Idlib – time for some Liberal guilt

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Why do we forget about Syria so easily? The answer is probably that, most of the time, it does not matter to us. After all, Lloyd-George (a Liberal prime minister) shamefully agreed to the Anglo-French partition of the former Ottoman provinces into mandates in April 1920 and handed Syria over to France – even though this was not what most Syrians wanted.  Since then, it hasn’t been our problem, has it?

After the Arab Spring reached Damascus in March 2011, the West assumed Bashar al Assad would soon be gone, and let Syrians think we would support them if they managed to throw him out. No formal promises were made – just hints – but Syrians looked to the West and some may have been encouraged to join those rising in rebellion as a result.

I remember how our party conference voted against military intervention after the chemicals weapon attack in August 2013. From talking to people who voted down the motion, “we’ll only risk making things worse” seemed to be the general view, despite the passionate urgings of our leadership. As someone who loves Syria and has some knowledge of the country, I wondered why we were worried about a few hundred deaths from chemicals. Well over a hundred thousand had already been slaughtered by the country’s army. The answer, of course, was that chemical weapons might one day be used against us – so we didn’t want Bashar al Assad to have them. But it was relatively OK for him to bomb his own people.

Then, of course, came the flow of refugees to Europe. Germany provided moral leadership, but would the UK and most of the rest of Europe step up? Not on your Nelly!

By late 2015 Russian aircraft were turning the tide in Assad’s favour. We cared about so-called ISIS. Members of our special forces were even involved alongside the Americans and the Kurdish dominated faction fighting them. ISIS (who we all know are repellent) mattered because they hate us and therefore are a threat. But we were concerning ourselves with the symptom, not the cause. I suspect most people in Britain forgot that the rising death toll was 95% due to the bombs and shells of Assad and his allies. They somehow assumed ISIS was responsible.

The next stage was the attrition of ISIS and the onward march of Assad’s forces against the moderate opposition. Now Assad controls two thirds of Syria. If he gains Idlib, hundreds of thousands more refugees will be corralled into new Gaza Strips along the Turkish border.

Isn’t it better to let Assad (and the Russians and Iranians) finish the rebels off? Mightn’t that just bring peace to Syria after nine years? Well, unfortunately, it’s not quite like that. Parts of Idlib are guerrilla country (it was the last redoubt of nationalist rebels against the French in 1920-1) and is, incidentally, an area of immense cultural significance. But subduing it would risk uniting rebels who remain there undetected with sleeper cells and disaffected groups elsewhere in the country, as Hasan Hasan has pointed out. At the same time, reports from Damascus indicate that life is getting worse again – not better. The currency has collapsed, food, electricity and water are often unavailable, and frustration with the Assad regime is mounting. His regime would be very weak indeed and would have to compromise if his foreign backers stopped playing their games.

What to do? We could begin by making clear that we support Turkey (our NATO ally) in Idlib. I wouldn’t trust Trump’s America. But the larger nations of Europe, the EU and the UK should be jointly trying to formulate a policy to deal with the causes as well as the symptoms of the Syrian tragedy. There is little sign of that as yet. All Brexit Britain (I beg your pardon – I mean the stunning, newly minted Global Britain, of course) could do on its own is offer a sticking plaster to a patient who needs heart surgery.

* John McHugo is a member of the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Advisory Group. He is a former chair of Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and is the author of A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is, Syria: A Recent History, and A Concise History of the Arabs.

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  • Steve Trevethan 29th Feb '20 - 6:17pm

    Attached is another perspective on the cruelties inflicted upon Syrian citizens and their children by those allegedly helping them.
    What has been the net benefit to the Libyan citizens and their children as a result of the “help” we gave them during the Coalition?

  • Andrew Daer 29th Feb '20 - 7:01pm

    John McHugo could be right to end with a waspish mention of Brexit Britain, although our lack of engagement in the Middle East predates us leaving the EU. The success of populism has made it more likely that the government will be able to say they’re bowing to ‘the will of the people’ when they do nothing.
    But if we are honest, most people are just hoping the war in Syria will end soon, even in a victory for Assad’s corrupt regime, to spare Syrians further suffering, and to spare us having to watch all those reports on TV from people like Lindsey Hilsum.
    John has made it depressingly clear that there’s little chance for that hope being realised. I am personally haunted by the message in For Sama, that “we never believed the world would let this happen”. Well, it’s shocking to have to admit it, but we did. Now we have to do something about it. Passive acceptance of the way Russian and Iranian ambitions have led them to support the appalling Assad regime can’t be right, and nor could acceptance of a leading role by the US. Trump’s America is a parody of former US adminstrations, his one-dimensional world-view being the re-purposed business model he used a while ago to create his property empire, as demonstrated by his ‘brilliant’ plan for Palestine.
    As John McHugo says, we need to forge a proper alliance with our European and Turkish partners to address what is happening in Syria, and recognise that we have a historical obligation to the people of Syria which we have, so far, sadly neglected.

