Tag Archives: syria

Hawks and doves: equidistant foreign policy?

Five years ago, the Liberal Democrats held the centre ground in the coalition formation negotiations between left and right. Equidistance is a loaded word, one that cynics will laugh at as vacuous. However, five years later, neither of the two main parties seem sufficiently interested in foreign affairs.

This party could be equidistant between doves and hawks in foreign policy. To illustrate the dove-hawk twin hybrid, below are three examples. I am not necessarily endorsing the following as solutions and they are not exhaustive in terms of detail. They are merely prompts for a debate.

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown – While Russia launches airstrikes Britain’s position on Syria remains an inglorious failure of diplomacy

Paddy Ashdown has been writing in the Independent about this week’s developments and diplomatic stand-offs regarding Syria. He said that the west has allowed its influence to be diminished by successive failures:

We bluster in the UN, Washington and London about willing the ends, but we have nothing left but bombs to will the means. The levers to make things happen in Syria now lie in Moscow and Tehran – all we are left with is a bomb-release button at 30,000ft.

This is a diplomatic failure of inglorious proportions. Historic proportions, too, since the result will inevitably be another ratchet down in the West’s influence, already grievously diminished by our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. One would have thought that we would have learnt the lessons of those defeats. But, still – sadly, stupidly – when the West sees a problem in the world its first instinct is to bomb it.

He asks what some great foreign secretaries of the past would have done:

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What do you think about the drone attacks killing UK citizens in Syria?

I have to say that when I heard that David Cameron had authorised drone strikes on two UK citizens who had joined ISIS in Syria I felt very uneasy. I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever with the men in question. I do care about due process and about the reputation of this country, though. I’m not convinced that what appears to be summary execution for actions that took place 3 and 4 months ago counts as “self defence.”

There didn’t seem to be much doubt that the men were up to no good:

The prime minister indicated that the UK and the US strikes followed intelligence that Khan and Hussain were plotting to attack “high-profile public commemorations” in the UK.

It is understood they were the Armed Forces Day event to mark the death of Lee Rigby, which was held in Woolwich on 27 June, and the VE Day commemorations presided over by the Queen in London in May.

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Why Syria needs a strong Europe

The Syrians arriving in Europe are chiefly fleeing barrel bombs dropped by their own government, although the thuggery of the militias and warlords who now control much of their country provides another strong impetus. The most notorious of these is Da’ish (better known as ISIS), which has managed to instil fear into us in the West. Dai’sh’s destruction of Palmyra has also affected us directly because Palmyra is part of our own heritage, as well as that of Syria and the Arab world. Almost simultaneously, a photo of a drowned boy, who looked like a doll discarded at the seaside at the end of the family holiday, has finally aroused our compassion for the quarter of a million Syrian dead, and the ten million or more who have been displaced.

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The Independent View: Liberals need solutions to the migrant crisis – and conflict prevention will be key


So this was the tragedy of a Britain with open hearts and closed borders. The growing humanitarian crisis in Syria coupled with instability in North Africa is creating one greatest migrations waves seen since the end of World War II. Jordan alone has taken over 1.1 million displaced Syrians and is now suffering water shortages that could lead into larger migrations into other Middle Eastern nations.

The reaction to this has been largely isolationist policies, with commentators in the UK describing these migrants anywhere between ‘cockroaches’ and ‘a swarm’; the narrative media focused on dehumanising those fleeing conflict.

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The shocking stories of refugees from Syria should stir a response

David Cameron seems, at last, to be softening his stance, but references to “swarms” of refugees have been shocking. It has felt as if he were a party-politician more in sympathy with the xenophobic strand of his own party than a statesman able to see the plight of people making desperate journeys to escape a situation in Syria that most of people in the UK should be glad not to understand.

The numbers should inject some realism. The total population of Syria is just under 23 Million. The total population of the European Union is 503 Million.Around 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria, 1.6 million to Turkey, 1.2 million to Lebanon, 600,000 to Jordan, 242,000 to Iraq, 136,000 to Egypt. That puts the 150,000 who have sought asylum in the EU into perspective.

