Clegg: Five reasons why this is not Iraq

Nick Clegg has just sent the following email to Liberal Democrat party members:

Dear member,

Tomorrow Parliament will consider international action in Syria.

I have been adamant from the outset: any case for international action must be taken to the UN in an effort to achieve as great an international consensus as possible. And I have made certain this is taking place.

We must wait until we hear from the weapons inspectors.

Ahead of tomorrow’s debate, you can read the full wording of the motion we’ll be laying before Parliament here.

For the past week I have been in regular discussions with the Prime Minister, with Ed Miliband and with international partners such as Vice President Biden in America.

All sides agree, the murder of innocent men, women and children through the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a crime against humanity. It is a repugnant crime and a flagrant abuse of international law.

It is important that we try to do everything we can to ensure international and cross party consensus. That is why we have listened to EU countries and the Arab League, why we are taking this to the UN and why we are ensuring the House of Commons has the final say before any direct British involvement – one vote tomorrow, and another one if and when we are asked to participate directly.

As we consider action, I am clear, we must only consider measures which are legal, which are proportionate, which have as much international backing as possible and which are specific to stopping the use of chemical weapons. These are weapons which are indiscriminate in their killing and have been prohibited under international law for generations.

I understand the anxiety which the possibility of military action generates after our experience of Iraq – an illegal war opposed in Parliament by Lib Dems alone.

But this is not Iraq. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and there is no disputing these weapons have already been used.
  2. We are working in lock-step with our international partners, with France, the EU, the Arab League and Turkey and a Democrat President in the United States.
  3. Proportionate, targeted military action following a regime’s use of chemical weapons is legal under humanitarian law.
  4. This is not about boots on the ground. This is not about regime change. This is about upholding international and humanitarian law and deterring the use of chemical weapons to protect innocent people from being murdered in future by brutal dictators.
  5. There will be a vote in the House of Commons. We have gone to the UN, and the Attorney General is publishing unedited advice based on evidence.

I joined the Liberal Democrats in no small part because of the Party’s internationalist and humanitarian values. I don’t believe anyone who shares these values can stand back and watch what is currently happening in Syria. As in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, this is a moment for Liberal Democrats to stand up for our values and act, upholding international law and protecting the people of Syria from the worst excesses of authoritarian oppression.

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister

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  • Bill le Breton 28th Aug '13 - 8:56pm

    And how many reasons can the Leader give us that this is not Sarajevo, 1914?

    In another posting, Jonathan Brown writes: ‘While we have dithered, the things we apparently wanted to avoid have all come to be: the conflict has grown worse, generated millions of refugees, sucked in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Turkey and a swarm of global jihadists.’

    In situations like these, what may have been wise x months ago is not necessarily wise now. This surely is one such situation.

    We are where we are, not where we were. It is tonight a very different situation which requires extreme care.

    7 nuclear nations are now involved in the entangled web of alliances and obligations. The tinder box that these obligations are attached to is a cat’s cradle of extraordinary ethnic complexity, with hundreds of years of history still alive in the minds of the participants.

    Is it really possible to disentangle and help a ‘right’ side win? No. Once intervention takes place is it possible to predict the ramifications of that action? No. Is it possible to help surrounding countries? Yes. Is it possible to minimise the chances of adverse reactions from states who wish us and our way of life ill? Yes.

    The last time circumstances such as these existed was in the Balkans in 1914.

    The following quote is not meant to illustrate exact parallels, but to suggest the kind of dynamics at work. At his trial for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Gavrilo Princip said, “During his trial he stated “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be free from Austria.”

    30 days after the assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Europe was at war.

    I hope our MPs and Peers have those words in mind when they vote tomorrow.

  • Vote in haste, repent at leisure. Just like Labour did (with Tory support).

