Last week, the UK government voted, by a huge majority of 481 MPs, to engage in military action in Iraq. Now, once again, we are effectively at war in the Middle East.
For anyone committed to humanitarian inclinations, military force – so easily legitimated through hyperbolic statements of threat, and dramatic images of missiles precisely destroying targets through an aircraft’s gun-sights – should be treated with deep scepticism. Yet the tendency to reflexively reject and virulently condemn military action out of hand is no less lacking in critical reflection than the mindless swallowing of hawkish hyperbole.
The international community has rightly been condemned for standing by and allowing genocide to occur in Rwanda in 1994, and in Darfur in 2003. Is this a similar case? The unfolding and deepening disaster in Iraq seems very much of our own making; so will inaction make us again culpable in unspeakable human suffering? Or is the impulse to fight mere atavistic “war fever”? To answer these questions we need to interrogate two more: first, is the threat of ISIS as great as is claimed? And second, will military action do any good?