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Farron: Enough is enough. It’s time to help refugees in need in response to Independent’s heartbreaking photo of a little dead Syrian boy

As David Cameron goes on the news and tells us all that we can’t take any refugees, but we are doing all we can to make life ok in the countries they come from, Tim Farron has been telling the Independent that we need to take in more refugees.

Cameron knows perfectly well that Syria is far from ok. How can it be when you have a brutally murderous dictator fighting a brutally murderous death cult for control?

Had we still been in Government, Cameron’s comments would have chilled me to the bone. The truth is we haven’t done enough to offer sanctuary to people in need throughout the whole crisis, not just this Summer. Nick Clegg certainly managed to ensure that we did take some people from Syria who needed specialised support but nowhere near enough.

The Independent has published a heartbreaking photograph of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach. They know it’s going to upset people. This is their explanation for so doing:

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Opinion: Should we bomb ISIS positions in Syria?


Thursday’s news reported Michael Fallon’s statement to the House of Commons raising the possibility of another Commons vote on bombing Syria. Friday’s zoomed in on the one minute of silence to honour the victims of the shooting in Tunisia.

Quite how bombing ISIS positions in Syria would prevent a gunman doing crazy things near the other end of the Mediterranean is not quite so clear. Announcing this just before a public marking of the deaths sounds like a plea for revenge.

Later on Thursday Radio 4 interviewed two Conservative MPs about the possibility of bombing Syria, one who voted for this and one who voted against in 2013 — overlooking the idea that the proposal now is to bomb the positions of ISIS, who oppose President Assad’s regime.

photo by: The U.S. Army
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Russia, ISIS, globalisation and the EU – Norman and Tim answer foreign affairs questions

LDV recently put some questions on foreign affairs to the two leadership contenders. Here are their responses.

1. Can you summarise in around 100 words what a liberal foreign policy looks like in your view?

Tim Farron:

Liberals are proud and passionate internationalists because we believe in the rights of all people – no matter what they look like, what they believe or where they are – to live in peace, free from poverty, ignorance and conformity. We understand that only by working with other countries through strong international institutions can we make that a reality and build a fairer, greener, freer world.

It is in neither Britain’s interests nor the world’s to close ourselves off, but also that intervention abroad must be rooted in international law, decided through international institutions and clearly justified on humanitarian grounds.

Norman Lamb:

Our Party is proudly internationalist. Our leaders have often been lone voices, Paddy demanding rights for British citizens from Hong Kong, Charles opposing the Iraq War, Nick in taking on Nigel Farage‎

I share these courageous liberal values‎. Liberal values are universal – they do not respect borders.

For me Britain should play a global role and prompt Europe to do more for peace, in tackling poverty and climate change, and in standing up to oppression.

We must also be able to defend those who need our protection, our allies, and ourselves. Enduring adequate funding for our armed forces means debating Trident’s future when our world is far more threatened by terrorists and cyber attacks than by nuclear war, and pursuing reform to make sure our forces are effective and efficient.

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Opinion: The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and the need for a no-fly zone

Jonathan BrownOn Tuesday 7th April Planet Syria organised a global day of solidarity with Syrians campaigning against dictatorship and extremism. A coalition of Syrian civil and human rights activists including the famous White Helmets asked for people to remember Syria and send a message showing that they care. Over the last 4 years an amazing country I used to call home has been reduced to rubble and an amazing people ripped apart in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a generation.

Syrians are calling for 2 steps to reverse the ever-worsening conflict: the implementation of a No Fly Zone followed by support for serious peace talks. The various ways in which such a no fly zone could be implemented are explained in further detail here.

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A foreign-policy-free election?

RAF lightning II aircraft photo by defence imagesFor all its crudeness, the barrel bomb has to be one of the most brutally effective weapons around. An old oil drum, filled with that now all too familiar combination of explosives and steel detritus, dropped onto its fuse-laden nose from a helicopter, it seems, kills and maims in just the right proportions to terrorise those left behind.

It is little wonder, then, that the barrel bomb is Bashar al-Assad’s weapon of choice in his effort to wear down those parts of Syria with the impudence to have thought they could do better. It tells you all you need to know about the man that, having discovered that the wretched things seem to be particularly effective when aimed at young children, the regime, like so many despots before, has found schools to be an especially desirable target.