  • Peter Hayes 28th Aug '13 - 9:14pm

    The only intervention that makes sense is to fund MSF who have hospitals in the refugee camps and within the country are supporting doctors and hospitals with medicines. Their statement and film footage is being misrepresented to support action whilst they are actually saying they only know they are seeing patients and need UN inspectors to know what was actually used.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Aug '13 - 9:17pm

    In my opinion Iraq and Syria are about the same thing: the west are frightened of weapons of mass destruction. I would consider supporting military action if someone told us the truth, but I would still be very hesitant.

  • He is quite correct to say that this is not Iraq. Of course in Iraq Saddam used chemical weapons against his people and there was no intervention, so why intervene now in Syria?

    I have little trouble in concurring that chemical weapons have been used but much more of a problem assuming that it is Assad that has used them

    Whose interests are served by the West being drawn into this conflict? Not Assad surely?

    Perhaps some conclusive evidence will be produced by the intelligence services of the UK, the US or Israel but then again that sounds like Iraq again. If such evidence is produced it had better pretty damn watertight this time!

    Speaking personally I would only support limited action in the following circumstances

    1) Evidence that Chemical Weapons have been used (probably ok on this one)
    2) Evidence that it was Assad that used them
    3) A UN resolution for proportionate action to be taken being passed.
    4) A Parliamentary vote in favour of UK being part of such UN authorised action
    5) The Government (including Liberal Democrat colleagues) being clear about the objective and next steps.

    If the west gets sucked into this war then there has to be a way better solution on the table than when we went into Iraq and as Bill says above we need to beware the potential consequences of a conflagration.

  • The five reasons why this is not Iraq (some bullet points or numbers might have made this a bit clearer):

    1. Chemical weapons have been used. Yes, but we don’t yet know by whom. Let’s wait until the inspectors report.

    2. Working with our international partners. We did that with Iraq – ah, but it’s a “Democratic President” this time, so that makes all the difference. Come off it Nick – do you think we’re stupid?

    3. Military action after chemical use is legal under humanitarian law. There’s probably quite a lot of room to debate this.

    4. This is not about regime change. Nor, ostensibly, was Iraq, although that was clearly the objective from the start. This may not be, but who can forsee the endgame here?

    5. There was a vote on Iraq in the House of Commons. We went to the UN on Iraq and carried on with the attack without UN support – that looks like happening again. I look forward to the Attorney General’s advice, but I suspect it will be so convoluted I won’t understand it.

  • David Evans 28th Aug '13 - 9:28pm


    The best reason that will prove that this is not Iraq is to say that the Lib Dems will not let it happen whatever David Cameron may want.

  • Matthew Doye 28th Aug '13 - 9:37pm

    I have blogg my thoughts on trying to find the least worst option at .
    To sumarise, we cannot shirk our responsibilities towards the Syrian people an we can no longer leave them to the mercy of a regime which has no respect for the right to life and liberty. More robust action is required now.

  • I agree Nick However my reservation is the aftermath increased action against the opposition attacks on Israel an even ourselves a escalation of conflict with China an Russia one side the west the other so lets see. My belief is a war between east an west will happen as they are religious zealots with the aim to have the Muslim faith and ways to control the world and we been blind to that sad sad all I can say

  • Alisdair McGregor 28th Aug '13 - 9:54pm

    The big problem with the motion – which I otherwise support – is that it apportions blame.

    Now I’m no fan of either side in Syria, but there are questions of who is responsible over the use of chemical weapons (with one of the options being “both sides”.

    I’d vote for this, but it’s worth remembering that there are no good guys on either side of the Syrian conflict.

  • I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. Mahatma Gandhi

    We have fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade and the world is in the depths of a huge financial crisis. Can anyone see the connection? And for all those lost lives, for all that expenditure, the world is as dangerous and uncertain as it was in 2001. Can anyone see the connection?

    And you want us to support military action in Syria? Oh, please? There is testing party loyalty and testing party loyalty.

