. Ultimately, we must recognise that there will never be stability without a new settlement. The area’s true interests must be better represented in its governance.
Western-style political solutions will not work as people are affiliated to tribes, religions and communities and it is those leaders who must initially represent their peoples.
Long-term support will also be needed. Nothing short of the equivalent of a Marshall Plan will do, with us supporting what works there. The scale of a settlement which will bring stability is daunting but we have done it after World Wars. Now we must do it without further war.
Third, the international community must be united. It will take immense effort, and probably more force, to get processes under way to negotiate and enforce stability.
This is the type of effort for which we established the UN. If we can’t get it to step up we must deal with the challenge ourselves and then change the UN.
Finally, we need to uproot extremism from our society. I am proud of our freedom, tolerance and equality. We must promote these values more actively and counteract those who do not respect them.
Seventy years ago this summer Nazi killings at Auschwitz had reached their zenith. As many as 12,000 people a day were being killed because of their faith. The world hoped never to witness such inhuman horror again but we face its spectre now with the rise of Islamist extremism.
It is not beyond the vision and power of the international community to spare the next generation this horror. We must confront it but it will take a great deal more than air strikes to overcome it. We must not let ourselves get away with sticking-plaster responses to such profound situations. We have to be prepared to defend the sort of society and world we want to keep.
[Published in the Sunday Express, 28th September 2014]