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 Parliament on issues of life and death but again this is completely understandable looking at the internal politics of the Labour Party.

What baffles me is Nick Clegg’s assertion that there won’t be a further Commons vote in the near future.  This decidedly un-pragmatic approach betrays a misunderstanding of why the original vote was lost.  Labour’s opportunism aside, the misgivings amongst many Parliamentarians, particularly those who abstained were not based on some wild new epidemic of isolationism.  The misgivings were that the Government had absolutely no idea what it was doing, and that it should rectify this before Parliament mandated any expensive or risky military adventures.  Political management, not least the timing of the debate, was minimal to non-existent, with little being done to reach out to MPs who had well founded concerns.  That left many with the impression that the Government had not thought through the consequences of its actions.

To clarify, as Nick Clegg has stated, it is essential for our credibility as liberal internationalists to uphold international law and we cannot let the use of chemical weapons go unpunished.  It was how the Government proposed to impose this punishment that left many of us unconvinced that this objective could be achieved.  There were many objections to the immediate use of military force but for me there appeared to be a contradiction in the Government’s thinking; it wanted to punish Assad but without effecting regime change or changing the course of the civil war.  This is virtually impossible to achieve.  For any military action to punish Assad and dissuade further use of chemical weapons, it would have to be significant enough to alter the course of the war by, for example, significantly degrading Syria’s air force capability.

What we lacked was a set of precise and achievable objectives.  In the limited context of the chemical weapon attack the West may well have the capability to destroy all of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles; if this has been articulated by the Government as the goal, they may well have gained greater support.  The wording of the Government’s motion was far too vague and far too many members of the public took what was being proposed to mean a ground invasion.  Whatever military action was proposed, however, if focussed on preventing chemical weapons attacks carried the risk that there would not be 100% success and that these weapons may fall into the hands of a number of other factions.  Again, the Government needed to articulate its awareness of these risks and address how it would reduce them.

I think the accusations of creeping isolationism are overblown.  There’s maybe 20 Conservative MPs on the far right who share the UKIP line that the UK should withdraw from international affairs.  The rest of us see that our long term national interest remains firmly in being engaged with those abroad.  This national interest is not served, however, by hasty decision making that lacks legitimacy.  Some will argue that British foreign policy has been damaged but we should see this as an opportunity to tackle the paradoxes that have debatably hampered British foreign policy since Suez.  Our party should be exploring what such a new approach might look like.

* Adrian Sanders is a Focus deliver in Paignton, Devon, and was the MP for Torbay from 1997 to 2015.

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  • The coalition parties were intent on bouncing us into military action, in advance of evidence from the Wea pons Inspectors and without waiting for UN endorsement.I have no doubt that military action would have gone ahead, weekend past, if Labour had not put the brakes on.We do not know conclusively ,who used chemical weapons, only that chemical weapons were used.
    We have heard that chemical weapons have already been used by both sides.
    What the politicial parties need to grasp, is that the general punter trusts none of you.

  • David Allen 4th Sep '13 - 4:55pm

    Given that “the Government had not thought through the consequences of its actions”, it is unduly harsh to talk of “Ed Miliband’s rather devious pragmatism”. It was more of a muddling through, a belated and confused recognition that the headlong rush into action had to be halted.

    However, that does not mean that the somewhat more reflective debate now going on in the US – a consequence no doubt of the UK vote – is heading in the right direction. It has only taken a week for mission creep to get under way in earnest. Last week, it was going to be a light, limited, punitive measure. Now it is apparently going to be “significant enough to alter the course of the war”, in Sanders’ words. In other words, the West is going to be in it for the long haul. Like Vietnam.

    Sanders says that “far too many members of the public took what was being proposed to mean a ground invasion”. Well, Kerry said something which indicated that this could not be ruled out, and then tried hard to row back. Not to worry. It’s early days. Mission creep has plenty of time to develop. It will start with special forces going in undercover to locate where the bombs should strike. It can continue with special advisers and logistical support and finally uniformed boots on the ground. Just give it time.

    In a year’s time, we shall have forgotten all about the fact that it was chemical weapons that were the pretext for war, in much the same way that Archduke Ferdinand was forgotten in 1914-18. We shall be far too busy with the geopolitics of the Israeli war, and the Iranian war, which the West will have become engaged in.

    None of this is to argue for isolationism. On the contrary, Putin has clearly signalled his willingness to do a deal – On his own terms, of course. We should not ignore the strong possibility that those terms are less bad than the alternatives.

    Give diplomacy a chance.

  • Sadie Smith 4th Sep '13 - 5:12pm

    I think the vote was complicated.
    I was and remain uneasy about any effect of military actio, but want to see an emphasis on diplomacy and humanitarian support. It would be advantageous not to have taken force off the table.
    One casualty is all-Party talks. I am not sure one can expect any agreement to be honoured. And that is an utter disaster. It is not just the vote, it is the coda about the Royal Prerogative. Trust will be difficult to restore.

