LibLink: Tim Farron: Why I support Trump’s Syria strike

Tim Farron has written for the Guardian about why he has decided to support the US action in Syria on Friday morning. There are caveats, though:

However, we disagree with the way in which he conducted it – unilaterally, without allies, outside of a wider strategy. Trump saw a wrong and wanted to react, no doubt in large part to differentiate himself from Barack Obama. But taking matters into his own hands without thinking of the consequences, without a wider plan, without considering what next, exposes both his naivety about how the world works and his potential to create instability on an international scale.

So, how should the UK respond now? Trump has made it clear that this was a one-off, which Michael Fallon has echoed, and we should welcome that. This wasn’t about intervention in Syria. The purpose was twofold: to send the strongest possible signal of condemnation of Assad’s actions, and to ensure he is much less likely to be able to act in that way again. The Syrian regime and their Russian allies may be acting outraged on their respective state television channels, but they have been sent a message they will surely not now ignore.

That does not mean the war in Syria is going to stop any time soon. Millions of Syrians still live in fear, under siege, as refugees scattered throughout the region and throughout the world. International diplomacy hasn’t gone anywhere, and all the while Isis still thrives in Syria and will continue to while the war is continuing.

The UK now has two jobs. The first is civilian protection – and that means proper consideration of protected humanitarian zones. No-fly zones are complicated, and any coalition that creates them must be ultimately willing to shoot a plane out of the sky, an action with inevitable consequences. Further commitment from the international community to protect civilians could force Russia to question its support of Assad.

The second is what will end this once and for all: diplomacy. With our allies, we must kickstart the international process again.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Bill le Breton 9th Apr '17 - 2:38pm

    Due process is due process. It is not, “OK, this time we skip due process, but it is only just this once, promise, next time due process means due process. Yes, that’s a promise.”

  • Neil Mackinnon 9th Apr '17 - 2:59pm

    I’ve come to a very different conclusion to Tim Farron and have done so for three reasons.

    Firstly, as has already been stated you either have due process or you don’t. You can’t really pick and choose when to apply due process based on whether it delovers the outcome you want.

    Secondly, in the long history of western entanglement with the Middle East the interests of the west have never been better off following military action. Not on a single occasion.

    Finally, had the purpose of this bombing been to remove Assad’s capacity yo repeat the atrocity then people who share my view would have been forced to rethink our response. But that’s not what it was. It was a warning shot. It was designed to send a message and we have no way of knowing if it was heard or not.

    One last point I want to make. I was really uneasy to hear Tim Farron talk about “no fly zones”. He rightly concedes that any such zone would come with an expectation that it would be policed and any jet breaching it would be shot down. Has Tim Farron really thought this through? Does he not see the dangers of the western military shooting down a Russian jet over Syria? That’s possibly the only thing I can think off that would make a terrible situation worse.

  • Peter Martin 9th Apr '17 - 3:16pm

    Since the “weapons of mass destruction” fiasco we should all be wary of taking US intelligence claims at face value. They were wrong in 2003 and they could be wrong now.

    Even if they are right, bombing Syrian government won’t do any good. It will create an incentive for ISIS to launch “false flag” chemical attacks in the hope of provoking more US strikes.

    Admittedly, it’s sometimes difficult to do nothing after an atrocity. But we have to be sure that we aren’t going to make matters even worse. Like we’ve done in the past.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '17 - 3:17pm

    Owen Jones has put out a quite strong case against Trump’s bombings, but his case isn’t Corbyn’s case. Corbyn wants basically nothing done unless the UN approves of it, whereas Owen Jones is mainly talking about a lack of a vote in the US congress.

    However, is it definitely unconstitutional for the president to authorise a strike like this? Like Owen Jones says? The UK government has this permission, although it seems we no longer use it.

    Push Owen Jones on the unconstitutional question and highlight Corbyn’s weak policy of basically not doing anything about Assad unless Putin approves of it.

