My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, on the brevity and clarity of his fantastic maiden speech. It was an important speech and the House needed to hear his voice today.
I have spoken in 43 debates on Syria since 2011. In the intervening five years, more than 9 million people have been displaced, more than 1 million injured and 250,000 killed. It is important for us to recognise that. For most of this period, I have argued for intervention because it was evident that, poorly governed as the Middle East is, it was incapable of resolution on its own. The rise of ISIL was not a surprise. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have always mobilised in vacuums, as we know from Somalia and Afghanistan. As with AQ, so we have to deal with ISIL.
To those who have concerns about the UK’s belated engagement to degrade Islamic State in Syria, I say this: I am the first to admit that bombing cannot destroy an ideology, but it is undoubtedly true that the ownership of territory gives you the attributes of statehood. IS raises revenue from having 20 to 30 billion barrels of oil, pumped daily from captured fields in eastern Syria and northern Iraq and providing about
$50 million a month. It raises taxes from the population trapped within its area of control and it administers summary justice—although on justice I say to the House that in our abhorrence of its justice, we seldom recognise that our ally in Saudi Arabia has similar and as barbarian punishments, some of which it is carrying out this week. The fact that ISIL runs like a state is what makes it attractive to other jihadis, including Western ones. To push back against its territorial gains therefore has to be an essential part of the strategy, and air power is already working in that regard. The Americans say that they have killed more than 20,000 IS fighters since August 2014, so to suggest that air power is therefore irrelevant is strange, to say the least.
There is also much concern that we do not have a developed strategy beyond air power. I do not want to get into a numbers game, but I will say that growing up in conservative Muslim societies, with 42 years in and out of the Middle East, has taught me one thing: that in the Middle East, allegiances shift in the sands as much as they ever did. The entire history of Islam—the Shia/Sunni schism and much more—is about shifting powers and then shifting allegiances. When the facts on the ground start to change as we join the campaign to degrade IS, so too will myriad fighters change sides. The US saw that in the tribal awakenings in Anbar in Iraq in 2007, and we may see it again.
Moreover, on strategy, we have seen in warfare that whatever the game plan was when you started out, a few months later it will not be what you expected. We cannot know how this will end; that does not mean that we are not right to try to shape events. I simply remind the House that the Islamic State’s motto is “Enduring and expanding”. That is their brand and their mission. We owe humanity a duty to try to prevent that.