  • daniel furr 4th Sep '13 - 6:01pm

    Similar to what I was implying. Limited operation is unworkable; any intervention would require regime change. Govt were either extremely evasive or naive.

  • “The motions failed solely due to Ed Miliband’s rather devious pragmatism; something one doesn’t expect in Parliament on issues of life and death ”

    It is not doing the party any favors by continually repeating this kind of guff and it certainly will not gain any respect from the public and former disillusioned Liberal Democrat Voters.

    Labor put forward a perfectly reasonable amendment, which was more measured and careful in its language not to appoint blame before further evidence and intelligence was released giving more conclusive proof of who had actually carried out these attacks.

    Yes it could be argued that Labors amendment was very similar to that of the governments motion.
    But despite it being asked on several occasions in numerous threads, nobody has actually come forward with a reasonable response as to why it was right for the government NOT to support an oppositions amendment, even though supporting that amendment would have set the government on the right path to the course of action that it “allegedly” was going to take anyway.

  • jenny barnes 4th Sep '13 - 6:22pm

    ” it is essential for our credibility as liberal internationalists to uphold international law ”
    So when do you expect to see the UN resolution authorising intervention? Otherwise it’s aggression ( we hate that expression… they’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected, till somebody we like can be elected _ Tom Lehrer)

  • paul barker 4th Sep '13 - 6:28pm

    The Coalitions big mistake was to beleive anything Milliband/Labour said.
    Thank god Labour is dying, it cant come a moment too soon for me.

  • @Paul Barker
    I think you will find it was the sheer number of Tory MP’s who rebelled against the government, which lost it for the government.

    Labor MP’s voted on an amendment which set out a clear course of action and direction for the government to take {before} a 2nd vote
    “That the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action.”

    It was the Tory rebels that rejected both Labors amendment and the governments motion that lost it for the government.

    Maybe you could answer the question
    Why was it right for the government and coalition MP’s NOT to support an oppositions amendment, even though supporting that amendment would have set the government on the course of action that it “allegedly” was going to take anyway?

  • You’re wasting your time Matt, they will ignore your questions & answer questions not asked.

    As for Labour dying – bit rich considering they are the only main party to have increased its membership since 2010 – a point acknowledged by Jeremy Browne on today’s Daily Politics.

  • I fear your right Martin, but you still have to try lol.

    I just don’t like it when people throw around wild accusations and exhibit churlish politics and yet do not have the courtesy to respond to reasoned responses or arguments.
    It’s a trait that is becoming far to frequent from all political parties.

  • @Simon Shaw

    I am pleased that you have engaged and asked me that question and I am more than happy to answer it.

    I believe Labour were right NOT to support the governments motion, purely because . The Governments motion said

    “This House:
    Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians”

    Labours motion was much more careful in it’s wording. It did not immediately apportion blame to the Assad Regime. Which I think was the right thing to do.
    Labours Motion went on to say
    “The production of compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons”
    “That the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action”

    Considering the intelligence and evidence that was supplied by the Government, which lets face it, was not wholly convincing and conclusive.
    In my opinion Labour were right to table the amendment, A majority of the country were and still are not convinced by the evidence or intelligence supplied by the government , there was also a lot of reservations with regards to the Governments planned military intervention and whether or not we were going to be making a bad situation even worse.

    Hague and Cameron, were behaving in a Gun-Ho manor all week and it seemed as if everything was being rushed through in order to authorize military intervention by the end of the week.
    There was even talk of holding a weekend parliament session, so parliament could vote hold the second vote for military action.

    A majority of people in the country were uneasy with events and how quickly things were being rushed. Most people were reluctant to come to a swift conclusion, many people had their fingers burned when they rushed to opinions on Iraq and WMD.
    What Labours motion set out to do, was to put a break on the governments Gun-Ho mentality, and to seek the reassurances that would have put the citizens of this country at ease about military action.

    It was the right and sensible thing to do.

    And that was why it was right for Labour to appose the Governments motion.

    Please now could you do the same and tell me why you think it was right for the coalition MP’s to appose a oppositions amendment.

  • Simon Shaw

    Yes it was right in my view as it was a poor motion and apportioned blame before evidence was obtained, and it has been reported that Cameron only paid lip-service to the UN when talking to Miliband – I tend to believe this as the motion is nippy when it comes to the UN.

    In the same way it was up to the Tories and LD to decide whether to support the amendment – can you point out which wording in the amendment you think would have led to the LD voting against it?

    Also, can you tell me why over 20 LD MPs didn’t support the Government, and what is your view on the 30 Tory MPs?

