Let us be still more precise. Let us say that this missile could be guaranteed to go with 100 per cent accuracy through the front door of the nauseating character known as “Jihadi John”: the man who has made a series of horrific snuff movies, watched around the world, in the latest of which he is believed to have killed an entirely innocent British aid worker, David Haines, by cutting off his head. Let us suppose, furthermore, that the drone or missile was guaranteed to wipe out the terrorist and his colleagues, and no one else. My question to you is: would you press that button?
Even if we could take out this particular cell of terrorists – even if we could be sure of sending Jihadi John down to Shaitan – there are many more like him. There are tens of thousands of black-clad Isil fighters, full to the back teeth of their bilious hatred. We would need more drones than even the Pentagon can afford; and even then we could not be sure of hitting them all. No one has yet put forward a convincing plan for removing Isil that does not mean some kind of ground commitment – and that we are determined to avoid, for very good reasons. As soon as we had Western troops in the theatre, there would be Western captives – and more beheadings, more horror on YouTube. We could plan for Western infantry to take Raqqa, and they undoubtedly could – and it would gladden my heart if they did – but we must recognise that it would be a massive operation; and in spite of all the anger about the murders of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and now Haines, it is not a commitment that would carry public support in either Britain or America.
That is our predicament: a sense of rage, frustration – but also deep public hesitation about how far it is prudent to go in sorting it out. All I would say is that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing.
These Isil terrorists have created a would-be state that is antithetical to our values and a deep well of future terror. They are not only beheading Western captives; they are organising systematic rape, enslavement and mass murders of those who do not share their religious beliefs. These include Chaldean Christians, Yazidis, and above all they include the Shias.
Who do they really hate, these Isil nutjobs? It’s not Israel; it’s not America; it’s the people who think that the true heir of the Prophet Mohammed was a chap called Ali, rather than the so-called rightly guided caliphs. It is a dispute that goes back to the 7th century AD and the “Battle of the Camel”, between Ali and Mohammed’s wife Aisha.
You or I might think it was deranged to care about these doctrinal points, just as it was deranged for Christians to slaughter each other over their own tiny differences. Frankly I don’t give a monkey’s.
The real tragedy of the emergence of Isil is that it has been connived at and almost certainly financed by some in rich Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, some Gulf states – who mistakenly see them (or saw them) as a counterweight to Shia influence in the region, in the form of Tehran and Hizbollah. It’s about geopolitical rivalries; and in the face of the horror emerging in Iraq and Syria, it is time for all Muslim states to put aside such differences, and to unite against a group that so grievously misrepresents Islam. That is the coalition that Mr Obama is trying to build now; and he is right. It is overwhelmingly in the interest of the Muslim world to band together and to defeat a terrorist perversion of their religion. It is in Britain’s interest to be there to support, to be engaged, and to give whatever diplomatic and military help we can.
We may not be able to bring peace at a stroke, but David Cameron is absolutely correct to want to use British forces to help bring the killers of David Haines to justice, to stop the growth of their disgusting regime, and if possible to send them into headlong retreat. For all our occasional spasms of self-doubt, we are one of the great powers of the world with some of the finest armed forces. We would be mad not to use our defence capability, where we can, to make the world a better place. If, by the way, you believe in the continued existence of that British Army, Navy and RAF, then come to Trafalgar Square at 6pm tonight for the Unity Rally, and show your support for the United Kingdom.