  • Very muddled thinking…The idea that this party should have wanted the UK to use military action against Assad, over chemical weapons, ignores the fact that this same party opposed the self same action against Saddam who had used chemical weapons.

    As for ‘no-fly zones’ that was the reasoning for the Libyan intervention which escallated and destroyed that prosperous country.

    Saddam, Gadafi and Assad were/are rather nasty people but western involvement has only made matters far, far worse, prolonged conflict, destroyed infrastructure and displaced whole populations of those countries.

    When the fighting eventually ends, as it will, how much help with be given to the survivors? If Iraq and Libya are examples; the answer is very, very, very little.

  • The No-Fly Zone (NFZ) in Libya was established by a UN security council resolution as was the NFZ in Bosnia. The NFZ’s in Iraq from 1991-2003 were not UN authorised, but protected the Kurds in the North and the Shia in the South from aerial attack. The effectiveness of no-fly zones is highly dependent on regional support. A lack of support from Turkey for the 1996 Iraq no-fly zone over the Kurdish areas ultimately constrained the coalition forces ability to effectively enforce it.
    Turkey, on Friday, called on Nato allies to establish a NFZ over Idlib province
    In the US, Senator Lindsay Graham is making the same call
    The jihadists operating in Idlib are every bit as nasty as the Assad regime, probably worse in many cases. But there are millions of civilians trapped or displaced by the fighting with nowhere to go and bearing the brunt of the bombing.
    Foreign Islamist fighters will need to be driven out of Syrian territory by troops operating on the ground just as ISIS were driven from Mosul and Iraq’s western provinces.

  • Britain, Brexit or otherwise, has never looked to the E.U. for authorisation to deploy it’s armed forces, neither, in my opinion, should that situation ever come to pass.

  • Joe Bourke,
    NFZ are not just dependent on ‘regional support’ but far more on the intentions of those imposing them. In Libya the NFZ was imposed on the 17th March and had escallated to co-ordinated coalition airstrikes against Gaddafi’s ground troops early on the 19th March; so much for the NFZ..
    Regarding ‘muddled thinkin’ refers to the fact, if my memory serves, that the UK government (supported by this party) voted to bomb firstly Assad’s troops, then rebels (but only the ‘nasty’ ones).
    Like Libya the initial intention was to remove the existing regime; thankfully. enough Tory rebels joined with Labour to prevent this.

  • We have had one Middle Eastern disaster after another for the last 20 odd years. People calling for more intervention have a proven track record of political, military and humanitarian failure. Pointing this out is not bowing to populism, it is asking why on earth they are advocating another dismal failure that risks the lives of British troops and increases the risk of terrorism to achieve nothing.

  • Miranda Pinch 1st Mar '20 - 10:37am

    John you say we should support Turkey. Bearing in mind what Turkey has done to the Kurds, I find that difficult. I don’t agree with all that you say apart from that, but, as I don’t have definitive answers I won’t get embroiled in the detail. However, we make the mistake again and again of sacrificing one civilian population for another as we change alliegencies. Look around the world at the ethnic groups being pushed out of their lands by violence, intimidation and worse. A lot of that is almost encouraged by our changing alliances particulartly accross the Middle East, which, let’s face it, is used as a proxy war ground for the greater world alliances. We seek to support this leader or topple that one and the result is often far worse for the civilian population, or the civilian populations that suffer just change from one to another.
    I don’t have any answers, but our meddling in the past has never produced a happy result. It always leaves greater suffering for one group or another. Look at Afghanistan now and the agreement between the US and the Taliban. What about the women and girls? Will they be any better off in the future? I somehow doubt that.
    Finallly, let’s stop being partisan in our use of international law. Either it is international or it is nothing. There are 3 million civilians in danger in Idlib. I have heard the argument that in international law, even if there are militants hiding among them, then their safety is sacrosant. I can’t argue with that, yet a blind eye is turned to the 2 million civilians in Gaza. Let’s try and at least be consistent with our condemnations.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Mar '20 - 12:08pm

    Thanks for writing this John.