    Whatever your view on Labour the reason the vote was lost was due to poor party management by the Coalition, of which your leader played his part magnificently

  • I also agree with the sentiment expressed in here – based on Hague’s comments the weekend before and the outcome of the vote

  • Tony Greaves 4th Sep '13 - 9:01pm

    Both the government motion and the Labour amendment were wrong because they both assumed that missile strikes on Syria (targets unspecified but probably not stocks of chemical weapons for obvious reasons) would make matters better, not worse. It was therefore a good thing they were both defeated, even if incopmpetent parliamentary tactics played a part in that..

    There are many things this country can be doing but the neo-imperialist idea that it is our job to “punish” Assad or indeed anyone else, without the backing of international law, is wrong in principle and likely to do more harm than good in practice.


  • Simon Shaw

    I didn’t say there was a little difference – to me they are markedly different tone.

    I see you ignored the points on LD and Conservative MPs not voting – can we have a view please?

    Why did the LD oppose the Labour motion if it was so similar – playing politics assuming that the Government would win and they could ‘yah-boo’ Labour ?

    Tony Greaves also makes a pertinent point, although I suppose the Labour motion, giving more clarity about a path to the second vote, as described by Matt would perhaps cover some of those concerns

    My point though is clear – the motion was poor, the amendment was much the better proposition and I don’t see why the LD opposed it

  • @Simon Shaw

    “If you are saying there was little difference between the Government motion and the Opposition amendment (a view with which I concur)”

    No Simon, this is not correct. There was a big difference between the motion and the amendment. The opposition amendment did not immediately apportion blame to the Assad Regime. That is a huge difference between the 2.

    But you still have not answered the question put to you. Why do you think it was right for coalition MP’s to reject the oppositions amendment?

    I had the courteous to answer your question, to great length, can you not afford me the same

  • @Simon Shaw

    “I am not clear: are you still of that view?”

    I am more than happy to answer your questions, just as long as you afford me the same respect and answer mine before going on to fire another question at me and avoiding mine.

  • tony dawson 4th Sep '13 - 9:23pm

    Given e purported lack of intelligence (or did the government deliberately keep MPs in the dark?) the Labour motion was fractionally better, whatever their motives for phrasing it. Both were pretty poor and there seemed little point in voting for either. Why did they not just put down a motion saying:

    “We’re concerned, we would like to do something if we thought we could be effective. But we don’t know who’s to blame really and what, if any, effective action we could take and what the effects would be if we did. We certainly won’t share with anyone what sort of action we would take, for how long and on what scale. We also know that the USA will do whatever the USA wants to do, regardless of what we do. So, we’ll come back later and decide what we shall do, if anything. Except that we won’t because the USA will have acted by then and although we play lip service to the ideas of UN and talks, we are not really that committed to either.”

  • @Simon Shaw

    “Because the right thing was to support an agreed Government motion – and Milliband was thought to have agreed, so far as I understand it”

    That is not correct either. Labour declared the day before that they were not going to support the governments motion and tabled an amendment.
    The Government knew it did not have the support of Labour and a lot of Conservative MP’s expressed publicly about their reservations on the governments motion.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    You accuse Labour of playing politics, but it was the coalition who were playing politics. It was down to pure tribalism on the coalitions part not to support an opposition amendment.

  • There was a real fundamental difference between the 2. It was at the very beginning of the Governments motion which stated.
    Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the ASSAD REGIME, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians”

  • Surely the reason Cameron and Clegg have for not wanting a second Commons vote is that neither of them believe that they can hold their parties together on this issue; that they have lost control, shown weakness, and that if it comes to a second vote they will lose by an even greater margin than before.
    Should that happen, their leadership would be in danger. The government would not fall (structurally, that is hardly possible as long as it remains in the interests of both parties to retain the coalition) but backbenchers would look for someone else to take the reins.

  • “Your argument appears to be that because Milliband and Labour behaved disreputably, other MPs should have pandered to them”
    “Sounds quite like the problem with Assad and Syria.”

    That’s the exact kind of Churlish politics that I referred to earlier.

    How did Labour behave disreputably?

    Because they tried to put the brakes on the Government s Gun-Ho mentality that was trying to rush through parliament in sanctioning military strikes against another Arab country, before even releasing any details on evidence or intelligence that proved beyond doubt that the Assad Regime were the culprits?

    You call Labour disreputably, when all they sort to do was put the brakes on the government in order to address the real concerns and apprehensions that the UK citizens of this country had.