  • I’m very sorry Tim has taken this stance.

    It’s a very slippery slope to escalation and mission creep.

  • Typical Tim; “I agree with it but, er um, I don’t agree with it”……

    As for being a one off; did you miss Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, saying that, “Regime change in Syria as one of the Trump administration’s priorities in the country wracked by civil war.”…How will that be achieved without more military action against forces loyal to Assad?

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Apr '17 - 3:42pm

    Unlike David Raw, I supported Tim’s immediate reaction, in seeing the action as a limited proportionate response to the continuing use of chemical weapons. Assad surely cannot be allowed to get away with stockpiling, still less using, these terrible weapons which should have been eliminated in 2013. Tim went on to explore the further options, in my view as thoughtfully as ever. I read him as supporting the development of ‘protected humanitarian zones’, not no-fly zones of which he pointed out the difficulties.

  • Bill Le Breton is right – except when considering the immediate response which may be necessary in self defence the use of military force must always be considered and be part of a process which has both the intention of leading to a better stat of affairs and which reason suggests is likely to do so.

  • nigel hunter 9th Apr '17 - 4:03pm

    The opportunity was lost in 2013 to solve this problem. t will now take some time to deal with. Is it not time that the UN veto that the large powers have is abolished .?I believe that now the cold war is over it is not needed and a majority vote amongst the nations for action to be take can be implemented in any future conflicts.. This will stop it from being a toothless tiger and the World will have a say rather that the ‘superpowers’ who seem to just cause mayhem.

  • Dave Orbison 9th Apr '17 - 4:26pm

    I am shocked and disappointed by the amount of muddled thinking in Tim Farron’s article regarding his justification for this airstrike.

    His first paragraph sets out all the arguments as to why this action was ill advised. It’s quite a list. Yet against this he offers just two supportive arguments which deserve some scrutiny.

    First, it was “to send the strongest possible signal of condemnation” to Assad. So, it was a gesture then, a means of adding emphasis to our objection to the atrocity of which Assad has been accused? The problem being that the gesture doesn’t touch Assad in the slightest it did however, and all too predictably, result in the death of yet more innocent Syrians, including several children. So, innocents pay the price for out outrage? Does this make any sense?

    Second, “to ensure he is much less likely to be able to act that way again”. But how so? Tim Farron echoes Trump and Fallon by saying this is a one-off. Therefore, surely signalling to Assad that’s as far as we are prepared to go. So why would that stop him, assuming he was guilty?

    From a military perspective, the bombed airfield is serviceable and damaged equipment has been or will be replaced by the Russians. It is had no effect on Assad’s military capability. Also, and again entirely predictably, we have succeeded in provoking the Russians into stating we are one step away from war. So, do we seriously think that Assad will be cowed by this “one-off” action? Much more likely he will feel emboldened by the unequivocal public support from Russia which has served only to raise stakes in the event of any further intervention.

    The article dismisses the role of international diplomacy and doesn’t even mention due process or the UN. Is this the new LibDem policy to side step international law?
    Bizarrely, despite all this Tim Farron’s makes the admission that it is ‘diplomacy; that will end all of this once and for all’. Exactly.

    Finally, Tim Farron doesn’t even begin to take into consideration how Trump will perceive the support he has been given and how it will embolden him in his ‘bomb first, ask questions later’ approach to international disputes.

  • I don’t agree with Tim, and this isn’t OK. We can’t support unilateral knee-jerk military action this time because “it was Assad what done it, and he got what was coming”, or because it’s a “one-off”.

    What about the next “one off”? Suppose Trump takes a dislike to another regime, or needs another distraction from US domestic politics? How much credibility will we have if we let this slide but take exception to the next?

  • A few days/weeks ago there was a post on here about journalists praising the Lib Dem team for creating clear and quick comments on various scenarios whereas Labour would take hours/days. I wonder if Tim fell into the trap of wanting to continue to be the opposition that is certain and together when a little more thinking would have produced a stance that better reflects how complicated any action in the middle east will be?