  • We cannot stand back and watch when a few hundred people are killed with chemical weapons, but apparently we can stand back and watch when 100,000 people die of bullet and shrapnel wounds, starvation or poisoning by bad water. I understand the point of campaigns to ban particular classes of weapon, but if we indulge in “proportionate” (i.e. token) action which blows up a lot of stuff and (with luck) just a few people, I’m not sure every Syrian will agree. Some missiles will fly in from the sea. There may even be a lull in the killing. But the day after they stop coming the killing will continue as before.

  • Speaking as one of thousands of Territorial Army soldiers who ended up leaving their day job and home lives behind when deployed to Iraq, the time for unilaterally taking action without a UN mandate has gone.

    Let the Arab League carry the can for doing or not doing something for their fellow man.

  • No.

  • Personally. I’ve never understood the difference with killing people with chemical weapons and killing them with conventional weapons. The problem is people are being killed not that they were killed the wrong way. The Syrian crisis has dragged on because we have conflicting interests, lack of clear objectives and a general public that is tired of military involvement in the politics of the region.

    the key question to me is what are our objectives .

  • What Clegg needs to do is stop talking about Iraq and explain how he thinks the proposed action could be legal if there were no UN mandate for it.

    It is certainly not enough to repeat over and over again that the use of chemical weapons is not legal – and that would not be enough even if there were solid evidence that they had been used by the Syrian government.

  • A couple of ‘big picture’ points which seem to be overlooked:

    1. We are broke as a country. The debate about intervening or not intervening seems to ignore the financial cost.

    2. The Iraq invasion radicalised many Islams against Britain – both inside and outside the country – as our intelligence services warned. The same will happen if we intervene in Syria.

  • “I have been adamant from the outset: any case for international action must be taken to the UN in an effort to achieve as great an international consensus as possible. And I have made certain this is taking place. We must wait until we hear from the weapons inspectors.”

    According to the BBC, the decisive move to support Ban-Ki-Moon’s call for delay (I can hardly believe myself writing this, mind you) was made by Ed Miliband. At 5.15 this evening, according to Nick Robinson. Quickly made public by Douglas Alexander. Where was Nick Clegg, and is his attempt to play catch-up truthful?

  • Peter Watson 28th Aug '13 - 10:57pm

    Surely a major reason why this is not like Iraq is that Lib Dems no longer have the luxury of being in Opposition. As part of a government Lib Dems must make and accept the consequences of a decision, whether that is to act, to not act, or to procrastinate.

  • “We” have contributed to the existence of these states and the frictions within and between them through colonial competition, cold-war client management and interventions of many kinds, yet France, the US and Britain continue to believe that we have a duty or a right to step in and “save” them (the same applies to Russia on the other side). And we always seem to make things worse.

    Either the UN or the Arab League, or preferably both, must host a serious negotiation. “We” might be invited, but we should just be participants like any other. Iran and the enforced diaspora could not be excluded, It would be dirty – establishing who might represent the rebel interests would be a job and a half – and brimming over with realpolitik. But something like this has to happen.

  • “According to the BBC, the decisive move to support Ban-Ki-Moon’s call for delay (I can hardly believe myself writing this, mind you) was made by Ed Miliband. At 5.15 this evening, according to Nick Robinson. Quickly made public by Douglas Alexander. Where was Nick Clegg, and is his attempt to play catch-up truthful?”

    To be more positive, if this could be achieved by Labour alone, despite the fact that the coalition represents a majority in the Commons, think what could be achieved if the Lib Dems too were capable of rediscovering their principles and asserting the importance of (1) determining what actually happened in Damascus and (2) acting in accordance with international law.

    PS. Hint to Clegg: There may actually be votes to be gained from acting in a principled manner. Think about the votes, even if the principles stick in your craw.

    PPS. Hint to other Lib Dem MPs. There may actually be votes to be gained from acting in a principled manner. Think about your own re-election in 2015, even if Nick Clegg is hell-bent on military action.