    We must take international law and humanitarian principles as our starting point. It is the protection of 3 million Syrian civilians tht justifies support for a No Fly Zone over Idlib.

    Much as I might wish it, the opportunity to turn No Fly Zones over rebel areas into safe havens for the opposition to unite, to demonstrate a preferable alternative to life under the Assad regime and even to complete the ‘revolution’ has gone. The various countries which at one time or another to different rebel groups have all backed off, with some reopening embassies in Damscus and courting Russia as the new ‘power’ in the region. Even Turkey has given up on seeing wider change in Syria and is focusing on avoiding further massive and permanent refugee populations ending up in its borders and it’s long-running conflict with the Kurds.

    So helping Turkey enforce a No Fly Zone is eminently doable.

    It also has a further self-interested justification in that the alternatives to providing safety to Syrians in Syria is accommodating millions more refugees in Europe (with all the destabalising effects that could bring), watching genocide unfold or seeing the creation (actually worsening, as it already exists) of a new political sore that will weep for decades and given the numbers of people involved will make the Palestinian refugee issue appear relatively minor.

    Although both took place well before I thought to join the party, both were key factors in attracting me to the Liberal Democrats. One was the party’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq, participation in a war of conquest. The other was the party’s support for military intervention in the Balkans to prevent genocide. We need to reconnect with that proud part of our history and try, even at this desperately late stage, to act to protect civilians and deter the normalisation of crimes against humanity.

  • Turkey is not waiting on policy analysis. It has opened its border with the EU and Greek border guards are already using tear gas for crowd control. Erdogan is demanding greater support for his intervention in Syria and a free hand against the Kurds, Turkish forces have shot down two Syrian warplanes today.
    The US withdrawal from the Kurdish enclaves in Syria strengthened both the Russian position in Syria and that of the Assad regime – who the Kurds were forced to turn for help against Turkey– while triggering a fresh humanitarian crisis.
    Turkey under Erdogan will only cooperate with Nato to the extent it serves its own interests. Turkeys border with Syria is closed leaving nowhere for Syrian refugees to flee to.

  • John McHugo 1st Mar ’20 – 9:42pm…………I feel it because we have done nothing for the Syrian people – to those who say we would only have killed a lot of innocent people if we had intervened to set up No Fly Zones/Safe Havens I ask: how many more have died because we did nothing? …..

    But we didn’t do nothing; the west, and the gulf sates, supplied vast quantities of arms to Assad’s opponents. Of course they were supposedly only meant for the ‘nice rebels’ but, as the EU investigation found, much of that vast arsenal ended up in the hands of ISIS, etc.

    That is what has prolonged the conflict.

  • John McHugo 1st Mar '20 - 11:06pm

    @expats, I think you are comparing apples and pears. The party opposed the invasion of Iraq because it was illegal (I also think it was for an improper purpose). The proposed intervention in response to the chemical attack in 2013 was not illegal, nor do I think what I am proposing is illegal. But I agree with you that more help should have been given to the peoples of Iraq and Libya, and the same applies of course to Syria.

    @Tynan, I never suggested we should require authorisation from the EU before using military force, nor did anything in the EU treaties require this when we were a member.

    @Glenn and @Miranda, Please see what I have written about the Syrian Kurds earlier in this thread and what I wrote in the post that went up at 9:42 pm.

    @Andy Daer and Jonathan Brown, thank you for your posts. I think we are broadly in agreement.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Mar '20 - 11:18pm

    @John McHugo, I don’t say this lightly, but I find it hard to believe that the Syrian state disintegrating would be the most catastrophic outcome, not least because apart from the homicidal security services it barely still exists.

    Opponents of action (seemingly of almost any kind) in Syria constantly refer to Libya and the dangers of military intervention. There are a lot of differences with Syria and I’m not wanting to go into great detail here, but I think it’s worth saying that the insecurity and violence in Libya for the last few years has been nothing like that visited upon Syrians by either the various overlapping wars which have been taking place inside the country nor that inflicted upon the civilian population of the parts of Syria run by the Assadist state.

    Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Syrians remain in the regime’s network of torture centres. The parts of the country that have been recaptured from the opposition remain utterly devastated, and the surviving populations subject to extortion and forced conscription. And of course, the method of recapturing many of these areas has been the almost total eradication of human presence. Hence why Idlib’s population is now something like three times what it was prior to the war, while swathes of the country under control of the regime remain ghostly empty.

