Lib Dem MPs have got it wrong on Syria

If you kill people to stop them killing each other you haven’t curbed the sum total of killings, you’ve merely become one of the killers.

If I thought for a minute that we’d lesson the number of deaths as a result of firing Brimstone missiles into cities like Raqqa I might be persuaded, but the Air Wars Project, which is monitoring international airstrikes on Isis, estimates that there have been about 700 civilian deaths as a result – more than five times the number of people killed in Paris.

Civilians in this desperate part of the world will still be getting raped and tortured. Gay men will still be thrown off rooftops and to add insult to injury now their children will be getting blown limb from limb by British bombs.

It is unwise to conflate an aerial bombing campaign of Syria with the conflicts in Kosovo and across the world in the Second World War, at least during those wars we were brave enough to put troops on the ground. We created safe havens and there was an end game. I don’t know of even the most hawkish specialist who thinks we’ll be able to eradicate Isis by bombing them out of existence from the air – indeed we’ve still failed to take back Mosul after more than a year of bombings.

Nick Clegg said we can’t do nothing – you can if the something you do makes the situation worse.

What I’ve always prided myself and the party on, is that we are rationalists. We take a look at the evidence and we work out a pragmatic plan to try and get the best possible outcome for the most number of people. When I heard François Hollande aping the rhetoric of Bush and declaring war on a noun I thought that was exactly the type of alpha-male, testosterone fuelled fallacy that got us into this mess years before when Bush tried to do the same. It’s not a plan to go to war on terror, it is a reactionary Orwellian nightmare.

I am not saying that the Liberal Democrats should oppose all wars. There are lots of commendable points in our ‘five tests on Syria’ we publish a few days ago but there are also a huge number of if, buts and maybes in the conclusions that have been reached since. This isn’t the point to be throwing in our bargaining hand with the government – we should be demanding things are done properly. Lets have some cast iron commitments to take those 3000 unaccompanied Syrian children we called for days ago.

I am certainly not convinced or in anyway appeased by the argument that we should trust to negotiation efforts taking place behind closed doors. We did that with the Tories for five years and look where that left us – let us have some open transparency so we can see if this really is a fight worth having.

I don’t like to get personal because, having worked relatively close to our MPs, I know that they are good people with their hearts in the right place but I can’t help thinking we wouldn’t be in this mess if the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party wasn’t all white male and pale. If only we’d got Layla Moran in Oxford or Jackie Porter in Winchester elected. I don’t know how they would have voted but my suspicion is that the process would certainly have been very different.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* Tim Bearder is a former BBC Journalist from Oxfordshire. He was the South Central Campaigns Officer from 2012 to the general election in 2015. He fought in campaigns including the Eastleigh by-election, the successful South East euro election in 2014 and is now serves as a West End Parish Councillor, an Eastleigh Borough Councillor and an Oxfordshire County Councillor. He has stood in the West Midland Euro Region and as the Banbury PPC in 2019. He runs a film and video production company.

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  • I personally think we should be bombing (or threatening to bomb) Saudi Arabia, not Syria. Then maybe they will stop funding global extremism and terrorism.

    Just a thought.

  • An Economic Liberal 2nd Dec '15 - 3:40pm

    What a bizarre article. Written as though airstrikes do nothing to curtail the capability of IS to commit more and worse atrocities in Syria, Iraq, and abroad, and the only meaningful consequence is civilian deaths.

    The Air Wars Project you cite estimates c. 23,000 IS fighters have been killed as part of the air campaign to date. Can you honestly tell me the situation would not be significantly more dire if the international community had done nothing, and allowed an extra 23,000 violent psychopaths to run riot across the plains of Iraq and Syria?

    I am convinced that the civilian casualties would have been significantly higher than 700, in that instance.

    And what an odd aside about the race and sex of our MPs. Must every issue be made into a skirmish on the frontlines of identity politics?

  • Hurray, at last, the voice of sanity. Well said, Tim.

  • Bruce Marsland 2nd Dec '15 - 3:47pm

    Thank you, Tim. I agree with every word.

  • Gender is not the issue .Best speech so far in the House is Dame Margaret Becket , another Margaret , Thatcher would have taken the same view but with a very strident manner . Our mp s are measured and passionate , that is not a male or female combination it s a human and humane one.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Dec '15 - 3:54pm

    I have just listened to David Davis’ contribution to the debate. What a pity he didn’t win the contest for leader of the Conservative party.

    I am unsure why the debate is taking place when MPs seem to have made up their mind so it is basically a dialogue of the `deaf.

  • Terrific contribution from Tim in the debate, strong and heartfelt. He speaks for as many as he would if he had reached a very different view. Individuals make such decisions and we are a party of such. Members should respect the unity our mps have achieved even so.

  • Denis Mollison 2nd Dec '15 - 4:26pm

    I agree. We are such a long way from any clear vision of a settlement in Syria. For a start, are we on the same side as Turkey (buys oil from IS, allows recuits through to them, bombs the Kurds who are the most effective boots on the ground against them) or Russia (supports Assad who has killed more of his own people than IS, but is against IS), or Iran, or Saudi Arabia? Until we – or better the UN – have got the parties who might form a solution on the same page we should hold back from bombing Syria.

  • It doesn’t seem my place to intrude as I’m not a party member, but is there a mechanism by which the 8 MPs can be suspended from your party so that the members can claim it back? It’s either that or you won’t have a party.

