As the first week of Royal Air Force strikes against ISIS comes to a close, a recently retired British general has cast doubts over British involvement, saying by bombing the Islamic State the Western world has “played into their hands”, as it allows propagandists to build the narrative of a monolithic struggle between the Christian and Muslim worlds, which furthers ISIS’s ideological aims.
Major-General Jonathan Shaw, who formerly commanded Britain’s special forces and the Basra division of allied forces in Iraq in 2007 has warned that treating ISIS as a fundamentally military problem that requires a military solution is a misconception, and without addressing the root causes of Islamic extremism strikes will only yield short-term victories.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Gen. Shaw said “My systemic worry is that we’re repeating the mistakes that we made in Afghanistan and Iraq: putting the military far too up front and centre in our response to the threat without addressing the fundamental political question and the causes. The danger is that yet again we’re taking a symptomatic treatment not a causal one”.
General Shaw believes the main threat posed by ISIS to global stability is its desire to overthrow neighbouring states in the Middle East, not its proclivity to encourage followers to commit atrocities against the West. In terms of the root causes, the General blames Gulf states Qatar and Saudi Arabia for bankrolling the “time bomb” of Wahhabi Salafism, the interpretation of Islam which underpins the Islamic State’s ideology. As the two oil-rich states both have Wahhabi Salafism as their official state religions, have propagated its dissemination throughout the region, and are both targets for ISIS, Gen. Shaw would like to see them take the lead in waging the ideological war against the Islamic State.
ISIS knows expeditionary warfare is both expensive and difficult for Western nations, who have spent trillions of dollars in the past decade and a half waging war in the Middle-East against technologically unsophisticated terrorist groups. In his interview General Shaw suggests that, with that knowledge ISIS has deliberately goaded the West into launching air-strikes for propaganda value, and to foster the idea that Christian nations are waging crusades against Islam. In effect, the videos created by British Islamist murderer ‘jihadi John’ were not demands for the West to end it’s air campaign as they initially appeared, but bait to tempt the West into another expensive and humiliating conflict.
The General is concerned we have fallen directly into this ISIS trap: “Isil made their big incursion into Iraq in June. The West did nothing, despite thousands of people being killed, what’s changed in the last month? Beheadings on TV of Westerners. And that has led us to suddenly change our policy and suddenly launch air attacks.
“What possible advantage is there to Isil of bringing us into this campaign… Answer: to unite the Muslim world against the Christian world. We played into their hands. We’ve done what they wanted us to do”.
While the General makes it clear he isn’t against military intervention, after his experiences in command in Iraq and Afghanistan he sees the clear need for a strategy that calls for more than bombs. “I just have a horrible feeling that we’re making things worse. We’re entering into this in a way we just don’t understand, I’m against the principle of us attacking without a clear political plan”.
The RAF commenced bombing raids on ISIS positions on Tuesday this week after Parliament voted to approve the action Friday last week. Each plane in the squadron of eight Tornado aircraft costs £35,000 an hour to fly, which includes all peripherals such as fuel, staff and maintenance but not armaments. In the four missions officially reported by the Ministry of Defence so far, British aircraft have dropped bombs costing over £1 million on pickup trucks and buildings controlled by the Islamic state.