    If that is your view on a Political party behaving disreputably, then god help us all , that’s what I say

  • paul barker 4th Sep '13 - 9:54pm

    To answer a couple of points – why did the Coalition vote against The Opposition amendment ? Because it was less clear & The Opposition had already said they would be voting with The Goverment motion. Its not usual for Leaders of The Opposition to be so blatantly duplicitous.
    On whether Labour faces a crisis can I suggest reading some Labour blogs ? Todays move by The GMB has brought the issue into the open with Labour facing not just the loss of some Revenue but the loss of their USP & the glue that binds them together. This isnt some distant future we are talking about, The Special Conference is in 7 months with The Euros/Locals 2 months later.
    PS The last Labour membership figures we have are for the end of 2013, they showed a fall of 6,000 from 2012.

  • @Simon Shaw

    “That is plain silly and I am sure that you don’t really believe that.”

    Actually I do

    “And how do you think that would appear in Damascus or Moscow?”

    Quite frankly I am not that concerned with how Russia or Syria would see it. I am far more concerned with how the people of the United Kingdom would see it. We were rushed into making a decision on Iraq, based on false evidence and intelligence. I am glad that the majority of the United Kingdom have learnt their lessons from jumping to immediate conclusions and supporting military action at the drop of a hat. I am glad that we as a country have learnt lessons and want more answers and evidence before sanctioning military strikes.

    “Just to be clear: this is a Foreign Policy matter with significant Defense aspects, and you think the more appropriate solution when there are very similar Government and Opposition motions is for the Government MPs to support the Opposition amendment?”
    So can we assume then, that because this was such an important foreign and defense policy, you believe that the 30 Tory MP’s and 20 Liberal Democrat MP’s should have the whip removed for failing to support a government policy on defense.

  • @ Paul Barker
    “To answer a couple of points – why did the Coalition vote against The Opposition amendment ? Because it was less clear & The Opposition had already said they would be voting with The Goverment motion”

    How was Labours amendment less clear? I am assuming you mean because Labour did not state in their amendment that the Assad Regime was responsible.

    And no the opposition did not say they would support the Government. As events were changing over the course of the week and the Government were adopting a more Gun-Ho Mentality trying to rush everything through. Evidence was becoming less clear and people started to voice their apprehensions. In My opinion it was right for the Labour party to listen to the concerns of the voices not only in their own party, but those of the public. Labour listened. They declared well in advance to the government that they would not support the motion as it stood and they tabled an amendment.
    Listening to the county and acting accordingly is DEMOCRACY, that is what we elect our political parties to do.

  • The only reason a government with a majority can fail to pass a motion is where they have failed to convince their own MP’s.

    As for why they didn’t accept Labour’s motion, that is more down to procedure surely. I think Cameron would have preferred to have been stating that he accepted Milliband’s amendment to ensure as united a front as possible was shown then to have been left with nothing. The problem is he thought he could carry the government motion, gambled on this and lost. Because of the procedure there was no going back to the amendment.

    In many ways the Labour motion was worded better in the following areas:

    1. Avoiding pre-judging the outcome of the UN tests.
    2. Avoiding apportioning blame giving the government room to strengthen the evidence.
    3. Ensuring the UN process (doomed as it most certainly is) is followed to demonstrate that it was only a veto stopping sanctioned action.
    4. Requiring compelling evidence.

    Some argue that the requirement for a second vote means that the evidence / UN issues could be pushed down the road, but the apportionment of blame and the pre-judging the UN inspectors issues are clear failings in the original motion.

    One thing this again proves is that the adversarial nature of the commons and the idiotic view that to compromise is to show weakness, stop effective government. In business if you are negotiating and someone offers an altered route that still achieves your aim, without significant additional cost (which is what Cameron claimed) then you see it as a win win, not the start of a fight…

  • Peter Watson 4th Sep '13 - 10:17pm

    @Simon Shaw “and Milliband was thought to have agreed, so far as I understand it.”
    Could you provide a link to where Milliband publicly said something along those lines?
    Also, if Labour’s amendment was so similar to the government’s motion, why is anybody who voted for one and against the other any less guilty of playing politics?

  • @Simon Shaw

    “Two reasons:
    1. On a Foreign Policy matter with significant Defense aspects, and for no very good reason, they failed to support the Government.” so I repeat I take it you believe the Tory MP’s and Liberal Democrat MP’s should have the whip removed for failing to support a foreign policy and defense, or are you being hypocritical here and saying that this only applies to the Labour MP’s who refused to support the government.

    “2. As Paul Barker points out the Leader of the Opposition was blatantly duplicitous in that he had already agreed to vote with the Goverment motion” That is just plain wrong, as the events unfolded over the course of the week, events changed, The evidence and intelligence that was released by the government was nowhere near conclusive enough in order to support an immediate military response, Labour made their position quite clear in phone calls with the Prime Minister, they stated publicly that they would not support the governments motion the day before parliament was due to sit and they tabled an amendment. That is not duplicitous, that is a party listening to the electorate, listening to the concerns of the people and asking the government to support a motion that set out very clear steps in order to reassure the house and the country that the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt, that military action was the right thing to do, and to set out clear objectives on how that would be achieved. To ensure the safety of the Syrian people and to make sure that we were not going to be making a bad situation even worse.

