Opinion: We need urgent debate about Syria, not just rhetoric

If recent news reports are to be believed, we are now edging closer and closer some form of military conflict with Syria. It is a fast moving situation; indeed, one that could escalate drastically within a matter of days. But with MPs on their summer holidays, there has been a worrying lack of proper debate about the issue.

A few months ago, an 87-year-old woman died and Parliament was recalled so that people could talk about it, at no small expense to the taxpayer. I have no wish to go through that particular debate again, but it is difficult to fathom how yet another potential intervention in the Middle East, risking the lives of many, can be considered too unimportant to recall Parliament for an urgent debate.

At present, we are left with a situation where rhetoric is winning out over reasoned logic. The argument put forward by those in favour of military involvement still boils down to the assertion that Assad is a tyrant and must be removed. Whether or not he has used chemical weapons on his own people (and the evidence for this remains murky – while it seems very likely that the weapons were indeed used, the perpetrators of this barbaric act have yet to be confirmed beyond doubt), this is not an unreasonable argument. But to then make the leap into military conflict is very dangerous. In doing so, we would strengthen the position of groups such as al-Qaeda. Time and time again, the West have intervened in the Middle East adopting an attitude of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, and in doing so have inadvertently aided the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Yet we are still failing to learn from our past mistakes.

The sad truth is that there is very little the West can do to improve the situation. Military intervention would not just aid a number of groups who are just as despicable as Assad, but also risk fostering even more anti-Western feeling in the region. But these arguments are not being made loudly enough by politicians. It is certainly being made by the media; across the political spectrum there is little appetite for military intervention. There is much discussion in national newspapers, so why the relative silence from our elected representatives? We must recall Parliament now, or risk sleepwalking into yet another drawn out conflict without proper discourse.

* David Gray is a musician, actor and writer based in Birmingham. He is a a co-director of Keep Streets Live

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • jenny barnes 27th Aug '13 - 9:15am

    Hague seems to be suggesting that the UK/USA do not need UN backing for military intervention. I seem to remember another illegal intervention in the area. Weapons of mass destruction were claimed as the casus belli, and there was no UN support. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best option.

  • Well said.

    Cameron lied to the country about setting up a no fly zone in Libya and the debate in the commons took place after we sent the planes in (even Blair didn’t stoop that low). A large proportion of the large number of targets attacked had nothing to do with enforcing a no fly zone. Hundreds of Libyan tanks were attacked and destroyed – I didn’t realise they could fly – the idea that we went in there to enforce a no fly zone to protect civilians is laughable. I find it very hard to believe that our politicians would weigh up the pros and cons of going to war in a serious manner. I find it even harder to believe that they would be honest to the electorate about why we are going to war and what we hope to achieve. It would be even worse if there was no debate in parliament.

  • Even if WMD use is verified would an intervention be any more or less “legal” then Iraq ?

    Assad is a monster (as was Saddam), he’s used chemical weapons against his own people (as did Saddam), he’s brutally suppressed popular uprisings (as did Saddam). If he is toppled the replacement may be as bad or worse….

    Personally I feel that without an explicit UNSC resolution any intervention supported by Lib Dem’s in Government would be problematical bordering on the hypocritical.

  • Paul Reynolds 27th Aug '13 - 9:36am

    For those who are interested in the run-up to what looks like another UK military intervention with fuzzy long term aims, you may be interested in my Huff Post article of one year ago.


    The key point is that, at the time when the opposition to the Russian-designed Syrian ‘security state’ was still political more than military, there were opportunities to get rid of Assad via international negotiations. The article argues that this was a chance to avoid a long drawn out sectarian conflict – made almost inevitable if the West was going to be callous and arrogant and wait for the conflict to degenerate into a ‘dark & dirty’ fight for influence among the Gulf States, Israel, France, USA and others. The point was that negotiaton was key.