  • “This is not Iraq”

    Strange little missive from Nick, this one. The title obviously means “This time let’s be pro-war”. The 5 reasons, and the stirring final paragraph about standing up for our values and acting, are well drafted. They read as if much time and effort was expended to perfect their appeal.

    But then, some eight or so jarring paragraphs have been bolted on in front. Those paragraphs explain why we’re not quite so gung-ho after all, we need to wait for the UN inspectors.

    Now, clearly Nick could not have actually published those jarring paragraphs, until the Government had taken its decision this evening to hold more than one Parliamentary vote. So, is that the reason for such a rushed-out, cobbled-together, and somewhat self-contradictory email to Party members?

    It may be. But what doesn’t look very credible is Nick’s assertion that HE was the guy who took the lead in demanding caution, that it was he who was “adamant from the outset” that we must wait to hear from the UN inspectors.

  • @ Carl – this is not my understanding of the position

    yes the UN Security Council will probably fail to pass a resolution as Russia and China will veto

    My understanding is that in this situation the General Assembly can consider a resolution and pass with a 2/3rd majority

    However, I may have this wrong and even if correct would of course take time to build agreement

  • “We must wait until we hear from the weapons inspectors.”

    If I understand correctly, the weapons inspectors will report only on whether chemical weapons have been used, not on who used them. So I’m afraid that this business of waiting for the inspectors is a bit of a red herring.

    It is very difficult to understand the sudden urgency for military action by the Western powers, given that they have not felt the need for it over the last two and a half years. during which time an estimated 100,000 Syrians have been killed.

  • Which one of those five didn’t apply in Iraq then?

  • Andrew Suffield 29th Aug '13 - 7:15am

    I think you’ll be waiting a long time for the UN Security Council resolution authorising force, Tony. If that’s one of your conditions, in effect you’re opposing action altogether. It’s a perfectly reasonable position, but let’s be clear about it.

    I’m inclined to endorse that condition as well, and it’s a little more subtle than opposing action altogether. Rather, it is “opposing action while the current situation continues”, but remaining open to the possibility of action if the politics shifts such that international consensus is possible.

    I’m not opposed to military action per se. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to light that powder keg.

  • @JRC – most of 2, all of 3, all of 4, and the last part of 5?

    That said, I remain to be convinced a) that Assad did it, b) that even a limited military strike is not extremely risky, and c) that it will be effective in preventing a recurrence (what then?).

    There is also the question of whether those countries who have recovered more quickly from the economic crash should shoulder the financial burden.

  • Paul in Twickenham 29th Aug '13 - 8:11am

    “Syria is not Iraq”. As others have cynically observed, the primary difference seems to be that this time the Lib Dems are in government. Just like in 2003 I find myself in total agreement with Hans Blix, and in total disagreement with the UK government : regardless of who is responsible for deploying these weapons we have no right to act unilaterally as the world’s self-appointed policeman. This email seems to me to be about softening up internal opinion ahead of the strike that Obama appears to be hellbent on and which Clegg will then have to justify.

    Let me ask one question: if the Lib Dems were not in government and the US president driving this had a name that began with Buh and ended with Oosh (h/t zerohedge) then would Mr Clegg be saying the same things as he is saying in this email?

  • Paul in Twickenham 29th Aug '13 - 8:27am

    As an aside, I’ve always liked Tom Lehrer’s remark that he gave up writing satirical songs when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as there was no way he could top that. I think that when Mr Clegg steps in front of the TV camera to justify launching 200 cruise missiles against… well, something… that will obliterate the remaining vestiges of affinity that I feel for the Liberal Democrats.

  • “Syria is not Iraq.”

    It was only a matter of time before we got this gumph.