    “(incidentally, when you refer to “another” Arab country, does that mean one that the last Labour Government hadn’t got round to bombing?)” Another cheap shot Simon that does you no credit at all, I have already said that I am glad that Labour and the people of the United Kingdom are learning the lessons from Iraq and not rushing us into another war with an Arab state.

  • @Steve Way

    At last a reasoned and sensible voice. How I wish their were more like you on here

  • Patrick Smith 4th Sep '13 - 10:26pm

    I believe that the British Parliament has to take a second vote on a differentness basis to the first vote to condemn use of the human horror of `chemical weapons’ in Syria that have been deemed illegal at International Law and banned since 1926 by all signatories of the UN Treaties and in the light of new evidence from the US, that however,still fails to convince, as to who was precisely responsible on 21/8.

    There is purpose in taking a second vote as Liberal Democrats have clearly been the indefatigable defenders of International Human Rights but must calculate as to whether any action can be performed, at all, that considers and puts first a desire to best defend the continued human safety of innocent civilians in Syria : and not make their situation worse..

  • Peter Watson 4th Sep '13 - 10:34pm

    It strikes me that the government’s (and opposition’s) biggest problem is that there is no clear notion about what is the best outcome in Syria for the UK. There is much party political point-scoring and blame-apportioning, plenty of heat but no light. There is a feeling that “something must be done”, but what is that something? What do we want to achieve? Perhaps the best advice is “Don’t just do something, sit there!”.

    If the deplorable use of chemical weapons led to the rebels giving up for fear of another attack, and the end of bloodshed, would that be a good outcome?
    Is it in our best interests to stand by and watch a long drawn-out war of attrition, or to weaken one side or the other to ensure it becomes one? Perhaps we should cynically back whichever side appears to be winning. Or perhaps influence proceedings to ensure some sort of stability under a cruel dictatorship?
    If we ignore the interests of the UK, what is the best course of action from a purely humanitarian perspective?

    The more I think about this, the more grateful I am that I do not have to decide upon a course of action that will cost lives whichever choices are made.

    But while people can debate political sophistry on this and parallel threads, each side accusing the other of political opportunism, what exactly is the Lib Dem position if such a high proportion of our MPs failed to support the motion?

  • Jonathan Brown 4th Sep '13 - 10:44pm

    I find this article somewhat reassuring…

    I myself am very torn on this issue. I personally wished the vote had gone the other way, because I think there are useful things the UK can and should do re: Syria. In the short term I also think the vote reduces our chances of making any difference diplomatically. (Although to be fair, I think the chances of diplomacy succeeding in doing anything useful for Syria in the next few years were vanishingly slim anyway.)

    However, I came to that view through my own experience, research and contacts. The government did make a hash of presenting the case for supporting the motion, and did not convince that it really understood what it was doing or had a sensible strategy. So ignoring the international consequences of the vote, I can’t really fault MPs for voting the way they did.

    In addition, I hope that it may have some positive consequences of British politics in the long run. It does strengthen the precedent set that governments must win parliament’s approval to go to war (even though that wasn’t technically what was being proposed here), and does hopefully strengthen the precedent that the government has to make a proper case to parliament rather than ignore it and go over MPs heads – either directly to the public or without any reference to any checking force at all.

    It also should be remembered that parliament did vote the way I’m sure the British public wished. Had they supported the motion (amended or not), I can’t imagine that it would have increased the public’s faith in our politicians.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Sep '13 - 10:49pm

    Thanks for speaking and writing to us with respect.

    I think most important of all we need to remove all ideas of loyalty from our foreign policy. Blind loyalty to the establishment is what Tories do, we are smarter and more ambitious than that.

  • @Peter Watson
    “But while people can debate political sophistry on this and parallel threads, each side accusing the other of political opportunism,”

    The difference is though Peter I am certainly not accusing anyone of political opportunism or bad mouthing the Liberal Democrat Party as a whole . I don’t think that there are many posters on here who are doing that. What I personally am doing is taking issue with the fact that some liberal Democrat members on here and quite a few coalition MP’s are accusing the Labour party as doing so and I think that is highly inappropriate and hypocritical of them to do so.
    I think the Language being used by some, like accusing Milliband of being “disreputably”,and “devious” and even comments going as far to say that “because Milliband and Labour behaved disreputably, other MPs should have pandered to them. Sounds quite like the problem with Assad and Syria” these kind of mud slinging accusations are just Churlish Politics at its worse and needs to be confronted.

  • What beats me is the lack of criticism for Tory & LibDem MPs who, if they had obeyed their party whips, would not have needed Labour to vote for their motion.

    So rather than challenge the MPs of their own parties to explain their actions, all the criticism is being directed at Labour.