  • Andrew Tampion 9th Apr '17 - 6:12pm

    Another bad choice by Mr Farron. For many of the reasons cited above. The four most dangerous words in the English language ate “something must be done” closely followed by “it’s different this time”.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Apr '17 - 6:20pm

    Trump has just had a meeting in USA with the President of China. A battle group is sailing towards North Korea. China has capabilities to discourage North Korea from the dangerous game of blackmail that it is playing but is reluctant to do so. Persuading them to do so appears to be the next step.

  • Tim hasn’t done himself, or us, any favours with this muddle ill-considered and knee-jerk response.

  • Tony Greaves 9th Apr '17 - 9:11pm

    I fear that Tim was taking advice from certain Noble Friends of mine. But what we are all going to have to get used to is that Trump’s military adventures will be as erratic and as much based on his instant personal reactions as everything else he does. It will be unpredictable and dangerous and we had better get used to not agreeing with it.

  • That’s all very well, Tony, but for many of us the advice of some of your SBS noble friends is unacceptable – and they better get used to that……. assuming we decide to stick around if this sort of thing continues.

  • John McHugo
    Actually the best recruitment tool for IS has been the policy of regime change because it usually means pretending that religious fundamentalists are in fact moderates and that broadly secular powers in the region are a bigger problem. This has been a policy since the 80s in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, followed by Libya and now Syria. It does not work and never will work. It’s what happens when you mix cold war era rhetoric, with the nonsense of the End of History, and interventionist militarism. . Not only is it a mess when inflicted on the ME, but it has virtually no popular support at home. Imagine if the post WWII policy for dealing with Franco and our glorious leaders had decided that the answer was to back reinvented advocates of inquisition era Catholicism and reducing cities to rubble.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Apr '17 - 11:53pm

    Firstly, if we are to become the main Opposition party, then our Leader will be expected to react swiftly to international events, so I was pleased to hear that Tim had done so. Secondly, as John McHugo points out, there is an international doctrine of humanitarian intervention, and this may well apply here, since the US action will probably deter further chemical attacks on Syrian people. Dave Orbison, a signal is a signal and different from a gesture, and ‘one off’ surely meant, This is a one-time deterrent to your further use of chemical weapons, unless of course you repeat the offence.

  • Why do some talk about what Syrians want as priorities which aren’t reflected by any evidence, but often seem rely upon anecdote or interpretation?
    @John McHugo: Check out
    “Monitoring and assessing civilian casualties from international airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Seeking transparency and accountability from belligerents, and advocating on behalf of affected civilians. Archiving open-source reports, and military claims by nations.”
    You’ll note that substantial number of Syrian civilian deaths (as well as Iraq in Mosul) have occurred from Coalition attacks last month. Some of them from the UK. The MoD refuses to acknowledge any civilian deaths, however.

    “Assad is not a good advert for secularism”. Well, many in the middle east would say that western policy in the middle east is not a good advert, either. But most jihadists in Syria-ignoring ISIS, obviously- have no interest in negotiating with the Assad regime, not because Assad is a bad ad for Secularism (many Syrians long for how life was before the war, and despair at its destruction)- but because the Syrian Islamists (and the many Turkic, Uzbek, Tunisian, Saudi & Western European jihadists) believe in fighting to the death to remove secularism altogether, and keep their new life in “rebel” areas. And their respect for non-sunni minorities and Kurds are at best questionable rhetoric to appeal to anti-Assad Western govts. That’s partly why the Kurds are in loose alliance with the Syrian govt.
    Many Western politicians and media say the Assad regime has ‘lost legitimacy’ with Syrians and must be removed in the long term, and talk about calving Syria up. Neither Western aspiration is shown in polling of Syrians.