    However, the proposed conflict in Syria has less well defined objectives than Iraq. It is very hard to understand how any military objective can be achieved that has a beneficial outcome. At least with Iraq we had committed ourselves and the objective of overthrowing Saddam by defeating his depleted armed forces was clear and achievable. The main problems with Iraq were (a) that the case of going to war was based on what were very obviously grossly exaggerated claims about Saddam’s WMD capabilities and (b) that there was little or no thought paid to how the country would be run in the vacuum of authority in the aftermath of the war.

    The proposed aggression against Syria has less well defined objectives and seems to be born out of reactionary emotion rather reasoning. The message I’m getting is that we’re going to bomb something in Syria, it doesn’t particularly matter what we bomb as long as we bomb something and it doesn’t matter that it probably won’t achieve anything although it might trigger world war 3, but let’s cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t. Iraq looks positively sane in comparison.

  • Syria is also different from Iraq in that the public are much less supportive:

  • Cllr Robert Brown 29th Aug '13 - 9:26am

    Nick’s missive clearly does mean “this time, let’s be pro war”. The arguments all have eerie echoes of Iraq except that, this time, we seem about to make the wrong call.

    It is true that international action sanctioned by a UN vote is blocked by Russia and China, and that this is not the only issue of legality. So let’s go back to first principles:
    1. The use of chemical weapons is clearly outrageous, immoral and illegal
    2. Intervention in other people’s countries is usually a bad idea, except for self defence or overwhelming other reason
    3. It may be that a so called “surgical strike” could take out chemical weapons with relatively little civilian casualties, but it doesn’t, as others have said, stop the killing or resurrect the 100,000 people killed to date
    4. The consequences may spill across the Region which is an enormously complicated ethnic, religious and political tinderbox. For example, it will hardly help support moderate forces in Iran which is a much bigger threat.
    5. Are there no possibilities for a UN prosecution for war crimes of the Syrian regime? Not immediately effective but putting clear pressure on the regime.
    6. On any view, no one should be gung ho for immediate action. The process of verification must be allowed to conclude.
    7. Have we really learnt nothing from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq etc?

  • @Chris

    “PS. Hint to Clegg: There may actually be votes to be gained from acting in a principled manner. Think about the votes, even if the principles stick in your craw.”

    The last thing that should be on anybody’s mind when it comes to this issue…

  • Chemical weapons are different to conventional weapons, in part as they are aimed at civilians with many of the 1000 dead women and children. I think supporting one side against the other is a very bad idea – it has had terrible effects in Libya. However, a resolution to impose a ceasefire and to allow the millions of refugees to return home would not be a bad idea.

  • “The last thing that should be on anybody’s mind when it comes to this issue…”

    We have to be realistic and remember we are dealing with politicians.

  • ” It may be that a so called “surgical strike” could take out chemical weapons with relatively little civilian casualties …”

    How could it, though? How long did the Americans hunt for Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, even after they had control of Iraq?

    The legal justification for action in the absence of UN authorisation, such as it is, hinges on protecting the civilian population. But how can you protect a civilian population from chemical weapons, unless by going in and taking over the whole country?

  • nigel quinton 29th Aug '13 - 10:23am

    Following Nick’s interview on the Today programme I have no confidence in either his sincerity or his judgement. He had 15 minutes to explain what ends would be achieved by military involvement, but all he could tell us was what it wasn’t, ie Iraq.

    It is shameful that it has taken Labour to ensure that no decision is taken prior to the UN report. That OUR party was apparently prepared to move before this was known, and for Clegg to persist with the line that Assad is responsible, when no credible evidence has yet been published in support of this, is quite appalling.

    I cannot help wishing that I had been listening to the wise words of Menzies Campbell rather than the shrill blather of Clegg over my cornflakes.