    It’s interesting that according to today’s yougov poll, the public are hardening their position on not intervening.
    69% now oppose using British missiles against military sites inside Syria, while only 21% support.

  • @Simon Shaw

    “As the whole point is that Milliband is accused of being duplicitous I would be amazed if there was any public record of him saying that.”
    Doesn’t that just go to prove the point then, that you have no basis and no proof that you can direct us towards to justify your wild accusations. If that is not playing politics and tribal then what is

  • “As Paul Barker points out the Leader of the Opposition was blatantly duplicitous in that he had already agreed to vote with the Goverment motion.”

    Call me old-fashioned, but if you’re making a public accusation that someone has been “blatantly duplicitous”, you really ought to be able to produce some evidence of duplicity, rather than saying something along the lines of “if someone is being duplicitous you can hardly expect them to be blatant about it”!

    The more party political games-playing I see about this issue – from all sides – the less respect I have for any of you party politicians.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Sep '13 - 11:46pm


    For me it is a simple matter. Taking Syria in particular rather than a hypothetical situation.

    *Assad has committed mass murder of his citizens, and so he has to be brought to justice. Because he is still in a position to carry on killing innocents he has to be stopped and then brought to justice. Just as any leaders on the rebel side who allow war crimes to be committed should be captured and endicted

    *Ideally the same actions should be carried out as was in Bosnia, with the same expectations of timespan. But since we no longer have the manpower to do so it is up to others to do that work. Also, Russia, Iran and Chinas more robust approach in this conflict will stop this from happening.

    *If Parliament votes against such actions then – as is the case now – we do nothing and allow others to do what is necessary.

  • As a sample of some of the bizarrely illogical contributions to this debate, I see Rich Clare in a blog post quotes the government motion as saying:
    “… this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

    Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action”

    and then goes on to ask “what part of that condones war?”

    As he has disabled comments and doesn’t even provide an email link the obvious answer may never be pointed out to him …

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '13 - 4:43am

    I want to make two points about another lesson the government needs to learn: using honesty to achieve pragmatic objectives.

    Point 1: the original plan for a limited strike and then nothing in order to save children made little sense and thus raised suspicions.

    Point 2: I thought Tony Blair’s idea of regime change and democracy was worthy of consideration. The idea that those against should be written off as pacifist isolationists with an Iraq hangover was a misread of the situation.

    Summary: if the government had the courage to say that they really wanted then they could have won more people over.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '13 - 4:56am

    Oh and I see I’ve inadvertently highlighted another lesson: well thought out plans. I think the source of this is that Obama’s original plan wasn’t well thought out (first mistake) then we jumped to help out of loyalty alone (second mistake) and then we realised it didn’t all make sense so tried banging on about dying children (third mistake).

  • Thanks Adrian for certain clarifications. I am perplexed by what Clegg said afterwards – not envisaging any circumstances to go back to Parliament – but then it is rare these days that I agree with any political judgement of Clegg. He has become something of a busted flush for me.

    Dis any Lib Dem MPs actually vote for the Labour amendment? I think the Labour amendment was actually an improvement on the government motion. I think I would have supported it.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Sep '13 - 8:40am

    @paul barker:

    “The Opposition had already said they would be voting with The Goverment motion. ”

    Could you point us to precisely when and where this was said and by whom? A lot of Lib Dem MPs never said they would do so since they realised what muddled garbage it was. The Labour amendment was slightly less muddled garbage.

  • the vote on Syria was defeated because it was rushed.,based on preempting the results of the UN inspection., poorly organised and the general public are fed up with military involvement in the region. Furthermore we have no idea what we are really trying to achieve. or whether or not it will simply make things worse. What has happened in Egypt has also muddied the waters..
    I think labour were trying to distance themselves from Blair as much as they were trying to defeat the Government.. Miliband is also jewish and and cannot afford to be caught up in paranoid rubbish about alleged US/Zionist plots to attack islam.

  • “Point 1: the original plan for a limited strike and then nothing in order to save children made little sense and thus raised suspicions. ”

    I must be missing something. Is there a legal distinction between using chemical weapons against children and using chemical weapons against adult civilians?

  • @John Innes
    “Dis any Lib Dem MPs actually vote for the Labour amendment? I think the Labour amendment was actually an improvement on the government motion”

    No, not one & I agree that the Labour amendment was much better than the govt motion & contrary to what is said about it, it did not prevent taking military action – but it demanded more certainty, from the report by the UN weapons inspectors who,let’s not forget, they were still in Syria at the time of this farce.

  • It seems to me that the thrust of the current position is wrong.