    I agree that the UK should be working with European allies in support of Turkey. And like the rest of Europe, if we’re not willing to accept hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees then we should make sure that Syria – or at least part of Syria – is safe for them to stay in or return to. And in the medium-long run that means reconstruction assistance to those parts of the country that remain outside of the vampire-state that is the mafia/warlord kleptocracy of the Assads.

    We could even leverage such aid to get the SDF to actually allow some democracy (while increasing our ability to protect Kurds from Turkey and Assad alike) and to persuade Turkey to allow Syrians a much more genuine role in the running of the towns and cities under their influence / control.

    Europe’s hypocrisy and panic over the issue of refugees has been astounding.

  • John,

    you ask what can the UK do on its own, This is a statement frpm the UK at the UN two days ago
    “We need there to be an immediate cessation of hostilities. We strongly support the Turkish government’s efforts to re-establish the ceasefire agreed in 2018. And we stand behind the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy for Syria in their efforts to stop the violence and save those many lives now in peril.”
    “…the United Kingdom remains the third largest donor to the UN-led humanitarian response across Syria. We’ve allocated $152 million this financial year to projects implemented by organisations delivering cross-border aid, primarily into north-west Syria. Since the conflict began, the United Kingdom has committed over $4 billion of humanitarian funding in response to the conflict, and we remain committed to providing help to those in need.”
    This statement is from yesterday
    “We must therefore support the UN and Special Envoy Pedersen in securing a ceasefire in northwest Syria in close consultation with the relevant parties and the UN Security Council. We call on all Member States to work with and support the UN in this goal.”
    Turkey is right to call on Nato to institute a No Fly Zone but it cannot expect Nato members to designate the Kurdish YPG as a terroist organisation. That would be an gross act of betrayal of key allies in the fight against ISIS.

  • I am in favour of repatriating Middle East refugees to the region, not necessarily Syria. I mean, the concept of Liberia just pop up in my mind.

  • John McHugo
    I did see it. I’ve heard these arguments in everyone of these misadventures over the last twenty odd years. Sadly, I think you’ll get your way and it will be another disaster and then we will be told how important it is move on to somewhere else, probably Iran. I’m not going to pretend to I approve. I’ve seen failure, after failure and no reason whatsoever to see a different outcome now. I think this is what happens when powers essentially lose wars and the argument, but the cost is low enough to pretend they haven’t.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Mar '20 - 10:43am

    The fundamental issue is that our international institutions, especially the United Nations are not strong enough to play a pivotal role in these conflicts. It needs drastic revision with removal of the veto in the security council and a more even balance of different countries so the General Assembly can vote as a democratic entity, representing all its members on a greater variety of issues with binding results. We share too many important global issues to leave things as they are.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Mar '20 - 11:23am

    Thanks to John M for raising the crucial questions relating to the reliability, objectivity and veracities of sources of information, persuasion and grooming.
    How objective etc is the corporate media, generally and individually?
    Ditto the BBC?
    Might it help if our contributors cited their sources?
    Might it help generally,and our party in particular, if we were to develop a deserved reputation for objectivity on politically relevant information etc.?

  • On the issue of a No-Fly Zone (NFZ), those calling for it don’t realise that there has long been one. But there’s a problem – it’s not a US one, it’s a Russian one dating from the start of their involvement.

    Hence, the Israelis no longer fly over Syrian territory. They do make attacks but only with missiles from over their own land or the sea.

    The Russians don’t call it a NFZ for the obvious reason that it wouldn’t be diplomatic to do so and if they shot down a US plane it would trigger WW3.

    So, the Russians proposed, and the Americans agreed, a ‘deconfliction’ agreement whereby each side notifies the other when and where their planes are flying to avoid just that eventuality. It has worked well and saved a lot of American face. In practice, it has allowed the Russians to focus on the populous western parts of Syria while leaving the eastern desert mainly to the Americans.

    But how credible is the Russian NFZ? The Americans can certainly dominate in sheer weight and volume but all the sources I’ve found suggest that their top-of-the-range anti-aircraft defences are no match for the Russian equivalents. In fact, it seems from (inevitably fragmentary) reports that the Americans have been shocked to the core by how good modern Russian weapons systems are. The US had wrongly assumed they were stuck in a late Soviet-era time warp whereas in fact the Russians have been making huge strides while the vast US military budget disappears into the multiple black holes of boondoggles and endless wars.

  • Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and long the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, observed:

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war … That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy… It works the same in any country.”

    The infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ and phantom WMD used to justify the invasion of Iraq show how right he was. We remain highly exposed to more of the same in Britain as broadcasters must be very careful not to cross the government when they know that there is no real opposition.

    One key vector for propaganda is the horror of the chemical weapons attacks by the ‘regime’ (note pejorative terminology) like that of 2013 in Ghouta. Except that there is no evidence that any ever happened; all turn out to have been false flag operations designed to trigger US airstrikes. Obama wasn’t fooled; later Trump was.

    For wider context, remember that US General Wesley Clark, at one time Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said that shortly after 9/11 it became US policy to ‘take out’ seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. It was originally mooted to be done in five years; it’s taken rather longer but the war party isn’t giving up. So, this war is nothing whatsoever to do with ‘liberating’ the Syrian people but mainly with the aspirations and plots of external powers with the UK playing its customary poodle role.

    Syria is a member of the UN and, AFAIK, there is no UN resolution that allows either this war or the multi-billion $ of weaponry that have been supplied to Al Qaeda (yes really!) thinly disguised under multiple flags of convenience. Apart from the Russians (who are there by invitation of the Syrian government) that makes foreign involvement, including the UK’s, illegal in international law.

  • John McHugo 1st Mar ’20 – 11:06pm…………[email protected], I think you are comparing apples and pears. The party opposed the invasion of Iraq because it was illegal (I also think it was for an improper purpose). The proposed intervention in response to the chemical attack in 2013 was not illegal, nor do I think what I am proposing is illegal…………

    What was the difference in legality, and this party’s position, between Obamas decision to attack Assad and Bush’s decision to attack Saddam?
    Neither had UN approval. In both cases the UN said more time should be given to diplomacy and for UN inspections to be completed. In both cases, regardless of UN reservations, the attacks would immediately go ahead if the US/UK agreed the action.

    IMO this party’s stance was decided by 1) Saddam…in opposition 2) Assad…in government.

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Mar '20 - 10:47pm

    @expats – Saddam ran a vicious dictatorship and doubtless had huge numbers of political prisoners at the time of the US invasion, but there was no ‘active’ war crime being committed. The humanitarian case for military intervention in Iraq was weak, and pretty much an afterthought: the US barely bothered to make it until Blair tried to use it to justify British involvement. Assad was committing daily war crimes against a civilian population and in 2013 had just launched a massive chemical weapon attack, killing over 1400 people. The humanitarian case for intervention in 2013 was very strong. It’s a shame we didn’t do so, and huge bloodshed could have been avoided, along with several million refugees being forced from their homes.

    @Gordon, sounds like you should check out Holocaust denier, David Irving, also a lover of conspiracy theories.

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Mar ’20 – 10:47pm
    @expats – Assad was committing daily war crimes against a civilian population and in 2013 had just launched a massive chemical weapon attack, killing over 1400 people. The humanitarian case for intervention in 2013 was very strong. It’s a shame we didn’t do so, and huge bloodshed could have been avoided, along with several million refugees being forced from their homes……………

    Your figures are not those of France (280), UK (350), Médecins Sans Frontières (355) etc, but are taken from the USA and rebel groups pushing for western military action.
    Whilst any deaths, from any means of attack, should be deplored your assertion that “huge bloodshed could have been avoided along with several million refugees being forced from their homes” has not been borne out by Iraq. Afghanistan or Libya.

    The idea that it would lead to a quick victory over Assad’s forces was the same argument used to justify involvement in the previous ME mis-adventures; it didn;t work there and made things for the wider population far worse.

    On a purely practical basis who, or which group, do you think would’ve taken power in Syria after Assad?

  • Jonathan Brown – Evidence-free dismissal as “conspiracy theories” of any evidence that challenges official narratives is one of the oldest tricks in the book to close down debate and thereby allow dark deeds to continue.

    So, who or what, precisely, do you disagree with? Is it Seymour Hersh, whose superb connections with US military top brass and politicians have made him arguably the foremost US investigative reporter of the age in the field of military matters and whose work, AFAIK, has invariably been ultimately vindicated? Or is it Wesley Clark, one of America’s leading generals whose remarks on the US’s future plans are well known and not disputed? Or is it that the US has, by its own admission, supplied vast quantities of weapons to assorted jihadi groups without which the war would have ended long ago? Or is it that attacks on Syria by the US and others is somehow legal despite the lack of any UN resolution?