  • I too am totally unconvinced about the quality of the evidence indicating who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons or of the necessity of urgent action. “We must do something” is far from a convincing argument but I would be more convinced by an argument of “what we expect to achieve”. As normal we don’t talk of regime change and we don’t talk about how Syria will, in the long run be a better and more stable place. Of course we all find the use of chemical (and other) weapons repellent and upsetting. However it seems to me that our relationships with the many players in the Middle East is messy and complex with further complications relating to oil and arms sales. Likewise I cannot understand the logic which says that if the US is up for it we also should be. I agree with Nick that this is very different from Iraq but we must be led by a clear mandate from the UN not the objectives of the US who may have a rather different agenda. Some excellent analysis about the historical situation only strengthens my view that we cannot take action at this point without more clarity about possible long term outcomes.

  • I am interested in what the conditions for attack are after a chemical weapon attack.

    I too am not convinced with the evidence I have seen up to know – will keep an open mind though.

    If we attack then it is likely to be for political reasons rather than for any lasting effect on the régime. This has been admitted by the US.

    The legal process would be via the courst under the Geneva Covention – indictment of Assad and others in the ICC would be the correct response – I am not sure what the justification in legal terms would be for a military act without UN approval. This puts it on a par with Iraq, perhaps even worse because there was a resolution for Iraq but it was an argument over interpretation. The legal opinion over the second UN vote were complex – I fell on the side of the anti-war then but there were differing opinions.

    There is no vote at all in this case so justification needs to be from elsewhere. Will be interested to see how the AG plays it in his opinion.

    I did a simple Benefit/Cost analysis

    Potential Benefit:

    Sends a message about chemical weapons use
    May make Assad think again about his behaviour

    Potential Cost:

    Does not change anything – best outcome
    Assad in command – becomes more belligerent, may use weapons again
    Leads to régime change – what follows is worse?
    Starts regional conflict involving nuclear powers
    Inconsistency in approach loses West further credibility/influence

    There may be more but to me the potential benefits are meagre and the risks huge. The advantage with Iraq was that it had no friends -anywhere – Assad is strategically very important and is a pawn in the Great Game.

    The only solution will be negotiated – there is not a military solution. This would require the defeat of the fundamentalists though, which would mean supporting Assad!

    I think Clegg’s response today has been inadequate and completely at odds with the approach of the LD to Iraq re: legality of action. He could have better supported Miliband’s approach which would have been more consistent with LD position on Iraq. The difficulty will come when Russia vetoes ‘all necessary means’ which it will do as this is the right for war on all levels. That second vote for action without UN approval will be very difficult to justify voting for.

    I also think the reported response of No.10 to the Labour leader is a disgrace and is in keeping with the behaviour of the current PM.

  • To be fair, Clegg has always touted himself as a “liberal interventionist”, but i didn’t know that meant supporting al-qaeda backed rebels, before any formal evidence from the UN weapons inspectors, and dropping bombs without a clear objective.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Aug '13 - 12:24pm

    Bill – I agree with your posting, as I often do. But just one factual point – the Lords will debate a “take note” motion and there will not be a vote. The debate will however still be interesting.

    Syria is not Iraq. Syria is not Afghanistan. Syria is not Libya. Syria is not even Vietnam. Syria is Civil War and Chaos. The question in my opinion is whether a former imperial power in the region lobbing cruise missiles into this maelstrom will help help to achieve a solution and whether it will reduce the number of people who are being killed, maimed and displaced.


  • Roger Roberts 29th Aug '13 - 12:32pm

    Why are we not having a free vote today is our leader afraid that the MP’s in our party might show some backbone and vote against.
    We did nothing in Iraq when Saddam gassed the Kurds
    we ended up going to war on dodgy intelligence with Tory backing and we were the only ones to
    go against it and were proved right.
    The weapons inspectors have not said who was responsible and until they do we should not do anything.
    If and when they do then the security council can make a decision if there is a veto there then Britain or the USA can take it to the general assembly and see what happens there.
    We do not go along with the USA we were dragged into Iraq and into Afganhistan for what good reason

