Searching for a Syria Endgame Strategy

Anyone needing to be reminded of the unintended consequences of military intervention might consider this week a tutorial. Anyone could foresee a certain complexity in the skies above Syria, but the direction from which that complexity comes is nevertheless always surprising.

The lack of unity in international action in Syria was obviously, and long before this week, a problem. France and America may have a clear idea of the aims of their aerial campaign, but their aims are not the aims of the Russians. And the aims of the Russians are not the same as the aims of the Turks. To the extent that the international community is involved in Syria it is still pursuing a whole range of different and contradictory agendas. These nations have all bundled into a situation which threw up new problems consistently from the start.

Yet the shooting-down of a Russian plane by Turkish forces undeniably adds a further level of complexity to this already tangled situation. And the response of both sides has been not only contradictory between themselves but individually too. Turkey’s claims have shifted as facts have come out, and Russian denial of certain clear facts does not make the subject any clearer.

But as Britain’s Parliament debates the rights and wrongs of British action against Isis in Syria all of this should act as a reminder. Not only of the necessity of preparedness in our armed forces but a preparedness for the unexpected fall-out which military action always brings.

A broad coalition against Isis is obviously desirable and cooperation between as many countries as possible is not only a diplomatic but a strategic necessity. But anyone who thinks this involvement is cost free is ignoring recent history. The government’s rationale for intervention in Syria now is different from its rationale two years ago and comprises action against a different side. And so it would be wise not just to exercise military preparedness but to complement it with a sober and complete political objective. In particular it is vital that the intervention’s aims are not only desirable and achievable, but specific.

The temptation of mission-creep is well documented and has plagued recent interventions. A clear and unified objective to destroy Isis is in everyone’s interests. But in order to achieve that we must have a vision not only for what the start of action looks like, but what its end will look like too.

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