Prime Minister David Cameron has significantly stepped up the rhetoric on the Islamic State and its terrorist methods. His language is the strongest yet, with reference to “a battle against a poisonous ideology”. And he warned of “a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean”. Humanitarian aid, he adds, is not enough to defeat IS. He made repeated reference to Britain using its “military prowess” and military action, alongside diplomacy, to defeat the group. And if we did not do so, terrorists with “murderous intent” will target people in Britain.
Few who have witnessed the appalling plight of the refugees driven into the mountains of northern Iraq will not have been moved by the ordeal of helpless women and children and the nightmare they have had to endure. Such scenes make a powerful case for intervention to halt the advance of the IS terrorists. Despite assurances that it is right not to “send armies to fight or occupy”, Government policy now seems to have veered to something ominously similar to the rhetoric that preceded the Iraq war. The chaotic aftermath of that intervention caused us to recoil from military interventions.
Mr Cameron is right to warn of the dangerous nature of IS and its murderous intolerance of those who do not submit to extremist doctrines. But we should proceed with caution. It would suit the lurid propaganda of IS to draw us into a protracted war with them. He needs to ensure the language deployed more accurately matches the government’s intentions. Closer reading of the text and background briefings give a more nuanced guide to intentions.
Downing Street stresses that this is not an escalation – however much the rhetoric may suggest the opposite. The UK has played no role in supporting the latest round of US air strikes on IS targets and that is unlikely to change without a parliamentary debate.
Second, the prime minister’s concern about the threat here at home is directed at Islamic State sympathisers seen parading with an IS flag. These, he says, “will be arrested” – a clear warning that the government will act against those in the UK who have gone to fight jihad, in Syria or Iraq, returning home with the intention of carrying on the struggle.
Mr Cameron says all resources must be mobilised – “aid, diplomacy, our military prowess”. The replacement of Iraq’s political leadership to secure a regime less hostile to Sunni interests – which has done much to fuel the rise of IS – is a most positive step forward. As for military prowess, UK assistance here should take the form of training, technology and equipment support for those domestic forces that are moving against IS rather than direct military intervention by UK soldiers.
This policy is itself not without risk. But it is much the less dangerous way to proceed, and one that would address humanitarian concerns without drawing us once more into a deeply dangerous and complex Middle East engagement.
Yes and No still need game-changers
AT LAST. The longest political campaign in Scotland’s history is moving into its final month – though such has been the ferocious intensity of the campaigning to date, we seem to have been in the final month for the past 24. Opinion polls continue to twitch with every week, the latest ICM poll appearing to show that doubts over SNP policy on the pound are not being reflected in a rise in support for No. Indeed, since 7-11 July, support for Yes has gained two percentage points while support for No has fallen back. Also, nearly two-thirds of Scots believe an independent Scotland would be admitted to the European Union. This would all suggest that there is still everything to fight for as we go into the final stretch. However, according to economist David Bell, who has been tracking bookmaker betting, his latest summation of the data up to early August, taking in the Alex Salmond-Alistair Darling TV clash, shows that the market expectation is for a more than four in five chance of a No victory.
A second TV encounter looms a week today, this time hosted by BBC Scotland. Alex Salmond has promised to bring more clarity to his stance on the currency, while the Yes campaign has also been campaigning vigorously on concerns over future financing of the NHS. Other issues such as the pledge to remove Trident from Scottish soil and to provide “free” childcare for working mothers also feature. But uncertainty over currency arrangements has been a key focus of economic and political attention – even though voters do not appear convinced that the signals from the three main UK parties will mean Scotland losing the pound. This notwithstanding, the Yes campaign still needs a game-changer – and time is running short.