When friends and colleagues ask me what I think about such matters I often begin with or indeed entirely focus on what I’ve read and what I’ve made of this. Ask me what I think and I’ll tell you who I’ve read. It’s surely up there with answering a question by critiquing the original question. Clearly my friends and colleagues are patient and forgiving people.

Implicitly of course my choice of who I’ve read and what I’ve taken from them, tells you what I think, but i rarely begin by explicitly setting out my stall. This could be why my university debating career stalled, but it is definitely a function of my abiding suspicion of claims to certainty in a world of complexity.

David Mitchell comments on this same point today and Bertrand Russell beat us both to it when he said; “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.” Matt Frei’s similar (and perhaps less elitist) conclusion in the  immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks was that “nuance dies on days like these. What course then for the wise or nuanced? Hedley Bull suggested that; “It is better to recognise that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.”

But to be fair to David Cameron, unlike me who can get away with reading, reflecting (and occasionally even writing) about Syria, he is expected to do something about it. Syria is a moral and yes an academic issue for me. For millions on the ground (or on boats to Europe) it is a living nightmare and for world leaders it is a problem which we expect them to practically address irrespective of all the light, darkness, (un)certainties, knowns and unknowns. I can critique the murky reality of foreign policy. David Cameron has to navigate it…against the clock.

So do I think Britain should bomb Syria? Or to put it in more deliberate and less emotive language – Should Britain extend its anti ISIS air campaign from Iraq into Syria? Sadly as with our politics generally, public discourse here is organised around simplistic to the point of false and also gendered dichotomies – doing something as opposed to nothing, taking “tough action” rather than “being weak”.

I supported the 1999 Kosovo intervention in spite of the fact it had no explicit UNSC sanction. Something I excoriated Tony Blair for four years later in Iraq 2003, and then was particularly impressed by come Libya in 2011. However I am acutely aware of the riposte that reliance on the UNSC means Britain’s foreign policy is outsourced too/held hostage by the veto wielding powers (i.e. China and Russia) dependent as it is on an alignment of national interests or otherwise polite indifference.

Yet Council authorisation – for so long so central to the response of international society to Syria – of a sort now exists (although S/RES 2249 (2015) doesn’t invoke Chapter VII). So a legal case and thus international legitimacy as with Libya 2011 (in the early stages) are less in question now. Although here it would be wise to note there remains (as Ian Clark points out) the issue of whether legitimacy is purely the outcome of the Council’s decisions or whether it informs them. I.e. Council action is always legitimate, or the Council acts only where it is legitimate.

But away from the international diplomacy and these questions of legitimacy, should *Britain bomb Syria*? The concerns I have – and which lead me to agree with those who say we should not – stem from efficacy. The lesson of Iraq 2003 is not never to use military force (and so here I probably part company with the certainties of Stop The War) but rather that before we do so we must consider carefully our end objectives, our means and whether these are appropriate and in alignment.

Essentially when we use military force, what are we trying to achieve, why are we doing it, are either of these appropriate, how are we going to do it, is there a reasonable prospect for success and in so much as we can determine, what are the forseeable consequences of action/inaction? There’s probably a separate blog post on this combination of realist and just war reasoning alone, but this is not it.

The analysis I’ve read so far (including Stephen WaltDan Jarvis, Patrick Cockburn (here and here), Jason Ralph and Paul Rogers) suggests to me that the purported aims of British action (which Cameron has said must not be confined to just air strikes) are unfeasible, unrealistic and unclear if not counterproductive.

Unfeasible because the 70,000 coordinated  moderate ground forces who will take the fight to ISIS are proving elusive and somebody’s ground troops are needed yet none are forthcoming. As Rafael Behr writes this is “the weakest link in his [Cameron’s] chain – an expression of wishful thinking and heroic ambition as much as a credible argument.” Indeed the “global coalition” isn’t evenly sharing the burden of the existing air campaign as it is which is just one indicator of the vexing agency problem – who is acting in Syria and why?

Unrealistic as it speaks confidently of concrete signs of political progress at the Vienna talks to end the Syrian Civil War, yet for which there is precious little evidence. Some sort of compromise resolution of the Assad Question would do much to end a conflict which ISIS has been able to so effectively (and destructively) exploit, yet even where the West to amend its position, would the Syrian opposition?

Unclear if not counterproductive because there *a lot* of competing national, regional and sub national/sectarian interests at play in what is both an intra state and a proxy war. Beyond the usual “fog of war” (for which read Russian and Western air forces providing tactical support to opposing sides with all the risks this runs) are the multiple alliances of convenience which begs the question of what kind of Syria emerges and what will the consequences be for the region, its states, peoples and refugees.

Where does this leave us? Complexity is no friend of action but nor is it an excuse for inaction. I was struck by the comment in the days following the Aylan Kurdi tragedy that “we mustn’t do the wrong thing for the right reason”.

Likewise the Syrian Civil War and the threat posed by ISIS – both to The West but foremost Syrians and Iraqis – does mandate an international response but not I suspect this one.