Michael Tierney: Failure to act leaves us privy to IS

The horrors being visited on the people of Iraq and Syria by jihadist fanatics demand that the UK intervenes, writes Michael Tierney

Turkish tanks in the outskirts of Suruc on the Turkey-Syria border. Picture: Getty

We are all now armchair generals, whether we admit to it or not. We all have an opinion on the unfolding horrors visited by Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, striving for a caliphate in lands where the sword is proving mightier than the pen.

We may believe that the UK government should not intervene, because it is someone else’s battle, and they have a track record of getting it wrong. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Or we think it can be solved, or at the very least mitigated, through military intervention.

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In the past I’ve been in Iraq and Gaza and Libya but I’m still guilty of opinionating too from a position of relative comfort. I’ve sat there and recoiled at the unfolding events – another beheading, another murder – and still told myself that the UK government cannot intervene against these bogeymen because of their track record in Iraq and Afghanistan. They went to war on a lie. It was their fault to begin with that the whole Middle East imploded. If it were not for the UK government then we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place…

It was Tony Blair. It was George W Bush. It was David Cameron. Then, of course, we can blame al-Qaeda, whose successes helped spawn this deeply barbaric group of Islamic State (but now disassociated itself from it due to its extreme barbarity).

We can look to president Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the reported, approximate 200,000 dead Syrians in his not-so-civil war. We can cite Russian president Vladimir Putin for his support of Assad and we can blame the Qataris (US ally or foe?) for purporting to support IS (and also Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood). And don’t forget the Saudis and oil and big business and the huge appetite for global arms sales that require the beast of war to keep stretching its long tail wherever it happens to be.

Meanwhile, another head is pulled back in the pitiless glare of the video recorder, and another child is killed and another women is brutally raped, and another father, or son or soldier is tortured and maimed and brutalised with such medieval disregard for humanity that one wonders if we are actually dealing with humanity.

And so we are caught between ignoring this inhumanity or trying to end it by adding to the death toll as a consequence of UK ground troops in Iraq and Syria.

Winston Churchill said of Russia: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” This perfectly sums up the current situation with IS, which also sits comfortably ensconced inside a cold-blooded conundrum covered in a dark desert thobe.

Infantry boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria will, at some point, lead to the death of British soldiers and innocents as well as the fanatics of IS (take it as read that the SAS is already there).

Without troops on the ground the present situation will escalate and lead to more beheadings and the deaths of innocents: men, women and children. And the spread of further repression. It is Catch-22 and Murphy’s Law rolled into one.

A recent newspaper photograph showed women and girls from the Syrian border town of Kobane defending a ridge from the IS onslaught. There was also an older man with his young son. These were not images from past wars that have disappeared from our consciousness to live in the pages of history books. These are images of families defending each other against one of the most frightening and destabilising military groups to have emerged in our lifetime.

There was a report and photograph of a mother of two, who strapped herself with explosives and carried out a suicide bomb attack against IS soldiers. I’m shamed by those images. Not because of the woman’s actions, but by what we are witnessing and have been over the past few years in Syria and Egypt and Iraq, on our television screens and in our newspapers.

And yet I find myself, despite the overwhelming complexities, drawn to supporting a broad coalition of action on the ground, though the endgame remains a quandary. It is no longer a blame game, but an action game (I used that word advisedly). What can, and should, be achieved is containment. There is no solving the problem right now with air strikes and boots on the ground. There can only be containment and that must be part of the longer-term solution. IS requires containment to limit its extreme polarising action until a better resolution is found.

Can non-intervention really help here? The longer real on-the-ground action is avoided, the longer it will take to get rid of IS. Politics is, as usual, getting in the way of helping those who are completely innocent. Turkey, for example, needs to accept help and also accept this will result, quid pro quo, in an autonomous Kurdish state. Turkey may later gain European Union membership.

It is essential to contain what is tantamount to a serial killer on the loose.

We don’t need to make it the UK’s fight. The UK just needs to make it a fair fight. At the very least fully arm a Syrian opposition. You can’t fight fire with paper. Or words: and platitudes and promises.

Neither is it simply a human rights issue just to watch, listen or read about what is being done to others: it is a human rights issue to act. Sitting back and being privy to the slaughter of innocents is a real abuse of human rights.

We are past the blame game and finger pointing. The sins of the UK government past won’t disappear because of what is going on today, nor should they.

It’s not about what IS is a product of. It’s what IS is doing right now, and what it will continue to take hold of in the vacuum.

We are all armchair generals now. Some of us just don’t like to admit it as much.

• Tiffany Jenkins is on holiday