  • Dave Orbison 10th Apr '17 - 12:11am

    Katherine – I think the ‘speed of response’ is a complete red herring. The Media have invented this as a means to attack Corbyn. I’m much more interested in what politicians say. Given that Russia have all but threatened war should there be another attack I doubt whether the US would attack again. Making the whole episode futile and at the expense, tragically,of further loss of life.

    The signal in a empty bluff inspired by an unstable POTUS who does not even have a genuine empathy for the refugees of that area.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Apr '17 - 12:29am

    John McHugo and Katharine Pindar talking about this from a wider and calmer perspective , to their credit.

    Talking of which, how patronising of those who think, like the noble Lord Greaves, Tim Farron is incapable of making his own decision without the advisers , good or bad , from his not quite end of the pier, sorry, peer, house of varieties ?!

    When I , of the same generation as Tim , say something, I do not say, thanks to my leading advisers, every time I open my mouth !

    When I hear good sense from my excellent friends and colleagues in the Nottingham and East Midlands, Young Liberals, I do not ,say , to our very impressive outgoing chairperson, Sammy Barry and her equally impressive incoming chairperson, Callum Southern, “oh and do credit your elders for the intelligent comments you just made!”No, the reason I and other colleagues a political generation older than them, who get on completely as friends and colleagues, do so , is we relate as equals . I listen to them and hear much worth listening to , as they do likewise.

    Why can some not see that what is good for the goose is good for the gander ! Tim Farron is entitled to his opinion. He does not need my or anyone elses opinion on his , to have one ! In a party of conscience, that is what must lead. Especially from our leader!

  • Dave Orbison 10th Apr '17 - 12:37am

    Lorenzo calm down you need a sense of humour

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Apr '17 - 12:40am

    Dave ,

    Nice , very Michael Winner of you !

  • Dave Orbison 10th Apr '17 - 12:46am

    Lorenzo – you see we both have a sense of humour and I agree 100% on you post re the shameful ‘rape form’. Wonders never cease.

  • John McHugo,
    I never said they were. But we stuck up for alleged moderate -rebel -self -proclaimed -representatives-of-the -people in Libya, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The policy of regime change clearly does not work. It also didn’t work in Egypt when we pushed the idea of the Arab Spring. It just destabilises countries, empowers religious fanatics, creates a lot of destruction, leads to more terrorism, increases illiberal surveillance practices and goes nowhere. And ordinary British, American and European citizens quite rightly don’t support these failed destructive interventions.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Apr '17 - 1:25am

    Dave Orbison, I don’t want to labour the point (ha ha), but when The Times reports that Tim spoke out hours before Jeremy Corbyn that seems to me to be good publicity, and that media should seek his opinion early seems to me encouraging, and that he will have to speak out firmly and early and individually as our status grows seems to me both necessary and good, and as Lorenzo (thanks, Lorenzo!) says eventually, a leader must lead. A nice short thought to end a rather long sentence: good night!

  • Andrew McCaig 10th Apr '17 - 6:56am

    The problem is that if you are going to engage in actions that might lead to a world war it is important to be absolutely sure that Assad is guilty of this particular crime (given that we have been letting all his other crimes go unpunished). I am not sure. What is needed is forensic evidence linking the bomb used to the nerve agent. Without that the Russian version of events or even a deliberate false flag attack cannot be ruled out…

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '17 - 7:25am

    We need more support for Tim Farron on this. In principle striking Assad back was right. When it comes to the UN, we didn’t see Putin use the UN to invade and annex parts of Ukraine and he keeps blocking accountability for Assad. The strikes were on an airbase too, not like the US bombed the heart of Damascus. Regards

  • Bush/Blair were war criminals for NOT using the UN and waiting for definitive proof of WMDs…How things have changed…

    I appreciate, as events unwind, just how good a leader we had in Charles Kennedy….

