In defence of the police

Why I won’t be weeping for Raoul Moat.

For once, I have to disagree with my friend and colleague James Macintyre. Yesterday James wrote that Angus Moat, brother of the dead gunman Raoul Moat, "should be heard" and he condemned the "trigger-happy police force in this country".

Let me address both these claims, which I consider to be a load of rubbish. First, "trigger-happy" police? Don't get me wrong. I condemned and castigated the Met for the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes at the hands of CO19, as well as over the 2006 shooting of the brothers in Forest Gate. I think the number of deaths in police custody is still far too high. But "trigger-happy"?

For a start, the British police remain largely unarmed. And in the case of Moat, Northumbria Police have confirmed that "no shots were fired by police officers" and that "the suspect shot himself". I'm sorry to have to point this out to James, but policemen using Tasers against an armed, wanted man, after a six-hour stand-off, can't be described as "trigger-happy". If you want to know what "trigger-happy" police look like, see here or here.

Then there is the bizarre claim from Angus Moat that his little brother Raoul was the victim of a "public execution". Is he having a laugh? Some might argue that his brother -- on the run for a week, having killed an innocent, unarmed man and shot a police officer in the face -- should have been shot on sight. He hadn't relinquished his weapon, and yet, as I've pointed out, police officers spent six hours trying to negotiate with him and ended up using Tasers, rather than live ammunition, to end the stand-off.

Perhaps Mr Moat Sr should go to China or Saudi Arabia, where they carry out rather gruesome and merciless "public executions", and see how different those look. And perhaps he should be sending his condolences to the family of Chris Brown, who his little brother murdered in cold blood, rather than extolling Raoul as a "friendly, generous soul -- a very loyal individual, warm, with a great sense of humour, just a lovely, lovely guy".

Yes, warm, friendly Raoul Moat, who, prior to his shooting spree, had been serving time for assaulting a nine-year-old child. In the words of the Independent on Sunday, "He killed a man he didn't know, seriously wounded a woman and a police officer, and assaulted a little girl. But well-wishers wanted to grant him the sentimentalising gestures normally reserved for the victims of crime and accidents."

Such "well-wishers" are, in my view, fools. And I, for one, won't be weeping over his death. Yes, there are "serious questions" for the police to answer, such as "why Moat's former partner was not protected after a warning from Durham Prison authorities, and the lack of surveillance at the homes of known Moat associates", etc, etc, but the police are not responsible for Raoul Moat's death. Raoul Moat is responsible for Raoul Moat's death (and, of course, Chris Brown's, too). Good riddance, I say . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.