IT'S FUNNY, BUT I DON'T SEEM TO REMEMBER anyone in the UK government telling the French or the American administrations that they couldn't or shouldn't attack Syria over the chemical weapons strike that was launched against sections of the Syrian population just a year or so ago, leaving hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians dead. So the idea that French President Francoise Hollande has any sort of grounds to now rebuke our current ruling coalition for their failure to launch a missile assault against Syrian forces, especially in the face of widespread British public opposition to any such attack, not only makes President Hollande's implied criticism of the UK's inaction completely unjustified, but also palpably hypocritical. Britain has never tried to be, or for that matter has never been widely recognised as, the international community's moral conscience, so quite why the French President should now attempt to blame the UK for the seemingly meteoric rise of the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq is quite frankly, incomprehensible.
From an entirely outside point of view, it would appear to be the case that the Islamic State, or ISIS, is just as much a product of Al Qaeda's own internal divisions, as it is about this new fundamentalist movement being encouraged and then subsequently used by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, to actively confront his own internal mainstream enemies, such as the Free Syrian Army and those other traditional opposition groups who have spent years trying to oust his autocratic regime. By deliberately ceding territory, by sacrificing large numbers of his own troops, as well as his own civilian population; and also by preserving many of his own core military assets, whilst at the same time encouraging the Islamic State to viciously attack and degrade most of the other mainstream opposition parties, President Assad has virtually ensured that the final battles of the currently bitter and bloody Syrian civil war would almost certainly be fought between Assad's own regular armed forces and the fundamentalist fighters of the Islamic State. Or at least that might have been the Assad plan?
Had the Islamic State movement remained within Syria's own national borders, the likelihood is that both the fundamentalists and President Assad would, over time, have continued to consolidate their respective positions, by fighting and annihilating the various opposition factions facing each of them, until such time that only President Assad and the Islamic State movement were left to fight over control of the country. Had that scenario remained the case, then it seems probable that ISIS would have eventually been defeated by the much more modern, well equipped and well trained regular Syrian Army, with its highly effective air force and its stocks of high-tech weaponry.
Unfortunately for Bashar Al Assad, the Islamic State's subsequent expansion into the territory of neighbouring Iraq and their sudden acquisition of numerous high-tech weapons and vehicles, including battlefield armour, has fundamentally changed the dynamics of any future military engagement between the two competing sides. With millions of dollars in stolen funds, as well as having gained control of certain Iraqi oil supplies and having amassed a large arsenal of modern up-to-date American weapons, ISIS is now widely regarded as one of the wealthiest and best equipped insurgency movements that has ever existed; and from a Syrian point of view is now a completely different and far more dangerous form of military opponent than President Assad and his advisers could have ever expected to confront when they first laid out their plans.
With the Islamic State now having bolstered its ranks with hundreds, if not thousands of new Sunni recruits from Iraq, some of whom are highly experienced jihadists; and having underpinned their own movement's fearsome reputation for committing the most barbarous of acts against their enemies, through the shooting, beheading and crucifixion of their opponents, ISIS fighters are undoubtedly much more feared now than at any point in the past. Even the Kurdish peshmerga, some of the most capable and formidable fighters in the region are thought to respect the commitment of the Islamic State's fundamentalist militias when it comes to a straightforward fire-fight, suggesting that the ISIS fighters would be more than a match militarily for President Assad's regular army forces, should the two sides ever go head to head in any sort of definitive battle.
The growing reputation and the increased firepower of the Islamic State being what they are, this might begin to explain why certain sources within Syria and the wider Middle East are beginning to hint at the possibility of greater security co-operation between the Assad regime and the western powers, based around the logic of "my enemy's enemy is therefore my friend" and the argument that the Islamic State represents a common threat to everyone. However, given that the western powers were seriously considering launching air-strikes and missile attacks against the Assad regime a little more than a year or so ago, it would seem fanciful for anyone to suggest that Britain, France or the USA would willingly overlook the Syrian regimes decision to use chemical weapons against sections of their own civilian population; and now join President Assad's forces in a joint strike against the Islamic State.