  • As for proof….. I read and saw a TV report in which Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Herbert “HR” McMaster, told a press conference “There were measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas, so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else,”

    ?????????????? The Russian claim that the ‘sarin’ was being stored by rebels and was released by a missiles strike was ridiculed by experts who explained that any such attack would have caused the sarin to be vapourised and become harmless…That was proof that Assad MUST have used it…

    Now we are being told, by the same experts, that a missile strike would have released the gas causing widespread civilian casualties…

    Well, which is it?

    Still why bother asking questions, when the public will believe both contradicting accounts…

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Apr '17 - 8:59am

    @ John McHugo,
    ‘Humanitarian intervention’? I think that Noam Chomsky has spoken quite a lot on the history of that!

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    Why should I support someone who in my view has been driven to hasty judgment by the 24 hour news cycle?

  • ………….I’m perplexed to see that quite a few people think that bombing a military base that has just launched a chemical weapons attack is analogous to invading a foreign country on fabricated grounds, but hey ho…

    I’m perplexed how, given the history of ‘fabrication’ on all previous interventions, that some DON’T see the analogous connection….
    The conflicting reports about how sarin reacts to being ‘bombed’, the lack of any credible reason why Assad would use such a weapon in a non-strategic area, the refusal to wait for UN or independent verification of what was used ( i.e. first eyewitness reports were of a gas that ‘smelled’; sarin doesn’t), etc., etc…..

    But,hey ho “Assad is bad”

  • CLL. Mark. Wright.
    It’s because we’ve been here before and there has been too much mission creep in the ME. I wasn’t impressed with Hilary Benn’s the last time. Also alleged attack is not the same as proven attack, both Syria and Russia deny it. That’s not to say I think this means it’s a false flag operation, but what if they did just strike a munitions site and that did release the gas. Expats highlights conflicting statements about what effect this might have elsewhere. I just do not want to get into a pointless tensions with Russia over a civil war in country that is not a direct threat to Britain.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Apr '17 - 1:03pm

    @ Simon Shaw,
    Indeed, and where did he get them from?

  • Andrew McCaig 10th Apr '17 - 1:16pm


    The problem is that everything you say is complete speculation and supposition. In British law you are innocent until proved guilty and the burden of prove is on the prosecution. The fact that Russia has fabricated evidence in Ukraine is no more or less relevant than the fact that Bush and Blair fabricated evidence for WMD in Iraq (using the fact that Saddam had had such weapons and used them in the past as circumstantial evidence against him, just as you are doing with Assad). Again, British juries are asked to assess motive as well as opportunity. Assad clearly had the opportunity to commit this crime but almost certainly so did the rebels. The aftermath has been a great result for the rebels, and a great result for Trump (who suddenly gets the Russophobes off his back), and a bad result for Assad and for Putin.. On the balance of motive, it would be very hard to convict Assad, even though I have seen various strange reasons advanced why he would suddenly choose to use chemical weapons on an inconsequential target. Surely the conventional weapons he has been dropping daily should be enough to achieve his aims without muddying the water in this way?

    What was needed here was a proper impartial forensic investigation before any action was taken. If the Islamist groups controlling rebel territory have nothing to hide they would have facilitated that investigation.

  • Cllr Mark Wright …Firstly…Putin probably lied before so he MUST be lying now…As Andrew McCaig points out,such an argument would not even be put forward in any court…
    Your point 2) In 2013, how could Putin/Assad say, ” no sarin was used”; it was in rebel held territory; how would they know/verify? What they did say, and still do, is that they didn’t use it…
    Your Point 3) As you say Sarin residue is long lasting…Those initial rescuers carrying dead and injured about were wearing ‘flip-flops’ and no protection; where are their bodies? What about the claims that the gas had a strong odour?

    As for motive?????? Idib province is a battleground between warring anti-Assad groups; as recently as mid March 2017 the United States labeled the largest rebel group (Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham) a terrorist organization despite arming them upto that time…What has he to gain?