    Instead we will end up with a proxy war with Russia (and China) and the chance of a relatively stable Pro-Western regime will be lost. But there are many in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the US who see strategic benefit in a long drawn out out and bitter conflict in Syria. That is the sad thing. For many in Britain’s political class, they are unwitting pawns in such an approach. Some might say this is undignified for a nation as great as the UK. But so be it.

    Ironic maybe, but one of our opponents in military action in Syria, covert or overt, will be … Iraq.

    It should be obvious that a strategy to bog down Mid East countries in conflict for decades (something freely discussed on both sides of the Potomac) has not worked in the UK’s interest or even the West’s interests more generally. Half-hearted and tokenistic attempts at a political solution were never going to be a sufficient bulwark against those preferring a long term debilitating conflict.

  • I am watching this one very closely because I sense we may be about to witness the most breathtaking piece of political hypocrisy by Cleggy and Co so far, something that would make the tuition fees fiasco look like a tea party

  • As a Quaker and a pacifist I would argue that there is never a case for military intervention. It is clearly evident that military intervention in the Middle East has not been a success. Who would argue that Iraq, Libya or for that matter Afghanistan are safer or better places following military intervention. It is also pretty dubious as to whether the former Yugoslavia is a better place following intervention. In those countries, as indeed in Syria both the government and the opposition are neither democrats, nor do they believe in freedom of speech, thought or action. In almost all cases we have helped to install one bad lot in place of the previous bad lot and in most cases have left a legacy of terrorism, suicide bombing and unstable administrations. Hardly a recommendation for more of the same.

    I marched with millions against the war in Iraq. It was one of my proudest moments in almost 50 year’s membership of the party to stand united against the lies and propaganda of the Blair government.

    I would find it extremely difficult to continue active support of the party if our ministers and MPs were to support armed intervention in Syria, especially if it were done without UN support. Marching against a government of which my party is a member would really be a step too far

    There are lots of appropriate actions that have not yet even been tried. Sanctions, freezing of overseas bank accounts, stopping all weapon sales to both sides to name but a few. Above all, it is vital to keep talking, because in the end that is what will solve the problem, not tanks, planes, guns and bombs. The only result of military action will be many thousands more dead, including more innocent men, women and children.

  • What will an attack on Syria achieve if peace in the region does not follow ? Syria is just one piece in a big jigsaw puzzle and, even supposing military intervention is successful, it will do little or nothing to alter the big picture. Think ahead! temporary fixes have the capacity to make bad situations worse.

  • A UN security council resolution, which some people here think would give legality, would have to be endorsed by Russia.

    Russia is happy to provide arms to a regime that appears to gas its own people, so why would they support any measure attacking it?

    It is naive and foolish to think that the UN security council can confer legality, when some of its own members openly support states that breach international law on the use of biological and chemical weapons?

    It is about time Lib Dems and Clegg admitted this.

  • g

    First of all, shall we confirm there was a chemical attack and it was launched by the Syrian Government shall we?

    If Clegg has seen evidence that we have not seen then he should say so and take a clear position on it. If we are basing this on unverified ‘eye-witness’ accounts, youtube videos and propaganda then I think we should step back, await the report from the weapon’s inspectors etc.

    Is there verifiable evidence, have Syrian troops in this area been given antidotes etc indicating an attack?

    What is the rush? Assad isn’t going anywhere

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 10:44am

    Sure we need debate, but we also need a lot more information, and we need purpose and resolve. One hundred and eighty-eight countries agreed to Chemical Weapons Convention, including Russia and China. Five did not, one of which is Syria. To me that makes Syrian use of these weapons illegal, and where there is illegality there is a need for some kind of policing action to counter it. There is surely no virtue in standing idle when children are being slaughtered? http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/

  • Richard Dean

    You do not need to have ratified the convention to make use illegal – there is also the NPT as well which Iran Syria has ratified but Israel hasn’t. Non-ratification of these treaties does not affect the legality under other conventions.