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Lib Dem members on intervention against ISIS: 59% back air strikes, 49% support sending troops

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Support for British intervention in Iraq and in Syria to stop ISIS

MPs voted on Friday for limited British intervention in Iraq to combat the threat posed by the terrorist group Islamic State/ISIS. According to our survey of party members, that action has the backing of most Lib Dems. By a more than 2:1 majority – 59% to 27% – Lib Dem members approve of the RAF taking part in air strike operations.

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Opinion: Why the Lib Dem membership should strongly oppose the UK’s new Iraq-Syria ‘bombing war’

iraqBeheadings, women buried alive, executions for being in the wrong tribe ? This is not the democratic peaceful Iraq promised in 2003. But just 3 years after the US withdrawal, they went back again in early August with a bombing campaign, and now the UK is joining them.

The Prime Minister’s intent to bomb Syria as well as Iraq is the subject of apparent disagreement between the Foreign Office and Downing St. The flaky legal justification is that Syria is unable to prevent fighters from crossing the (unmarked) desert border into Iraq. However, since the US has declared the Syrian regime illegitimate and has supported anti-government rebels, it has contributed to that ‘inability’. That explains the Foreign Office reticence.

photo by: The U.S. Army
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Nick Clegg talks of shock and disappointment at Sheffield’s Labour council refusing to accommodate vulnerable Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children fleeing the violence in their country with their families pose for a picture on February 20, 2012 at a partially set up camp in Mafraq city, near Jordan's northern border with Syria.From today’s Guardian:

Nick Clegg has accused Labour council leaders in Sheffield of refusing to take a single refugee from Syria under the coalition government’s vulnerable persons relocation (VPR) scheme.

The deputy PM and Sheffield MP is furious that Labour put pressure on the coalition government to do more to help Syrian refugees but is refusing to offer practical help locally. Refugees have been arriving from Syria in the past few weeks under the government scheme.

photo by: FreedomHouse
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Opinion: In every conflict, there is always more than one side to the story

Protests in UkraineIt is always tempting to view the world in black and white. When Good is pitted against Evil, who in their right minds would want Evil to succeed? We can all happily unite behind Good and therefore feel Good about that ourselves.

Sadly, the world isn’t like this. This may seem like an outrageously obvious statement, but it is not intended to be patronising. Reactions from various politicians to recent events have given the impression that many political conflicts are indeed black and white.

When the Arab Spring began over 3 …

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The Independent View: Censorship is not the way forward in countering online extremism

Earlier this month, the Government reiterated its intent to censor online extremist content through ISP filtering systems. This has largely been in reaction to fears over radical jihadi videos coming from Syria and has been heightened due to recent estimates of 2,000 European fighters travelling to Syria. There is particular concern over the influence foreign fighters may have on the young and impressionable upon their return to their countries of origin.

Though well-intentioned, government-controlled filtering is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it raises big questions about what can be deemed ‘extremist’ in theory. Secondly, current filtering technology …

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Sir Menzies Campbell: “We will not allow Nigel Farage to set our moral compass”

On the Today programme this morning, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife Sir Menzies Campbell debated the decision by the Government to give sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees with Conservative MP Brooks Newmark who was less enthusiastic, it’s fair to say, about the idea.

Of course it’s a question of humanity and we should not allow the argument about immigration to stand in the way of our responsibility and we should not allow Mr Nigel Farage to set our moral compass in this matter.

Newmark said that if Britain was giving more money than other EU countries, we shouldn’t feel obligated to take in refugees as well.  You could hear the exasperation with such an insular, uncompassionate attitude in Sir Menzies’ voice:

These are not mutually exclusive. The fact that Britain has given £600 million is something of which we can legitimately be proud. We’ve also been part of the political effort going on at the moment in Geneva to try and find a political settlement out of this terrible morass. But none of that, however praiseworthy it is, can be regarded as being inconsistent with exercising the kind of humanity which legitimately might be expected of a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations.