    The emphasis should be on ways to make progress towards a political settlement in Syria. While Syria is backed by Iran and Russia, such progress is going to be difficult. We should be looking to move Russia further from Syria so that the Syrian government will be forced to tackle the issues that lead to the civil war in the first place. We should be pushing for Russia to make it clear what evidence they are looking for and if they are unreasonable in this regard, we should highlight this in the international sphere, looking to show how they are out of touch with the general consensus.

  • David Allen 5th Sep '13 - 1:41pm

    Simon Shaw said:

    “When the Labour amendment had been defeated, was it right for Labour MPs NOT to support the Government motion, especially as supporting that motion would have achieved the same course of action that “allegedly” the Labour amendment would have secured anyway?”

    Looking back at this thread, this was the point at which rational discussion was substantially closed down, and replaced with a nit-picking, point-scoring, oh-so-clever legalistic argument as to how many angels can be balanced on a pinhead. Some people were genuinely trying to assess what is right, what is wrong and what might be the best way forward. Their postings got lost in a bog of repetitive unproductive backchat.

    The quote I have selected begs all the questions. Thus for example, what was the Government motion supposed to achieve anyway, bearing in mind that it was only supposed to pave the way for a second vote which would be the real decision? Was it reasonable for some MPs to conclude that they were being softened up, and hence decide to vote against? This is just one of many issues which Shaw’s “clever” question obfuscates, a question designed to tie up the respondent in endless argumentative knots.

    There’s a simple answer. Ban ShawThink. Don’t answer the provocations. Just don’t mix it with him. It will get nobody anywhere. (The same comments can also apply sometimes to a few other people on LDV, but I think I have picked on the worst case.)

    We can all post a mixture of careful analysis and partisan jibes. That’s acceptable. I am happy to read postings I think are talking arrant nonsense, if I think that the poster is sincere in their beliefs. But I hate to see game-playing. It screws up proper debate and wrecks the purpose of this site.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Sep '13 - 3:04pm

    @Voter “We should be pushing for Russia to make it clear what evidence they are looking for and if they are unreasonable in this regard, we should highlight this in the international sphere, looking to show how they are out of touch with the general consensus.”

    I wish I could agree with you, but I don’t think Russia is looking for evidence. Forget the issue of chemical weapons for the moment: Russia (the country that destroyed Chechnya) is supporting the Assad regime regardless of how awfully it behaves. It has its own (mostly domestic political would be my guess) reasons, but to think that Russia is persuadable by human rights arguments is I think overly optimistic.

    Perhaps it could be bought off, threatened, offered something in exchange… I don’t know. But Russia doesn’t seem to have been seriously interested in any of the diplomatic initiatives yet – the ones that might have had a chance. Whatever western countries do now, they should keep diplomacy on the cards. But I don’t believe there’s any serious reason to think that it might achieve anything without at least the threat of military action and/or seriously beefed up support for the armed opposition.

  • @Jonathan Brown
    I think that the threat of military action is a useful item which could be used to encourage active diplomacy. If Russia does veto at the UN, I think this can be used by the UK and US to emphasize the need to take action outside the UN.

    I think there is value in exhausting all the options before actually taking military action and am grateful that the vote in the Commons allowed a pause.

    I think that if we have to accommodate internal Russian political pressures in order to present a united front, this is worth doing and could set a helpful precedent

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Sep '13 - 3:52pm

    @Voter – by Russian internal politics though I mean Putin’s neo-fascistic attempt to deflect attention from the violence and corruption of the Russian state by means of nationalism and anti-Americanism. I’m not sure that we either can or should accommodate that.

    I absolutely agree that all alternatives should be exhausted before military action. It took me a long time to reach my current opinion on Syria. Nevertheless, I do believe that all diplomatic options were exhausted close to 2 years ago.

    That said, I do still think that negotiations with Iran might achieve something. I don’t really hold out much hope because there’s so much to cover and because the US is probably incapable of discussing, let alone compromising on many of the issues. But unlike Russia, I think Iran gets that the current crisis is a disaster for its own interests. Russia doesn’t really have much at stake in this war (which further reduces the chances of it being persuadable on anything). Iran has a lot to lose – and so an incentive to negotiate.

  • David Allen 5th Sep '13 - 4:01pm


    You hit the nail on the head. Some quick points:

    Yes, the world has a moral and humanitarian responsibility to the Syrian people. Since when does that equate to the proposition that one big Western nation, with its own vested interests in the area, should unilaterally decide what to do, and start fighting a war?

    How would the US react – indeed how has the US reacted – if the problem nation was in their backyard (Cuba, Panama), and the nation proposing to lead external intervention was a hostile nation from far away (Russia)?

    Now that the problem nation is in Russia’s back yard (Syria), and the nation proposing to lead external intervention is a hostile nation from far away (the US) – Well, how on earth should we expect Putin to feel about that?

    Jaw jaw is better than war-war.