  • Ray Cobbett 2nd Dec '15 - 4:36pm

    I saw some or all of Tim Farron’s speech and thought it was one of the poorest of the two dozen I’ve heard so far. Yes, we’re all sorry for refugees Tim but bombing some innocent people still living in the country won’t help at all however much smarter our ordnance is alleged to be compared with other brands.

  • I mean TIM FARRON

  • The Tim in this piece puts things in a way many agree with and others do not. He writes well but I have to say on this Tim Bearder is I believe wrong , though I share the concern.We are in this anyway whether we like it or not .

  • Conor McGovern 2nd Dec '15 - 4:49pm

    RC – Indeed. Makes you question the motives for bombing Syria when our oil-rich Saudi allies are busy beheading dissidents in much the same manner as Isis are portrayed to be.

  • Actually it is not us party members who count, it is Joe Public and even this morning the You Gov poll had 48% in favour and 31% against.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Dec '15 - 6:13pm

    Tim Bearder thinks women would bring a different flavour to our MPs’ approach. Why bring gender into this? The best speeches in favour of bombing were from Margaret Beckett and Yvette Cooper. The best speeches against were from Julian Lewis and Alex Salmond.

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd Dec '15 - 6:27pm

    @RC: “I personally think we should be bombing (or threatening to bomb) Saudi Arabia, not Syria. Then maybe they will stop funding global extremism and terrorism.”

    Well, RC, if our government was truly against barbaric regimes who use beheading and stoning as a form of execution, kill homosexuals and adulterers as well as those who renounce Islam, condemn to death journalists and bloggers who have the audacity to ask for freedom, torture (with the lash) those who are caught with alcohol, treat women as little more than slaves, export poisonous clerical fascism and consider atheists “terrorists”, we would’ve bombed the Saudis and/or called for regime change of that odious “kingdom” ages ago. Let us not forget the Saudi kingdom essentially came into being through terrorism and mass murder as well.

    Instead, we have a PM who refers to them as “good friends and allies”. We give them taxpayer-funded state visits. We put our flags at half-mast when their most recent king died. Apparently Saudi extremism is ok, but Daesh’s extremism, which is pretty much the same, is not. One we sell weapons to, the other we bomb.

    This is just one reason among many that the establishment in this country is rotten to the core.

  • Ruth Bright – Absolutely spot on. I thought Margret Beckett was excellent and Alex Salmond was also very good – as he always is.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Dec '15 - 6:45pm

    With respect Mr Bearder

    ‘What I’ve always prided myself and the party on, is that we are rationalists. We take a look at the evidence and we work out a pragmatic plan to try and get the best possible outcome for the most number of people.’

    The idea that the situation in Syria is going to give us all some nice, clean, uncontested evidence and lend itself to a pragmatic and utilitarian plan seems rather fanciful.

  • Ray Cobbett 2nd Dec ’15 – 4:36pm
    “I saw some or all of Tim Farron’s speech and thought it was one of the poorest of the two dozen I’ve heard so far. Yes, we’re all sorry for refugees Tim but bombing some innocent people still living in the country won’t help at all however much smarter our ordnance is alleged to be compared with other brands.”

    Yes I agree. Many of the people supporting Tim by saying what a wonderful speech he gave are the same people who supported Clegg after the Euros 2014 when the Party was left with only one MEP. I applaud your loyalty but this is just blind faith in the leader. I thought his conflation of the refugee situation with his advocating bombing of their homeland was just plain offensive. The Syrians are begging us not to bomb Syria.

  • Tim was right. Freedom is never free, you have to be prepared to stand up and fight for it – thank goodness we didn’t have this ridiculous attitude 70 years ago. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours whose liberty had been taken away (Poland, etc.) by a depraved, poisonous ideology. Thank goodness we did, rather than washing our hands of it because it might involve some civilian German losses. Tragic is this was, it is always about the bigger picture.

  • I’d just like to remind Kay that we declared war on Germany to defend Polish independence. After 40 million people died Poland was ruled by the Russians. Churchill sent back brave Polish troops after the war, against their will, where they were murdered by the Russians. Churchill is loathed in Poland to this day.

  • I agree with Tim 100%. I hope we are proved wrong and things improve at home and in the Middle East. I doubt it though.

  • David thomason 3rd Dec '15 - 11:43am

    Im so pleased to see we had 2 of or MPS who actually had the courage to vote against the government i feel the rest of the mps still seem
    to think that they are still in the coalition government and just went along with everything
    The conservatives said.
    My view remains the same as i previously expressed .im deeply dissapointed that we so easily blindly agreed to air strikes without any genuine atempt to find alternative ways
    Yes maybe there are differences from Iraq. BUT
    It seems we’ve flipped from being a party that used to a party that was ready to oppose when it was the right thing to do. To a party that simply smiles and says yes mr Cameron of course mr Cameron. A party that says NO to war to a party that says yes its fine
    So im so grateful that Norman Lamb & Mark Williams said NO.
    Its for that reason Only that im not going to resign from the party

  • AC Trussell 3rd Dec '15 - 11:43am

    We need to destroy Da’esh, and it will probably take an international army to do so.But saying getting rid of Da’esh will stop terrorism is naive and totally misleading.

    My thoughts on the sources of terrorism are stated in an interview with Abu Hafs al-Muritani on the Al Jazeera News channel 21st Nov He was a member of Al Qaeda with Osama bin ladin. He left because he did not agree with killing citizens. He stated that the reason for Al Qaeda and Isil/Da’esh is purely because of the occupation and treatment of the Palestinians by the “Israelis”. (Why does everyone ignore this?)

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