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Nick Clegg confirms that UK will give refuge to most vulnerable Syrians

Nick Clegg has announced that the UK will give refuge to some of the most vulnerable citizens. No figure has been put on how many as they are focusing on need, not quotas,  but it will mean that many woman and girls who face the risk of sexual violence, for example, will be able to come to this country. The Government will work with the UN High Council for Refugees to determine who is in most urgent need and they will be brought here over the next few months. They will include those most traumatised by the crisis.

The UK Government …

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Syria: Clegg continues to push for UK to take refugee responsibilities seriously

Syria has once again returned to the headlines this week, with the warring parties in the country’s civil war beginning formal peace talks in Geneva amid allegations that the Assad regime has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.

Nick Clegg has, The Guardian reported, been making the case for the UK to take its international responsibilities seriously and join a UN scheme to take a limited number of refugees from Syria:

A source close to the deputy PM said: “Nick Clegg has been arguing for weeks in government that Britain should consider

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Focussing attention on the humanitarian cost of the Syrian civil war

This afternoon, the House of Lords will discuss the tragedy of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Syria. Lord Roberts secured the debate, and here he sets out his views exclusively for LDV.

The crisis in Syria, which the UN has described as ‘the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times’ is now reaching overwhelming levels. The total number of Syrian refugees is now estimated to be 2.3 million, of whom 0.5% – around 12,000 souls – are spread across the whole continent of Europe. Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, is bearing the brunt of this: an estimated 100 Syrians enter Bulgaria daily, many of them illegally. The country simply cannot cope.

The United Nations and its non-governmental organisation and local government partners in the region face many pressures. These organisations are fighting to ensure social stability. In Lebanon, in light of extraordinary population growth, essential resources, space, and labour are all causes of significant social tension. In East Lebanon, a makeshift refugee camp providing shelter for hundreds was burnt down last month, and the Lebanese town of Tripoli saw bloodshed mirroring the Syrian conflict in the latter months of 2013. Alarmingly, car bombs in Beirut are once again headline news. The spread of violence will continue, threatening to destabilise the whole region, unless practical and immediate measures are taken to relieve the pressure on Syria’s generous but inundated neighbours.

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Lord Roberts writes: It is time to open our doors to some of the most vulnerable people in the world

ld4sos-bannerAs 2013 drew to a close, politicians from across the political spectrum came to the same conclusion: that the UK should offer shelter to (at least) a small number of the two million refugees who have fled the war in Syria. Even scaremongerer-in-chief, Nigel Farage MEP, called upon the UK to honour its obligations under international law. Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP, told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend that ‘clearly we can’t take all the refugees, but we should play our part as an open-hearted, compassionate country’. The Labour Party …

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Sir Menzies: “Unfortunate” that coalition will not let Syrian refugees come to UK

The Independent reports Sir Menzies Campbell’s comments on the decision by the Coalition Government not to join other countries in allowing 10,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict where, let’s not forget, chemical weapons have been used. Sir Menzies was not complimentary, that’s for sure:

It’s unfortunate, to put it as mildly as I possibly can, that we have closed our minds to that possibility when other countries in Europe have taken a much more generous position.

The Independent’s view is that Sir Menzies represents the Liberal Democrat view:

Mr Campbell’s view represents that of many of his colleagues in the Liberal Democrats

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Syria – Lib Dem members’ views on military intervention

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Almost 700 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

It’s a month ago to the day since David Cameron lost the vote in the Commons on keeping open the option of military intervention against Syria. Just a day ago, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

In the week before the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow we asked what party …

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Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: “The world’s children deserve our protection”

This week Nick reflects on two speeches in two weeks: the first to the party’s conference in Glasgow, the second to the UN general assembly. In one he announced free school lunches for the youngest children in English schools; in the other he announced an extra £100m of aid to help Syrian refugees. As Nick says, “We all hate the idea of a child going hungry. Be they a refugee on the borders of Syria, or the neglected child of a troubled family in an inner city: the world’s children deserve our protection.” You can read the letter in full, below…

libdem letter from nick clegg

Last week, I was at our party conference in Glasgow. This week I’m writing to you on a flight back from the UN in New York, where I spoke at the General Assembly and discussed Syria, Iran UK and arms control.

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LibLink: Lorely Burt on Syria and the vote

Writing in today’s Solihull Observer, Lorely Burt, Lib Dem MP for Solihull explains why she abstained in last week’s vote.

