by Daniel Fairbrother
The debate on airstrikes and token special forces action seems to have a certain gravity about it. Of course it is serious, but what I mean instead is that once a single, apparently proactive proposal has been considered, this seems to present individuals, especially MPs, with a dilemma: act or not. This pulls us between the single plan our PR minded PM has managed to scramble together – or nothing. As a national defence strategy, this seems a bit hit and miss.
Rhetorically, it is very hard to be “against action”. Consequently, how, in public and parliamentary debate, can we consider more than one course really as action taken to make us safer? Is there a major structural problem built into the way motions are tabled “for and against” in parliament which distorts the rationality of our decision making and enhances the chances of our acting from a desire for revenge rather than a rational discussion about our best interest? What if parliament were now deciding between 4 or 5 different ways to make us safer? Surely this would be a greater tribute to those who died in Paris, that most illuminated of Enlightenment cities.
Various possible courses of response to the Paris attacks seem to have been side-lined, both those more Hawkish and those more Doveish. It is precisely the regime of half-measures which seems so dangerous for the UK, America, and Europe. If we’re going to fight, let’s win. If we are civilized enough to want control rather than (or maybe as) revenge we need to take a deep, Hawkish breath, invade places and instigate our desired systems of political authority.
Or, if we decide that is a bridge too far, we need to decide what we are capable of controlling. The money and effort to be spent on bombs might be better directed, Doveishly, towards domestic defences and intelligence. Yet more Doveishly, maybe the answer is more social than military. What if (perchance) we made our society more worth being a part of, so that all can contribute more wholeheartedly and no one needs to bother looking for weirdo international ideologies?
Both Hawks and Doves can be strong, but we have to choose. At the moment, we have neither. Cameron looks less like a Chicken Hawk – as they say in the US – than a flapping parrot.
If we stick with this terrible “yes or no” way for parliament, and the public, to engage with decisions about national defence policy, we’ll always be offered the worst of both worlds. Parliament needs to act, and to be enabled to act, much more like Gary Kasparaov (don’t tell Putin), and much less like a toddler offered a mushy dinner for the final time.
Daniel Fairbrother is a PhD student in Sociology at Warwick University. He is working on theoretical issues in historical sociology.