Even though there is little doubt that ISIS represents the gravest threat to the stability of the Middle East in decades, it is probably just as important that world leaders do not overstate or overestimate the risk that the movement poses to the region generally. Granted that Iraq and Syria are both in turmoil; and that ISIS have been instrumental in stirring up much of those particular troubles, but it's also worth remembering that there are any number of other influential Middle East states that still remain calm and have the military resources to confront any fundamentalist Islamic threat should it come knocking on their doors, including the likes of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Iran. Syria's woes are almost entirely the result of longstanding grievances against the despotic rule of the Assad family; and had Bashar Al Assad been a little more inclined to introduce real reforms to his country, then perhaps the rebellion that has been raised against him might never have occurred and would have prevented ISIS from gaining a foothold in Syria in the first place.
For its part, Iraq's internal problems are the result of equally longstanding issues and can undoubtedly be traced back well over ten years, when Saddam Hussein initially fell foul of the international community, after he carried out a series of ill-thought-out actions, including the gassing of the Kurds, going to war with neighbouring Iran, invading Kuwait and thumbing his nose at the international community over the subject of the existence of his purported weapons of mass destruction.
The allied invasion of Iraq which resulted from Saddam Hussein's personal vanity, along with his aggressive foreign and domestic policies simply allowed the internal rivalries within the country free rein, so that without the suppressive influence of his tyrannical regime and the security apparatus that he had built to control all of the various ethnic, religious and tribal rivalries, in a sense removed the cap from a seething volcano of national discontent that has been wracking the country ever since. It was also thought to be as a result of Saddam's deposition and subsequent death that the Sunni Muslim community has found itself isolated from mainstream government and separated from control over their country, to the extent that many of them have become resentful and rebellious, a perfect recruiting ground for the Sunni fundamentalism of the Islamic State movement, which has its roots in the neighbouring Syrian conflict.
The renewed Islamic Caliphate recently announced by the ISIS leadership, whilst the movement was enjoying its initial military successes against the hapless Iraqi national army and hopelessly under-resourced Kurdish forces, is in reality little more than an ideological construct, based on territories seized by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, but not a fixed physical entity, simply because it seems unlikely that the Islamic State will be able to hold all of those territories indefinitely. If that indeed turns out to be the case, western leaders who are contemplating assisting the new Iraqi government with military aid and perhaps more importantly, temporary air cover, must decide just where they should draw the line on territorial possessions, as well as their future approach to the whole Islamic State question. Only today, American military leaders were suggesting that in order to defeat ISIS completely, then there would doubtless be a need to attack the movement and its supporters in Syria, which is after all its heartland. But then that in itself raises the issue of collaborating with President Assad of Syria, the same individual whose forces the Americans were proposing to bomb less than 12 months ago?
Of course logic and common sense would seem to dictate that the only real obligation that western powers have towards Iraq, is to re-establish its external borders with its neighbours and help create a safe and stable internal environment for all of Iraq's various ethnic groups, which would inevitably involve eradicating or ejecting any foreign influence from the country, including those ISIS fighters who still hold significant Iraqi territory. Beyond that, it is hard to imagine that the allied powers have any further moral or legal obligation to Iraq or its people.
Better that the western powers use their advanced military air power to first consolidate and then expand the new Iraqi governments areas of influence within their own country, rather than worry about those ISIS forces currently lying outside of Iraq's national borders. Because even though the Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi special forces, in alliance with the American air force, have managed to stall the Islamic State military advance in some parts of the country, towns and cities like Mosul and Amerli are still either controlled or besieged by ISIS, leaving their tens of thousands of inhabitants at risk from the fundamentalists. As a highly mobile and heavily armed militia, the Islamic State's fighters are perfectly able to travel throughout Iraq at a relatively fast pace, striking at vulnerable strategic targets, then either consolidating their positions, or simply mounting more hit-and-run raids, whilst all the time being preceded by their fearsome reputation for religious intolerance and barbaric reprisals.