    The same arguments you used were used by Blair when talking about Iraq, need to respond, no chance of UN support, nasty dictator, weapon’s inspectors irrelevant etc

    Did you support Iraq?

    I didn’t and, without, clear evidence that the Syrian Government has used the weapons then we should not assume guilt. The rebels also have access to these weapons and some of the members of that rebel organisation are not particularly nice people either.

    Again, I ask what is the LD current position?

  • My heart would be for intervention in Syria, hoping it might do some good in stopping a brutal dictator in his tracks.

    But my head says this must not happen. There is always, I repeat always, “blowback” from these operations. We always end up making things worse than before we get involved. How many times does this have to happen before we say “enough”.

    We have spent decades and many tens of billions trying to the the world’s policeman. Now it’s time to stop. And we as Liberal Democrats must be in the frontline saying this.

    No intervention in Syria without UN approval.

  • This is the time for Nick Clegg to stand up and say no to the Tories. No more war. He needs to put the UK’s interests first and these are not served by getting involved in a far off conflict where any outcome is uncertain, whatever intervention might occur.

  • RC

    On your first point:

    Good idea, Bahrain next then perhaps the Kingdom of Al-Saud, then Egypt and throw in a Zimbabwe. Loads of other countries in Central Africa also have brutal dictators.

    There are a lot of countries where I would love to see intervention to overthrow people who oppress their people. Syria being just one.

    The thing is though that Syria is strategically critical and is one of the countries on the list for bringing in the US sphere of influence. The next one on the list is Iran and it will only be a matter of time before there is an excuse for that as well.

    As I said we need strong, validated evidence that Syria used chemical weapons – if we don’t then the only route is, as you say, via the UN.

  • I am just seeing some of the tweets on the right-hand side.

    There are some comments about Labour ‘opportunism’ there. I think we should avoid this as the Iraq decision was 10 years ago under a different leadership and which led to a lot of soul-searching in the Labour Party. large numbers of members and voters were opposed to Iraq.

    If the Labour leadership are repudiating the ‘Blairite’ view of the world then surely we should be glad? There will be some allies for the LD in advocating a more international based approach, especially when evidence is patchy or non-existent.

    The party that is consistent is the Tory Party – they supported Iraq without UN support and it seems they are happy to go along here as well.

    The interesting approach is that of the LD though – if they support action without UN approval where does that leave their principles with respect to Iraq? The same arguments are being made why to avoid the UN

    If there is unequivocal evidence that Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons then that is a different matter, although if that was the case I think UN consensus would be possible. This evidence is missing at the moment though, and the US dismissing the role of the inspectors is familiar!

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 11:52am

    We are human beings. There is no humanity in arbitrarily choosing the head in preference to the heart.

  • Richard Dean


  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 12:00pm

    @bcrombie, I reply to an earlier post by RC. The head is subservient. The heart is in charge. The head’s job is to work out how to get what the heart wants.

  • To people of a humanitarian disposition ( among whom I count myself), to see a brutal regime or violent opposition group inflicting suffering on a civilian population, cries out for intervention on behalf of the innocent. The painful truth, however, is that internal conflicts can only be resolved internally, and that may be a long, slow and bloody process. Our interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere have only served to illustrate that unpalatable truth. We must resist the siren call to action. It will not help us; it will not in the end help the Syrians.

  • @ Ian

    I agree totally. No matter how much we wish to make the world’s problems go away, it is not actually in our power effectively to do so.

    Intervening now is not going to simplify matters and could make things worse. How can we possibly ensure that if Assad is overthrown, that worse will not follow in the form of an extremist islamist regime?

    We are not the world’s policeman now and we need to recognise this.

  • Simon McGrath 27th Aug '13 - 12:28pm

    @Mickft “As a Quaker and a pacifist I would argue that there is never a case for military intervention.”
    Not even to stop Hitle r?

  • Richard, Ian

    But this sounds very similar to the justification that Blair used for Iraq. His view was that intervention was justified in circumstances where we think there is a need, even if there is no agreement from the UN.

