And with that vote, parliament has decided to go to war.
I must admit I've been impressed with the media's coverage of todays vote. It never ceases to amaze how they can take a small British deployment as part of a coalition operation against ISIS/ISIL/IS and turn it into "The Third Iraq War/Iraq War Three", as if the US and its allies were on the verge of storming Baghdad once more.
The slightly less dramatic sounding contribution set to be made by the UK of a few Tornado jets is still important I think. A friend asked me today if I thought it was really necessary and if the US really cared about the fact that this time "the Brits are coming!"
I suggested to him that there were two main points of why a British contribution is beneficial;
1) Having allies willing to contribute military force adds legitimacy to the American operations. When US citizens open their newspapers and see that Britain (amongst others) is pitching in with military hardware then it adds to the sense among the public that this is a good thing, that America's leaders are taking the right action.
In this regard the assistance offered by Belgium may actually be the most positive, as neutral audiences will tend to view Belgium as being a peaceful country that is disassociated from prior American adventures; "If Belgium is willing to intervene then it must be the right thing to do, right?"
2) America does not have an infinite supply of assets to share around. It may have a very large armed forces, but it also has a host of global commitments, on top of the standard rest and refitting cycles common to modern, competently managed military forces.
While it may not seem like much for a variety of countries to pitch in 6 aircraft here and 7 aircraft there, it soon all begins to add up. The more aircraft available, the more fixed targets that can be hit on any given night if required, or the more aircraft that can be made available for short notice tasking to hit targets identified by ground forces.
Certainly our contribution to this campaign will be modest, but modest is I think a long way from irrelevant.