Going to war against a state makes some sort of logical sense. It doesn’t make great sense, as Libya and Iraq show. But, at least, in principle, if you kill the people of a government or displace them to a different country, they are suddenly disempowered to continue their threats to the freedoms of others. Daesh does not work like that. They used to be called ISIL, and the L stood for Libya; they used to be called ISIS, and the S stood for Syria; the I stands for Iraq. These are lunatics without borders. They are not a state. They can migrate and pose the exact same threat.
Daesh is an ideology. There are ‘cells’ of people in the UK holding to those ideals. There are cells of people in the US holding to those ideals. Unlike a state, Daesh is not a location-based geographic target. It is malleable, mobile and dynamic. (It is Ultron!)
Daesh is more like a recruitment service than an army. People don’t even have to migrate for Daesh to suddenly appear in a country: it is simply the case that the recruitment has to be successful. Their recruitment has a warped ethical element to it: what right has the West to suppress Islamic ideas? I don’t care right now if you agree Daesh represents Islamic ideas or not; so long as they have that message, bombing them plays into their recruitment drive.
Bombing could result in the radicalisation of some Muslims in Turkey,1 or another nearby country, and suddenly our ‘war’ has spread to a new country. Or many.2 War against the Nazis wasn’t like that: if the Nazis died the problem disappeared; if the Nazis were splintered and forced to migrate3 the problem disappeared. Poland wasn’t radicalised, it was invaded.
This is a big different in the nature of war. Add to that, drones and remote bombing. All of war is faster. Except the intelligence building; that is not faster. Digital and surveillance intelligence is collected extraordinarily quickly, but it then has to be processed and understood before it can inform a decision and thus isn’t faster. The rest of intelligence, gathered by infiltration and ‘moles’ is essentially unchanged and is therefore as quick. This makes acting on incomplete data not just more likely, but necessary. And that puts innocent people at considerable risk. Yet, we are treating our intervention like a conventional war.
1 Really, you only radicalise the already notably far-right individuals. Harmless as many of the Turkish far-right Muslims are, radicalise a few and allow the propaganda to permeate the country and you will have a problem.
2 People don’t really holiday to Syria and they don’t really imagine the country all-that-vividly when they discuss bombing it. Perhaps the horror of our decision to bomb Syria is more apparent if we imagined it were Turkey or Malaysia
3 Being splintered and forced to migrate is very different from choosing to, in a very organised fashion, invade another country.