    I disagreed with his position and still do unless there is a clear humanitarian need, and even then we need to be very careful.

    The current situation is more a ‘punishment’ rather than meeting a direct humanitarian need that hasn’t been present for 2 years.

    Is the LD position now to support the Blair, Bush, and to be honest the Tory Doctrine. Remember the Tories were never that bothered about UN resolutions – they were quite happy to support the Iraq invasion?

    Could the irony be the only party that does not support this intervention is the Labour Party under Miliband?

  • So what do we do when Assad gasses another thousand? Or another ten thousand?

    Of course intervention is a huge risk. That’s why nothing was done in Kosovo for months. Once intervention was tried, Milosevic crumbled and many lives were saved. Yes, I know, Iraq was very different. Syria doesn’t look like either Iraq or Kosovo. It could be different again.

    Surely the Russians are the key. Assad is their man. They don’t want the West or anyone else to exploit the situation by diminishing their influence in Syria, which is why they are being difficult. Their position is not irrational. We should ask the Russians what action they could accept, and take it from there.

  • Andy Boddington 27th Aug '13 - 12:50pm

    David Cameron has just announced the recall of parliament on Thursday


  • David Allen

    Can you point me to your evidence that he ‘gassed a thousand’?

    The inspectors are there and I do not believe they have reported back, the basis seems to be on reports from a rebel-held area and there are enough people casting doubts on it, including the Kurdish leaders who are no friends of Assad but also not taken in by these jihadist rebels either!

    Did you support Iraq by the way – as the arguments you make were those used by Blair

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 1:11pm

    bcrombie, no, I marched against Iraq. Whatever you think of the motives of those advocating a strike on Syria, they are quite different from the motives of Bush and Blair in Iraq. Bush and Blair thirsted for regime change. In Syria the West doesn’t actually want the rebels to win.

    As to the evidence, it is about as strong as the evidence for man-made climate change. That is to say, strong but not 100% conclusive. I hate climate change denialists, and I don’t believe denialism over Syria is a good thing either.

  • Jane Sanderson 27th Aug '13 - 1:12pm

    If one reads the Guardian, Telegraph and Mail web sites (I have not had chance to read others) and looks at the posts that are being put up by people, no one is in agreement with the UK or USA going to, and creating a war with Syria, (Iran or anyone else) because it is none of our business. There is no emphatic evidence that the Syrian government has gassed its own people, terrorist activist could well be behind this. All are also remembering when the States got the UK into another war by giving false information i.e. 45 minutes away from mass destruction.

    Many, many people think this is related to Snowden, and the behaviour of the government and Sir Jeremy demanding that the Guardian stop printing information (and it has, and will continue to embarrass both governments) and hand over information. People will not accept having their liberty taken away or being spied on. Terrorism is being used as a blanket excuse for everything, people are not stupid.

    MPs and Parliament will do so much damage to themselves if they vote for any action against Syria. The West has got to stop dictating and wanting to ‘control’ all other societies, their leadership and revenue (Oil) – that’s what creates, as oppose to solving problems.

  • David Allen

    Can you provide some links to this evidence please – and why are we not waiting for the UN inspector’s report.? There is plenty of evidence for climate change freely available, all I have seen from the Syrian side is some internet video footage and some widely different information on casualties etc.

    This 5 days is political, not scientific. sarin ail be detectable after this time I can assure you as a chemist. Also, the UN has some belief that it is not just the Syrian Government has access to this material


    Blair and Bush wanted war, as did the Tories if you remember. Who knows what the motive is – NSA leaks, taking an opportunity to remove Assad etc.

    I don’t know what goes on in the head of the US Government

    I would though ask is why when in Government the LD now see the side-lining of the UN as being acceptable. The reasoning seems to be similar to that Blair used.

  • @ David Allen
    From my reading around a number of sources there seems to me just as much (if not more) reason to doubt whether the Chemical attacks are coming solely from Assad as there was to doubt the existence of WMDs in Iraq at the time. Which side is really desperate to bring America in?