With the Kurdish peshmerga generally unable to keep up with each ISIS attack and with much of the Iraqi regular army thought to be holed up in major population centres like Baghdad, essentially much of the hinterland of Iraq has been surrendered to the forces of the Islamic State, a state of affairs than could only be remedied by the fast and far-reaching military assets of the western allies in the shape of their frontline strike aircraft and unmanned drones. Only by conducting a full-scale and continuous air campaign against the Islamic States fighters and their vehicles would it be possible to isolate the individual militia groups, by denying them unfettered access to other associated groups and other parts of the country. If they themselves could be besieged in the various towns and cities that they currently hold, it might then be possible for the Iraqi government to bring regular and Kurdish troops into the various areas of occupation to confront them directly and hopefully eliminate them, thereby reducing the threat to the country overall. No-one would doubt that such operations might prove to be costly in terms of military and civilian losses, although the alternative strategy of simply chasing ISIS fighters from one Iraqi town or city to another and allowing them to slaughter as they go, would undoubtedly be just as costly in terms of innocent Iraqi lives, if not more so; and possibly extend the length of the bloody insurgency in the long run.
As for the ISIS problem in Syria? It seems to be the case that President Assad and his regime are more than capable of dealing with the Islamic State movement, as and when they choose to do so. According to most reports, Assad is being assisted by the Shia backed Hezbollah movement, which is itself sponsored by the Iranian government, so it is not as if the Syrian government is without friends and allies in the region. Also, as a favoured client of the Russian Federation, they can no doubt rely on the support of the Kremlin in the event that they required additional material help to help defeat the Islamic State in Syria.
But from the West's point of view, only the future of Iraq and its indigenous people are really that important. By re-establishing the Iraq-Syria border and securing those routes, both in and out of the country, then that in itself should almost certainly help minimise the chances of ISIS using Iraq's territory as either a bolt hole to escape from their Syrian opponents, or as a source for new recruits to help fight their religious wars.
The great fear for most western leaders of course, is that the Islamic State will attempt to spread its poisonous and barbaric ideology well beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, not only into other neighbouring Middle Eastern nations, but also to those western countries that already have sizeable Muslim communities of their own. Perhaps surprisingly, Belgium is said to be one of the main exporters of foreign fighters to the ISIS cause, with an estimated 200 of their citizens having volunteered to fight for the Islamic State in either Syria or Iraq, whilst for its part the UK is thought to have seen around 500 British citizens volunteer for jihad in the same region.
As if to prove the popular expression "stupid is as stupid does", these estimated 500 Muslim jihadi volunteers from the UK, cannot be regarded as being in anyway representative of the British Islamic community as a whole, but are rather as the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, described them in his recent excellent Daily Telegraph article, those of a "type", typically individuals with some sort of personal axe to grind against the world in general, those who are almost predisposed to take an opposite view on just about everything and anything, or those who have an almost psychopathic personality disorder and welcome the idea of wholesale death, destruction and disorder. Quite how one deals with people such as this, in order to ensure that they don't visit their crazed ideological thinking on the rest of our society is open to public debate, but clearly there is an argument to suggest that they should probably be treated in exactly the same way as we might treat a rabid and incurable animal, with their total destruction being the only humane and sensible course of action open to us.
At the very least, where an individual has made a conscious choice to abandon their country, its prevailing rules of law and its generally accepted standards of civilised behaviour then there should be no place for them within that society, now or in the future. In the event that any British jihadist decides to return to the UK, having made the deliberate and personal decision to fight for the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, or any other terrorist organisation then they should automatically and instantly be returned to either Syria or Iraq, or wherever else they took up their "struggle", in order to face justice in that particular country, rather than being allowed to escape true retribution through the use of the British judicial system.
In the event that any of these British jihadists are subsequently found guilty by a Syrian, Iraqi or any other foreign court then they should face whatever appropriate sentence is handed down by that court, even if that might include a death sentence. These "stupid is as stupid does" individuals need to recognise that their own personal actions and decisions can often have serious repercussions and if they choose to willingly participate in the murdering, looting, raping of a nation, then they should fully expect to face an equally violent and merciless response from that state.