As understatements go, David Cameron’s recognition that not all his much-vaunted 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria are “ideal partners” for Britain’s armed forces is pretty impressive.
His inability to provide an unequivocal character reference to this ragbag of armed groups is unsurprising, given that the 70,000 figure came from the discredited joint intelligence committee.
Yet when Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and the military top brass were quizzed by the defence select committee, none was able to identify a single group to be described as “moderate.”
Pressed by committee chairman Julian Lewis, a Tory opponent of Cameron’s bombing spree, to identify a “democratic third force” between the Assad regime and its extremist enemies, Fallon could only say: “We will certainly reflect on that.”
His squirming under forensic examination contrasts with the Prime Minister’s bold and utterly specious claim in Parliament that specifying who these “courageous groups” are would risk their safety at the hands of the government or Islamic State (Isis).
Cameron’s cavalier whitewashing of groups that often operate alongside al-Qaida affiliate the Nusra Front and the equally extreme Ahrar al-Sham is indefensible.
It is on a par with his vile, cowardly calumny directed in a private Tory meeting against “Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers” for their temerity in declining to join his ill-thought-out military adventure.
The Prime Minister’s refusal to apologise to the members of six parliamentary parties who had signed an amendment to his pro-war motion epitomises his lack of moral stature.
How could dozens of Labour MPs set aside such a smear against their leader and party colleagues and troop into the lobby with the Tories?
Some are more dedicated, it appears, to overthrowing Jeremy Corbyn than Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Former Blairite insiders Margaret Beckett and Alan Johnson persisted with the canard about “unanimous UN security council backing” for military action, even though, as ex-ministers who supported the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, they must know about the need to employ Chapter VII of the UN charter to authorise it.
Beckett cited requests from Paris for Britain to join the bombing raids and asked how people here would feel if France snubbed similar pleas.
Paris rejected demands that it support British military campaigns in Iraq and, before that, in the Falklands for the simple reason that it disagreed with them. And rightly so.
After the disastrous British military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and the realisation that there is no public support for sending infantry overseas, the default response of parliamentary warmongers is to call in the air force and their “precision-guided” weaponry.
Those sceptical of this knee-jerk spasm are derided as do-nothings in the face of deadly threat.
Yet, as Tory David Davis pointed out, Isis has an annual income of about a billion dollars.
Apart from stolen oil sold in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, the death cult receives tens of millions of dollars a year from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states — Britain’s allies, all supposedly signed up to defeat Isis.
Instead of relying on symbolic air strikes against elusive targets, Britain’s government ought to authorise probes into the banks and arms-traffickers dealing profitably with Isis.
Turkey, which reports having suffered Isis terrorism — even though the bomb attacks have only targeted the Ankara government’s political opponents — ought to be encouraged to close the Syrian border, ending Isis troop infiltration and bilateral trade.
If our government were serious about defeating Isis — rather than getting a toehold in Syria to promote regime change — it would set these realistic measures in train immediately.
Unfortunately, the easy sloganising and hectoring adopted by Cameron and his cohorts fuel cynicism about its motives and justify the well-presented and soundly based arguments against war deployed by Corbyn and other anti-bombing speakers.