    Please explain, bearing in mind that the US has, in general, no objection to supporting dictators provided, of course, that they are “one of ours”.

  • Miranda Pinch 3rd Mar '20 - 11:28am

    Jonathan. As said previously, the UK with others have either supported tyrants and dictators or tried to topple them for strategic ends. That applies to both Saddam and Assad. Since the US’s so-called ‘War on Terror’, more civilians have been murdered than ever and the US has also committed war crimes. The UK’s allies also commit war crimes and the UK remains complicit on many fronts. We may not have openly gone into Syria, but we certainly have by providing armaments or funds which fall into wrong hands.
    The greatest problem for me is that I don’t believe anyone. I hear various sources that people like you immediately discredit, suggesting that chemical attacks were false flags or our media never covers the suffering of ordinary Syrians being killed and wounded in government areas by the not so ‘moderate’ rebels. I can’t know the truth, but I do understand that waters are muddied by strategic interests, arms sales and pressure from those so-called allies.
    Iran is often cited as the great enemy, has been deprived of millions owed by the UK and crippled by sanctions from the West. They now need help to tackle the Coronavirus because of the impoverishment of their health system through the sanctions. On the other hand Saudi and Israel, our great friends, daily flout international law and commit war crimes. I suspect that none of these leaders are very different to each other. What makes the difference are our strategic interests and the economics of war, not humanitarian needs or even international law.
    I believe the way forward is to stop labelling leaders by our strategic interests. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. One Dictator may be relatively benign while a democracy may be far from benign to minorities or the indigenous people.
    I find statements such as ‘@Gordon, sounds like you should check out Holocaust denier, David Irving, also a lover of conspiracy theories.’ from you Jonathan, distasteful and belittling in the extreme. Why can’t you disagree without being so abusive? Why can’t people have opposing views? Any closing down of respectful debate is totally wrong. of that, I am certain.

  • John,

    diplomacy is fine words. but it is the words of peacemakers. The Westphalian principle, enshrined in the UN Charter, recognises that a nation state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory/
    However, for the Westphalian system to work in practice a nation state needs to be under the control of a legitimate authority. In the case of failed states, it is argued that no sovereignty exists and that international intervention is justified on humanitarian grounds and by the threats posed by failed states to neighbouring countries and the world as a whole.
    You still need. however, an International body to determine when a state has failed sufficiently for intervention to be justified. That body is effectively the victors of WW2, the five permanent members of the UK security council including the UK.
    Turkey has taken it upon itself to send its military into ungoverned territory in Northern Syria with the aim of resettling 3m displaced Syrians back in areas currently under Kurdish control. whether they want to go to these areas or not.
    The Kurds are spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran without an independent nation state to call their own. With nationhood comes power. Without nationhood, other nations who have already carved up a region, or have had it carved up for them in the past by colonial powers, are extremely unlikely to cede territory to make space for the creation of a new one.
    President Assad has previously vowed to retake “every inch” of Syrian territory, whether by negotiations or military force. His government has also rejected Kurdish demands for autonomy, saying that “nobody in Syria accepts talk about independent entities or federalism”.
    In the end John, its going to be a sticking plaster solution without tackling the causes and sorting them out. That task will be for Syrians alone. All that can be done in the interim is measures such as a No Fly Zone (instituted by a coalition of willing Nato members led by the USA) to protect civilian populations from aerial bombardment; and provision of humanitarian aid while negotiations are undertaken to allow displaced Syrian refugees to return to their homes.
    The alternative is millions living in camps outside their homeland -as with the Palestinian diaspora and a new generation of radicalised refugees intent on fermenting revolution in the middle-east.

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Mar '20 - 10:30pm

    @expats – you can take the lowest of the figures quoted and it doesn’t change my argument one bit. 280 people killed in a chemical weapon attack on a civilian population is a horrendous war crime.

    Who would have taken power after Assad? That’s an article (or a book) in itself, so I’ll limit myself to two points here: 1. it almost doesn’t matter. What alternative would have inflicted more carnage on the civilian population? 2. A No Fly Zone / No Bombing Zone (simply destroying Assad’s air force) could have created the conditions that would have incentivised the regime (led by Assad or someone else) to genuinely engage with one of the peace processes. Even if he’d stayed in power, removing his ability to systematically destroy the civilian infrastructure of territories he’d lost control of would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and avoided massive civilian displacement.