    Do I know the “truth”; No! Hence I want to ‘wait and see’ before taking action…You, on the other hand (even knowing the history of lies from all sides) applaud the sentence of death carried out on the soldiers and civilians by Trump’s arbitrary action…At least the sentences on the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven (beyond all reasonable doubt???) could be rectified…

  • @ Simon Shaw – “Just in case you have forgotten, Peter, Saddam not only had WMDs but he also used them, in 1988”.

    And just in case you have forgotten, Simon, on 6 July, 2016, the Chilcot Report stated,

    “We have also concluded that : The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”

    @ Jayne Mansfield responded to Simon Shaw. Yes indeed Jayne, “where did he get them from ?” Good point, the answer being back in the 1980’s the Thatcher regime – ‘was economical with the actualite’.

    More recently, our very own Vince is a bit coy according to Saturday’s Guardian. Things got a bit closer to home under both Brown and the Coalition.

    “Allegations that the UK supplied potentially deadly chemicals to Syria were investigated by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) which in 2013 wrote to then business secretary, Vince Cable, asking him to disclose the names of companies given licence approval between 2004 and 2012 to export to Syria chemicals that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons. Cable was criticised by the committees for refusing to disclose the names of the companies”. (8/4/17).

    But it’s not just GB – apparently Germany also exported components for Sarin after the start of the Syrian Civil War.

    I’m afraid, dear Tim, that I can never regard Trump D. as the saviour of heroic enlightened liberalism. It stretches the elastic to the point of snapping and the nether garments falling down.

    So that’s alright then, we can sleep soundly in our beds as the escalation ratchets up.

  • Mark,
    That’s a very long answer to a tiny part of my argument. The main thrust of which is that we should keep our noses out of it, because we keep failing and it serves no purpose.

  • Tony Greaves 10th Apr '17 - 5:25pm

    And there are more useful things we could be doing.

  • Tony Greaves 10th Apr '17 - 5:26pm

    Or perhaps I should say less harmful things.

  • @John McHugo: No, you are saying things I didn’t say. I implied that Westerners stating that a Western style democracy is the priority of Syrians, when all evidence is that more Syrians prioritise peace, stability and private freedoms without religious authority domination, higher than a form of democracy that receives Western approval.

    But a form of democracy that would receive our approval is a standard that our society’s darker impulses would paradoxically never want to exist in Syria. Our Western societies place the interests of Israel first. A strong, multi-confessional, secular dominated Arab society, is an anathema to those who believe in sectarian-based societies. And conversely, such a levantine Arab society will always be repulsed by a neighbour that puts Arab culture as ‘the other’ and at best as its inferior servant.

    Yes, I and separately close relatives have been to Syria, but perhaps not as much as you…you’re probably a bit older than me! My contacts and experience entirely are in keeping with what ORB polling showed, as well as the diverse opinion that we have in the UK. But you surely would agree that the Syrian opinion portrayed in our more trusted media like the BBC and Guardian rarely shows this diversity of Syrian opinion, even if your friends and experience chime with Rana Kabbani and the Syrian opposition.

  • PS By Diverse opinion in the UK, i mean that there is as diverse political opinion amongst Syria as in the UK- but the axis on which Syrian and UK politics revolve aren’t identical, because of our different cultures and histories. But most of our media doesn’t show this, it just lazily says:
    1.”it’s all too confusing and complex ” (because it’s not the same as ours- we can only just cope with the Dutch & French & Left/right politics)
    2. There are broadly goodies and baddies, the baddies being ISIS and Assad. The rest are varying quality of goodies, with Kurds at the top (though we never confuse the picture by revealing that the Kurds are loosely allied to Assad).
    3. Sectarianism! It’s all about the sunnis, Kurds & Shias/Alawites. So we better split them up.
    4. We had absolutely nothing to do with destabilising and arming insurrection in Syria. All the Syrian deaths are therefore basically down to the ruler Assad crushing the Arab Spring of Peace and Love.
    Such are the broad themes of our defunct media. I hope Hugh that you’re not part of them!

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