    The cynic in my might suggest the Lib Dems made as much political capital as possible over Iraq when in opposition, no problem with that, but I am very interested to see how they handle this now they are in government. I sense a great deal of tortuous words and justifications on the horizon about how this situation is so different to Iraq (which in essence we all know it isn’t)

  • Frank Hindle 27th Aug '13 - 1:56pm

    It is now being suggested that military intervention can be legally undertaken without a Security Council resolution on humanitarian grounds (ie the same justification as in Kosovo).
    But much of the current clamour for action seems to have more similarity with Iraq in 2003 than with Kosovo in 1999. Parliament has been recalled to vote on military action. Will MPs be allowed to see the full legal advice given to the Government. In 2005 both Michael Howard & Charles Kennedy agreed that MPs would have voted differently over Iraq in 2003 if they had seen the advice at that time.
    Will the government be willing to publish the full legal advice this time? And if not, will our MPs and ministers be prepared to demand it?

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 2:02pm

    Yes, we should wait for the UN inspector’s report. We do not have to take action precipitately. But there are advantages in beginning a process.

    Putin has told us to wait for the inspector’s report. We should specifically say we accept his advice.

    If the inspector’s report is inconclusive, we should press Putin and the UN for more inspection.

    Putin also says we should not act without Security Council approval. Very well, let us go there, and put Putin on the spot by pressing him to amend rather than veto our proposals. What would the Russians be prepared to support – if necessary, even, in terms of restraining rather than replacing their puppet regime?

    We should not be bombing Syria this week. But nor should we definitively rule it out. If we do that, we lose the opportunity to stand in the way of mass killings.

  • jenny barnes 27th Aug '13 - 2:07pm

  • Darren Reynolds 27th Aug '13 - 2:09pm

    No! Not without the specific authority of the UN, please.

    Most UK citizens are familiar enough with the capacity of politicians to be bamboozled by a persuasive, dogma-led manipulator building his reputation with American friends. But why not refresh yourself anyway with the historical record of the Nurse Nayirah testimony.

    I’m not going to believe a word of what I’m told about this unless the Security Council backs action, and that means, amongst other things, having the Russians on board.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Aug '13 - 2:28pm

    I am strongly against intervention and, no, I am not a pacifist. I remain open-minded, but it should never have got to this stage without first convincing the public.

  • David Allen

    In your last post you had a complete certainty it was the Syrian Government

    I still await your links with anticipation because I am ready to be convinced by good evidence…don’t like this uncertainty

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 2:36pm

    No bcrombie, when I said “strong but not 100% conclusive”, that is what I meant. I trust -if I trust anybody- people like BBC reporters, who think it is pretty clear that it was the Syrian government side. I agree we should wait to find out what the inspectors conclude. However, we should not cling to residual uncertainty as an excuse for doing nothing. Plenty of people in the Second World War were not quite sure what was happening to the Jews.

  • Tony Harwood 27th Aug '13 - 2:40pm

    Imminent western aggession against Syria has nothing to do with the so-called Arab Spring or humanitarian concerns. Like the recent grotesque military intervention in Libya it is rather a part of the west’s neo-colonial strategic game plan to remove troublesome secular (and relatively progressive) regimes in the region. If the secular Syrian state should fall the resultant intensification in bloodshed and chaos will surely engulf all the Syrian people and neighbouring states. Syria is geographically far closer to western Europe than Iraq so there may well be will be unintended consequences closer to home too from Iraq-style internicine anarchy on the shores of the Med.

    This is truly Clegg’s Iraq moment, he must now do EVERYTHING in his power to stop the Cameron / Hague rush to war, and instead ensure the UK works within the structure of the UN to initiate serious local humanitarian support with parallel peace talks – with no “regime change” pre-conditions. Without the support of the Lib Dem wing of the Coalition Cameron / Hague will not politically have the power to commit UK military forces to another murderous Middle Eastern military folly. The British people had the wisdom to oppose military intervention in both Iraq and Libya, and experience has proved them right . Syria is a western military intervention too far, and the UK must have no part of it.

