The video of James Foley is an escalation: what should the UK response be?

With last year’s vote on Syria in mind there will be a lot of attention given to what the Labour response will be - while we need caution and reflection, the response from the Labour party must reflect the severity of the situation now.

With last year’s vote on Syria in mind there will be a lot of attention given to what the Labour response will be today – while we need caution and pause, the response from the Labour party must reflect the severity of the situation now.

The video published last night which appears to show the beheading of photojournalist James Foley provides a shocking insight into the lawlessness of parts of the Middle East right now. And while the Prime Minister David Cameron is on holiday it surely won’t be long until serious talks are had, in the UK and internationally, about what the response to the escalation of violence in Iraq and Syria (from where Foley was last heard) will look like.

In a very important article for Foreign Policy Magazine, Peter D. Feaver spelt out the five questions by which the world should judge President Obama’s decision to return US forces to combat.

One of the questions he asks involves the plausibility of whether inaction could meaningfully lower the desire of Islamic State (IS) to attack the US. This raises an interesting, and ongoing discussion about what we know about the wider, global aims of IS.

While Feaver says members of Obama’s team are sold “on the view that IS had and has geographically limited ambitions: establishing a new caliphate in the Middle East” – what all governments in countries with regional partners and allies in the Middle East need to be asking is whether they can be sure this is true. Limited ambitions, for now, but what about round the corner?

The question Feaver asks, on whether we should expect “that a group that is committing the atrocities IS commits with abandon will always be implacably hostile to even the most restrained U.S?” – should be asked by the rest of the world as well.

Another question Feaver asks is whether:

“it [is] reasonable to expect that IS will take a very long time to develop the skill sets and orientation of, say, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), arguably the biggest threat to the homeland this very minute?”

Michael White for the Guardian yesterday prepared his own answer for this yesterday:

“Will we still be talking about Isis in a year? I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Here’s hoping.”

Certainly we don’t yet have some of the globalist gestures of Osama bin Laden coming out of the hi-res videos of IS. But then that may be because bin Laden had a particular way with words.

In the introduction to his 2005 book Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence wrote that:

“Bin Laden is not an original thinker [rather, what made bin Laden unique was] his literary gifts. Bin Laden has earned many labels by now – fanatic, nihilist, fundamentalist, terrorist – but what actually distinguishes him, among a host of those described in these ways, is that he is first and foremost a polemicist.”

The point to be made here is that bin Laden thought and said in big and hyperbolic; just because ISIS don’t take his tack, it is no reason to suspect they won’t, or importantly can’t. To be sure, if the latest video that shows the beheading of Foley is verified, it will be a significant gesticulation, on a par with anything put out by al Qaeda.

The US currently goes back into Iraq with uncertainty; it also goes in there with a perceived error to correct. Already Hilary Clinton has admitted that a failure on the part of her government to equip the rebels in Syria early on with arms meant that a vacuum was filled by Jihadists and those hell bent on creating a Caliphate.

This point alone ensures that whatever Labour and Ed Miliband eventually say about the current situation in Iraq, will be heard; not least because it is felt by some that Miliband’s  vote on the issue of Syrian intervention last year contributed to the power vacuum that has led to the creation of IS.

In a scathing attack on the Labour leader last year, David Aaronavitch said:

“His technique for victory is to follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron.”

On the other side of this argument Peter Hitchens recently told me:

“Since our 2003 intervention is the principal cause of 11 years of persecution of Iraqi Christians , and since our attempt to destabilise the secular Assad government in Syria is the direct cause of the rise of ISIS, I suggest a period of modesty on this subject.”

However can we afford modesty at such a time?

With last year’s vote on Syria in mind, and the fact that Miliband was widely scorched for “politicking”, rather than focusing on the severity of the issue, there will be a lot of attention given to what the Labour response will be. Do we not owe it to the Kurds (who will be cooking with fire after taking back Mosul dam), the Christians of Iraq, and the people of the region as a whole to cautiously nod through a pro-interventionist stance?

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