    There are two options. Resolve it by jaw-jaw with Russia. Or alternatively, start a war, get a lot of people killed, and then at the end, resolve it by jaw-jaw with Russia.

  • A Social Liberal 5th Sep '13 - 4:31pm


    You are right in that Russia will not be pursuaded by humanitarian arguements, but for a much more fundamental reason than internal politics. They need a mediteranian coast baseand given that Assad has the only port they have access to they will do anything to continue to use it.

  • @paul barker:

    “The Opposition had already said they would be voting with The Goverment motion. ”

    Could you point us to precisely when and where this was said and by whom? A lot of Lib Dem MPs never said they would do so since they realised what muddled garbage it was. The Labour amendment was slightly less muddled garbage.

    I would quite like Paul Barker to answer that one too. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence but keeps getting mentioned as if its complete fact.

  • @A Social Liberal
    Thanks for mentioning the port which Assad provides access to.

    I think this is a reason for Russia to want to favour peace and suggests to me that military action can be delayed so that Russia can use its influence to help create a climate in which a maximum number of Syrian opposition groups can be brought into some kind of settlement with the government.

    Why should we throw in the towel so soon?

  • Richard Dean 5th Sep '13 - 7:11pm

    Jaw jaw doesn’t work, it seems, though of course it must do eventually.

    Wikipedia mentions that Kofi Anan brokered a cease-fire in early 2012, but it was breached very quickly by both sides. Lakhdar Brahimi arranged for a ceasefire during Eid al-Adha in late October, but it also quickly collapsed.

    Perhaps, for Jaw-Jaw to have a chance of working, both sides must become sufficiently weak that they see jaw-jaw as providing greater potential benefits than war-war.

  • Annan resigned as UN envoy but I would have to wonder how much support he had from the US and others.

    Diplomacy can work I would suggest but only if people put in the appropriate amount of effort.

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '13 - 12:06am

    @Simon Shaw
    I interpreted David Allen’s comments as an observation of the way that when you pounce on posts by matt, on this thread and many others, the debate descends into pernickety criticisms of wording and meaning (or simple declarations of “silliness”), and the bigger picture is soon lost. I often find myself losing patience with those exchanges, especially when I feel you are arguing with the way that somebody has expressed themselves rather than engaging with the issues or policies they are trying to discuss, and I was pleased to see somebody had the confidence to highlight it.

  • @Peter Watson

    Thank you, I Interpreted David’s comments that way as well but I was not going to say anything.

    I don’t know why I seem to bring out the worse in Simon Shaw and why he feels the need to go on to the offensive all the time whenever I post a comment or opinion on LDV.

    It is a shame really, because this is a place where people can engage in debate and air their views and opinions, especially on topics of such importance like Syria.

    Many people have strong views and feelings and it is healthy for us all to be able to express opinions in a constructive way that does not descend these forums into utter chaos.

    I am sure readers would get a lot more from these forums if certain people refrained from these kind of antisocial behaviors. I include myself in that as I need to learn not to take the bait and bite.

    I am in no doubt that we will have be having many more discussions over Syria in the coming weeks. Lets hope we can do this in a more purposeful manor that is both constructive and polite to all posters on both sides of the argument.

  • David White 6th Sep '13 - 1:01pm

    Oh dear, I am loath to say this, dear Simon Shaw, but I feel that it is you who, too often, takes ‘snide pot shots at the LibDems’. I don’t want to sound unkind, but you seem to snipe away at the views of liberal LDs, with little by way of supportable argument.

  • Simon Bamonte 6th Sep '13 - 1:07pm

    @Simon Shaw: “I don’t mind matt and David Allen taking constant, snide pot shots at the Lib Dems, it’s just that I object to them doing it on Lib Dem Voice “Our Place to Talk”.”

    Yes, how very dare people like Matt, who has said he has voted LibDem in the past, come here, a website for one of the governing parties, and register his upset at things the current government is doing. Those nasty voters and their desire to hold one of the governing powers to account! People such as him who are affected by coalition policy should know their place and stay away from YOUR place to talk. People like matt and David Allen (and me I guess) are destroying your own little Pravda, no? The poor, innocent Lib Dems certainly shouldn’t be exposed to the opinions of the plebby electorate! Besides, this is probably Labour’s fault as well.

  • I may be mistaken, or there maybe two David Allen’s, but I thought David a member who has contributed numerous articles to this site. Therefore what Simon Shaw really objects to are Lib Dems who do not share his views. He may also wish to look at his selective quote from the LDV site. If he looked at the comment policy page he would see that “We welcome comments from all our readers, whether you are a Lib Dem or a supporter of other parties, or none at all.” and there is a members area where he can safely avoid Matt, but not I guess David.

  • Hi Steve, yes I am a member, and whilst I have a doppelganger who used to sit on a bar stool and tell jokes, on this site there is only one of me!

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