Personally I could not support the government’s position. I will not support any more foreign war adventures: no more putting British lives at risk without broad international support and a direct threat to this country or our people.

We have all been sickened by the pictures of rows of dead Syrian children, and people dying so painfully from gas poisoning. But even so, getting involved in another war is an unpalatable option for most of us.

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Adrian Sanders MP writes…The Government must learn where it went wrong over Syria

The Government’s handling of the Syria crisis continues to raise more questions than it answered.  I’m not sure if this is a response to the media coverage of the issue or a general surprise that the process of sanctioning military action would necessarily have to differ from that used ten years ago when invading Iraq.

Focussing on the domestic political situation, it is clear that MPs in general supported a robust response to the use of chemical weapons despite the understandable concerns of the public.  The motions failed solely due to Ed Miliband’s rather devious pragmatism; something one doesn’t expect in …

Posted in Europe / International, Op-eds and Parliament | Also tagged and | 76 Comments

Michael Moore MP’s Westminster Notes

Michael Moore MP with apprentices Cameron Collins and Mark Tully at Mainetti 30 08 13 Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore MP, writes a regular column for newspapers in his Borders Constituency. Here is the latest edition. 

Jobs campaign

I recently launched a local jobs initiative as part of the Liberal Democrats’ ‘A Million Jobs’ campaign.

Apprenticeships are a really effective way of tackling youth unemployment because they enable young people to develop the training, skills and experience they need to enter fulltime paid employment. They also benefit businesses who gain value …

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Opinion: War is hell, but sometimes dictators leave us with no choice

The Mother of All Parliaments, one of the oldest democracies in the world, decided against condemning, and possible military action against, a brutal dictator, who used chemical weapons on his own population. I shall not critique the political fallout and alleged skulduggery or whether or not certain individuals played politics with the issue; my opinion is to express why intervention is required and why Britain needs to lead on Syria.

Assad has terrorised his own population with conventional and chemical weapons. Innocent people have been indiscriminately targeted; entire neighbourhoods destroyed, towns and villages laid waste and countless communities have been massacred. …

Posted in Op-eds | 110 Comments

Opinion: Even if this is the end of our ‘Special Relationship’, there is no need to mourn its passing

cameron-obama-hot-dogIt’s that old classic love story. Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl become infatuated with one another. Boy leads Girl into a series of illegal wars in the Middle East. You know the rest. (In the interests of gender equality, I should point out that you are more than welcome to switch around the genders in this analogy.)

But now, this one sided relationship has a new twist. Girl has said no to the Boy’s latest attempts to lead her into another bombing campaign, and Boy is angry. Boy storms out, and …

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No chemicals sent to Syria from the UK

Syria mapAccording to the Independent, Vince Cable is under pressure over some export licenses that were issued by his department in January 2012.

The licenses were for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride. both of which can be used to manufacture sarin gas, which we now know was used in the chemical attacks in Syria. But further down the article we can read that:

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that although the licences were granted to an unnamed UK chemical company in January 2012, the substances were not sent to Syria before the permits were eventually revoked last July in response to tightened European Union sanctions.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarNeil Sandison 7th Oct - 12:34am
    Theresa May was aiming this at 2 audiences .The right of the Conservative party where she believes she is the heir apparent of Thatcherism and...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 7th Oct - 12:06am
    Alistair, no I don't, I hope to move to France and I still don't want relaxed borders and the UK loving the EU. I want...
  • User AvatarDavid Wright 6th Oct - 11:40pm
    Re the Quad, it makes sense that the two LD members should have been the DPM and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so once those...
  • User AvatarAlistair 6th Oct - 11:07pm
    Eddie, millions of Brits live abroad, where according to you, they are ruining the foreign coyntryside. Thats okay though presumeably?. May doesnt have a policy....
  • User AvatarA Social Liberal 6th Oct - 10:44pm
    Teresa May should have heeded her own advice and stopped the Tories being the Nasty Party. Unfortunately they just can't help themselves - when the...
  • User AvatarPeter 6th Oct - 10:32pm
    It is amusing that Ruth Bright so eloquently articulated the consequence of too much immigration. We are losing our national culture. @Alistair I refer you...