  • David Allen

    Oh so you don’t have any evidence then – makes you look a little silly if you don’t mind me saying

    You believe the BBC reporters if you want…I reserve the right to be very skeptical of what is reported – where did they get their info from. I suggest you go and read up on Government Propaganda departments – very good at what they do!

    Remember there was ridicule from Blair and his ilk for those who doubted the presence of WMD in Iraq.

    Please do not bring the Holocaust into it – if there is any ethnic cleansing in Syria it is the jihadist rebels that are responsable killing Christians and Alawites with impunity.

    Assad’s regime is very unpleasant but so are virtually all in the region

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 3:10pm


    I don’t mind you calling me silly. I don’t think it makes you look terribly good, however.

    Why is doubt so important to you? If you are concerned to stop hotheaded action by the West without first exhausting the UN route, I agree with you. But if you want to shy away from all moral responsibilities, I don’t.

    The stories of how panic spread gradually through the rebel-held area at dead of night are entirely consistent with an enemy (i.e. Syrian Government) attack. The alternative is to suppose that the rebels (or some of them) massacred their own supporters in a massive publicity stunt, which nobody in the area appeared to know in advance would happen.

    OK, let’s play counterfactuals: it’s just possible that an Al-Qaida group from outside Damascus might have had the idea of trying such a publicity stunt. However, if they were ever found out, the population would surely turn on them ferociously, and drive every last man of them out of Syria. Why take such a risk, when your war efforts are going reasonably well anyway? It’s not really credible, is it?

  • David Allen

    What was sill was your likelihood comparison of climate change with the attack in Syria. One that has plenty of freely available evidence and discussion, the other based on conjecture

    You have quoted some ‘stories’ – where did these come from?

    In May the UN stated it was high probability that the rebels used sarin in a gas attack
    There have been discoveries of various caches of chemical weapons as the rebels retreat
    The Syrian Army has been winning the conflict, why use unconventional arms?
    Who gains from a poison gas attack – who has the motive?
    What was the extent of this attack – how many casualties?

    The A-Qaeda groups have been slaughtering people – mainly Christians and Alawites. Why would they be concerned about killing people with poison gas, especially if it was suggested by advisors. I suggest you look at American knowledge of the use of chemical weapons by Saddam

    What you have just expressed is not evidence, it is heresy and rumour. If there is going to be cruise missile strikes that will undoubtably cause collatoral damage shouldn’t you have a bit more than this?

    If Assad did it then produce the evidence! What you have provided isn’t evidence.

  • jedi

    It was extremely important for the LD in 2003 – what has changed?

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 3:24pm

    If we don’t act, they’ll do it again, and again, and again

  • Richard Dean


  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 3:50pm

    The ones who did it.

  • Richard Dean

    Indeed – so it would be good to find out properly

    If Assad then he needs to feel full consequences (ICC etc), any proof it is the rebels means we should come down hard on them as well.

    Also some mounting evidence the rebels used them in March so we can come down on both sides if necessary

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 4:08pm


    At the risk of boring everybody else by repeating myself so often – I agree we should wait for the inspector’s report and hope that this provides definitive evidence. At the moment we don’t have that, I agree. However – it looks pretty damning. Why do you wish to deny that?


    The caution expressed in the below latest from the BBC is reasonable, but to suggest as you do that the evidence actually points the other way is not reasonable.


  • @ David Allen

    I’m certain that there was irrefutable evidence that chemical weapons had been used by the Saddam Hussain against the Kurds in Iraq. Was that justification enough for the ‘conflict’ with Iraq – or not?

  • David Allen

    Independent verification is required – that information is unverified and is based on videos and Facebook.

    Is that justification enough – without independent corroboration it isn’t for me I am sorry.