  • TerryG

    On 2, we were in lock step with a different set of international partners just not ones of which Mr. Clegg approved.
    On 3, this is simply a statement of fact and applies equally to both.
    On 4, this is the difference between a retrospective truth and a prospective wish, hardly a valuable distinction. The stated wish was identical prior to Iraq. On this, if I was in a position to ask Mr. Clegg, my question would be the same as it was prior to the Iraq war: if it is not about boots on the ground and it is not about regime change then it is simply about retribution for a criminal act, as this retribution is to be carried out on the regimes supporters rather than the leader of the regime then how can it be justified?
    On 5, publishing the advice unedited would be different if published in full but it being based on evidence is not a difference. The evidence on Iraq was accepted by all but some took different views on the actions that should be taken in response. Stating that this decision will be based on evidence to differentiate it from Iraq is a particularly juvenile comment from the Deputy Prime Minister.

    Nick Clegg’s statement is an expression of a desire to maintain his position that the Iraq war was illegal but his actions wont be. The distinct evidence for this position amounts to; the U.S. President is a Democrat, we still have the backing of the French, advice will be published(but not the evidence) and I am Nick Clegg so therefore it must be legal.

    The reason why this is not Iraq is because it is Syria. A serious government would not be trying to either conflate or differentiate the two, they would act on the situation depending on the correct course of action. By bringing comparisons with Iraq into the debate Nick Clegg is trying to maintain his conspiracy theory electioneering position that the last government was criminal.This is nothing more than party political propaganda and demeans the position of power that he holds whilst belittling the seriousness of the situation.

  • How on earth can the Lib Dems support an attack on Syria?

    Nick Clegg is right this is not Iraq but the legal position is essentially the same and by acting without UN support Britain and the US would be acting illegally. Moreover there is no proof that the Assad regime was responsible for the gas attack last week.

    But the isssue is much bigger than whether or not the Assad regime has uswed chemical weapons. They are certainly ghastly, but is the father of a family that have been killed by a tomahawk missile going to grieve any less than one whose family were killed by sarin gas? War is a crime regardless of the weapons being used.

    The Middle East is in a much more dangerous state than it was in 2003, not least because of the lasting damage caused by the invasion of Iraq which replaced a secular dictatorship with a state of anarchy, and lifted the lid on the simmering sunni – shia conflict.

    The region is like a tinder box and neither the US nor Britain should start any fires – fires can quickly spread out of control.

    Far better for the Lib Dem leadership to try to do something positive rather than be a party to more death and destruction. They should use their influence to get Britain’s role confined to attempts to get a negotiated peace, and in the meantime to devote our foreign aid budget to providing support to those countries and organisations in the region that are struggling to cope with the refugees from Syria

    Also we should not only talk to Russia but also open a dialogue with Iran whose recently elected president needs to be encouraged to bring Iran in from the cold and whose role is important in relation to the Syrian problem as well as the wider Middle East.

  • David Allen 29th Aug '13 - 1:03pm

    A few points that many people seem to be overlooking.

    The West does not actually want the rebels to win. This is because they are dominated by Al-Qaida and their allies.

    Nick is wrong to say that a “Democrat President” makes this different from Iraq. We should not place too much trust in Obama’s capabilities. Indeed, we should be pretty scathing about a fellow who seems to want to get a pesky little war out of the way before he goes on his next foreign trip. In terms of capability, he’s quite capable of producing a dodgy dossier.

    However, in terms of motivation, things do look different from Iraq. The West simply does not have the motivation to lie about who used chemical weapons. If they actually thought it was the rebel side, they would probably just come right out and say so. Indeed, it’s arguable that (in that counterfactual situation), showing that the rebels did it would in fact help get the West off a hook.

    None of this analysis supports a rush to action. On the contrary, it supports a slow, measured build-up of pressure against Assad. The truth is that, if the West does not want regime change, and the Russians do not want regime change, then the basis for some kind of coordinated response could, in due time, be there.

