Whatever the result of the Scots’ referendum, an even bigger issue is now rapidly coming down the line. As the US is being dragged remorselessly into what Obama likes to call a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq-Syria – a war by any other name – it is vital that the UK doesn’t tamely follow suit as Blair did at Bush’s beckoning in 2003. A war fought by US bombers and drones, together with a steadily increasing number of US special forces and ‘advisers’ – boots on the ground whether or not they ostensibly have a combat mission – is not going to be won for years, if at all, when the regional coalition-of-the-willing (mainly Saudi, Turkey and Qatar) are unwilling to deploy their own troops, with the exception of the Kurdish peshmerga. There remains too the further critical difficulty that an attack on ISIS in their real power base in northern Syria has no legality if Assad has not asked for such action (he certainly won’t), there is no Security Council resolution sanctioning such a move, and Russia would almost certainly veto such action in the Security Council and threaten to retaliate in other ways.
Obama’s strong preference is clearly to fight this war anaesthetically by drones and special forces, as has already been extensively deployed in Pakistani Waziristan as well as Yemen and Somalia. But again such tactics have caused havoc with hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the process. The scale of these operations is far larger than has been reported in the West. Altogether some 94,000 US air strikes have been launched since 9/11, and arguably the effect has been much more to act as a recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda and al-Shabab than to make any significant contribution to alleged US military objectives.
It is imperative that Britain isn’t drawn into this imbroglio all over again. Britain’s record in the Middle East has been irredeemably negative and counter-productive from the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, through backing for the Shah as a weak Western puppet and then the arming of Saddam Hussein to fight the proxy war against Iran, and then to the illegal and catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003 on utterly false pretences to gain a permanent foothold on the oil. ISIS, vile and bestial though it is, is not a threat to the security of the British mainland, though if the UK sides with the US war-that-is-not-a-war it soon could be. This ugly ripping apart of the Middle East cannot be resolved by Western military tactics, only by a UN-enforced settlement involving all the regional powers together with their Big Power backers and including ISIS.