    @Miranda – For all of the many, many, many faults of the West’s dealings with Iran, it was and is not our fault that Iran chose to use a large part of the funds released under the Nuclear deal to pay for expansionism in Iraq and Syria. Nor did the west force the Iranian government to cover up the Coronavirus outbreak.

    “Why can’t you disagree without being so abusive? Why can’t people have opposing views? Any closing down of respectful debate is totally wrong. of that, I am certain.”

    I am disagreeing strongly with expats. I am not being abusive and nor is expats being abusive to me.

    If someone posted a comment promoting a conspiracy theory about the Holocaust, would you let that pass? If someone commented that the international slave trade was really doing Africans a favour because they were taken to a more enlightened continent, would that be okay? I think not.

  • Miranda Pinch 4th Mar '20 - 1:24pm

    Jonathan, your very black and white responses that allow no doubt or, indeed, discussion are problematic. Your examples are equally extreme. It was Gordon and not Expats you directed your offensive comments to. You have successfully closed me down on this thread, but not my opinions. Unlike you I am interested to see a variety of viewpoints on this subject as I want to learn more and make up my mind as objectively as I can.

  • Julian Tisi 5th Mar '20 - 3:49pm

    Thanks, a very good article and some very useful follow-up comments.

    When our party opposed the war in Iraq we were very clear about why we were doing so – the war was in our opinion illegal and unnecessary. We were open to the possibility that a war might become legal and/or necessary should facts have changed. Some fellow-travellers from the far left also opposed the war but for different reasons, namely they saw just about any war conducted by the west as imperialist and wrong. This latter viewpoint has become far more popular in recent years; indeed when many of our MPs supported action against Syria in 2013 they were gleefully denounced by (then Labour leader) Ed Miliband as “pro-war” – as if war was something you could only be always for or always against. This infantile over-simplification, combined with an understandable fear of military action post Iraq, won the day back then and is sadly a key reason why tens of thousands of Syrian civilians might otherwise be alive today. There would clearly have been a cost to military action. We can see now that a huge cost was borne by Syrians because we did not.

  • Miranda Pinch – thanks for your support. I note that Jonathan Brown hasn’t attempted to address any part of my rebuttal of his smear. Others can draw their own conclusions without any further input on my part.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Mar '20 - 11:42pm

    @Julian Tisi – well said, thank you.

    @Miranda – I didn’t respond to Gordon because just as I’m not in the habit of engaging in extensive dialogue with holocaust deniers and nor do I want to waste my time with those who spread smears about Syrians gassing themselves. I suspect I’m not alone however in thinking that certain attitudes are not worth giving oxygen to. Expats wasn’t promoting implicitly racist conspiracy theories.

    The evidence for the Syrian regime carrying out gas attacks against its own people is overwhelming, having been document scores, if not hundreds of times.

    First the UN had to fight off accusations that the attacks themselves had not even taken place:

    Russia vetoed the OPCW explicitly blaming anyone but it’s not credible to think that anyone but the Syrian regime carried out the attack. The author of the report has made much the same point.

    Human Rights Watch found “that Syrian government forces were almost certainly responsible for the August 21 attacks”

    Bellingcat have numerous detailed reports on the evidence (search for Ghouta) as well as debunking the conspiracy theories:

    And even if you have questions about this particular attack, it fits a pattern well documented chemical weapon attacks by the regime on opposition populations.

    But really the point isn’t about me presenting evidence. I shouldn’t have to do so any more than I should have to post evidence that the Holocaust was real or than you should have to respond to say that Palestinians chose to leave their homes during the Nakba.

    We have millions of Syrian refugees telling why they had to flee their homes. Even those who bitterly resent the opposition militias who ruled over them for in some cases many years don’t accuse them of carrying out these attacks.

    So I repeat. The accusation that Syrians gassed themselves in false flag attacks, over and over and over and over again is absolutely disgraceful.

  • Miranda Pinch 6th Mar '20 - 7:20am

    Jonathan. Your insistence of equating counter argument to yours with accusations of Holocaust denial is beyond low and cheap. It just causes anger and closes things down. You know that as well as I do. By all means argue your points. That is useful, whether I agree or not, and I certainly disagree about Iran. We pick and choose our allies and foes accross the Middle East at our peril, the peril of all those peoples and indeed the world. I have already made those points.

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