    Racing to hit Syria makes no sense. Keeping the threat on the table, and subjecting the Russians to an intense barrage of both blandishment and pressure, does make sense.

  • Martin Caffrey 29th Aug '13 - 2:25pm

    Mr Cleggs checklist for attacking Syria:

    1. Will it make me look like a strong leader to my party and the British public?
    2. Will it make the public forget what we’re doing to the poor/disabled?
    3. Can they attack us within 45 minutes?
    4. …..Oh f*#k it, let’s do it. It’s not like I’ll be around in 2015.

    As if the Libdems have any say in this situation

  • Simon Molloy 29th Aug '13 - 7:43pm

    The UK Joint Intelligence Committee report on evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria suggests a strong prima facie case that the Syrian government has committed major crimes against humanity under international law. But no reasonable law says “bomb the suspect”. It is nobody’s right to punish a suspect before a trial. “Something must be done!” is a rubbish chant if what you do is dangerous and rubbish.

    The response of the international community should be to ask the International Court of Justice to issue warrants against all current members of the Syrian government and its military command so that they can be arrested and taken to the Hague as soon as, and whenever, they step outside Syria. Or as soon as they are replaced by another regime. They all share responsibility for their government’s military actions and must be held to account, individually.

    If the prima facie evidence is as strong as has been suggested, challenge the Russians, Chinese and Iranians to justify any opposition to a judicial testing of that evidence in an international court. They must agree to activate the warrants. If they try to shut off the legal process, they become potential accessories to any crime and their leaders must be added to the list of intertnational warrants and held to acount, individually.

    Meanwhile 1: What do we do about the power struggle in Syria? That is the business and responsibility of the Syrian people. The main international response should be to deny all arms sales or supplies to all the participants. Totally. Now. And to offer facilities for concilliation.

    Meanwhile 2: What do we do to prevent further use of chemical weapons in Syria? If it is proven that chemical weapons have been used – against international law – and if we have the means to destroy the stocks and/or the means of delivery, without endangering the local population, we do it. If we don’t have the means, we don’t do it.

    Meanwhile 3: What do we do about the international repercussions of the Syrian conflict? Well, ignore the commercial lobbies – not now! The most important and immediate repercussion is the refugee crisis felt by the countries surrounding Syria. All necessary support must be provided by the international community. It is humanely necessary. It would also demonstrate to local populations that the international priority is humanity. Not power. Not arms. Not money. Humanity. And the repercussion of that will be a greater affinity between our communities in the future.

    Simon Molloy

  • Martin Caffrey 29th Aug '13 - 10:37pm

    You’ve lost the vote. Mr Clegg to resign?

  • Phil Culmer 30th Aug '13 - 3:41pm

    Call me Dave’s take:
    1. We must be seen to do something
    2. This is something.
    3. Therefore we must do this.

    Nick’s take:
    Yeth mathter.

    Vote Clegg, get Renfield.

  • When two children are fighting, especially your own children, one of them is holding a knife. You can do any of the followings:

    1) Just walk pass and goto sleep only be waken up by disaster
    2) Stay there and ensure you take the knife out of reach
    3) You could just stay there and just watch the fight

    Whatever you do, there will be consequences. Please, search your conscience. The innocent people of Syria are just as much human being as you. It is better to fail because you act than to be faced with imminent failure because of lack of action. Every venture is a risk, and include being alive. You will not be able to justify the big military budget when you anticipated total peace.

    The time for peaceful world is not at site. It will come when we all love each other. The human race will need to come together for the sake of all. Differential in race, colour, economy, region and knowledge must be absorbed by those who are more powerful. While the powerful give the weak must receive with gratitude in order to foster harmony. Peace must be embraced by both the powerful and week for world to move forward.

    In whatever capacity we can, we must not fold our arms and watch Syria. I am a Nigerian but also citizen of the world, just like Any Syrian, including opposition and Asad, so I see Syrian men, women and children as my family.

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