    I am not suggesting anything, I am awaiting evidence and then I will make up my mind. I will be very interested to see how those delivery systems were put together. That is probably going to be the best bet for determining who did it.

    If you judge it is good enough then fine, that is for you to do – I will reserve judgement.

  • @Olly T
    If you are referring to the attack on Halabjah in 1988 it would be a bit late to use it to justify the 2003 invasion. Let’s not forget his ruthless persecution of the marsh arabs we convinced to rise up post the first Gulf War.

    The real problem here is that the UNSC is utterly toothless whenever a key Ally of any of the permanent members is involved the veto is simply dusted off. Saddam could have gone on forever if UNSC approval was needed as can Assad. The problem is that having made such a play of this over Iraq what do the Lib Dems as a party do now. There are just too many similarities.

    My view is that some of the activity in Libya went beyond the supposedly tight mandate and that humanitarian protection soon becomes regime change. Make no mistake any action will be aimed at helping the rebels win irrespective of the type of regime they will establish.

  • A lot of nasty little nationalists here – ‘I don’t want us to get involved, not our problem etc’ – that’s what this all amonnts to. Being a liberal I am also a cosmopolitan and don’t care if chemical attacks occur against Brits or Syrians or whoever – the response should be the same i.e. they will not be tolerated ever. But I guess if things are ok in your little plot of land some so called liberals just don’t care.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 5:10pm


    Well – no it wasn’t.

    (a) because nothing was done at the time. The point of making a reasonably immediate response (i.e. an immediate threat, followed in due time by an actual response if proven appropriate) is to deter it happening again. As Steve Way says, a conflict many years later is not justified on that basis.

    (b) because the aim of the Iraq war was regime change, and that is not a justifiable aim, unless the regime is committing genocide (i.e. deaths in the million scale). If you’re going to bounce back at me and point out that “short sharp strikes” could easily be a recipe for mission creep, I’d have to agree with you. I think Parliament would be well advised to put strict limits on any approval of military action.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 5:14pm


    If the UN inspectors did conclude they had good evidence of a chemical attack by Assad’s forces, what would you then advise? Would you then countenance any form of military response?

  • Dave

    Don’t see much of that here to be honest – principled opposition based on the information at hand.

    If the evidence changes then opinions should as well

  • David Allen

    Yes, within a tightly defined limit as you said in your last post.

    It is all about evidence for me and I haven’t see anything convincing yet.

    I await further information with interest

  • oh and sorry for calling you silly…it was, well silly!

  • One is either a pacifist or not. One can’t pick and choose a war NOT to be a pacifist about. All sorts of things might have been done differently in the aftermath of WW1 that might have denied Hitler the platform he was given. Certainly people like me opposed the treaty of Versailles because it ground the defeated Germans down in the dust . It was possible to resist the Nazis by non violent means, because many Scandinavians did so.

    The gospels talk of turning the other cheek, loving thine enemy and doing good to those that hate you. For a so-called Christian country we do seem to ignore that rather too often.

    Some of though hold to principle. We will not fight, we will not go to war, because ultimately war only causes death and suffering and in the end the only way to end conflict is through negotiation. So it is in Syria. Neither side are the sort of people we would want to see in power and we should not fall prey to jingoism and macho pride or take part in mine’s bigger than yours politics.

  • Ian Hurdley 27th Aug '13 - 5:22pm

    The question of military intervention in Syria having arisen long after the Coalition Agreement was drawn up, we are perfectly entitled to refuse point blank to vote in favourite of military action without explicit UN authorisation, irrespective of the legal advice extorted from the Attorney General.

  • @Dave
    Why just chemical weapons ? There are evil regimes killing their own people throughout the world. China has a horrible record yet has a permanent chair on the UNSC. The problem isn’t where to start but when to stop.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '13 - 6:24pm

    The perpetrators will have believed they would get some advantage from their use of chemical weapons. We need to take sufficient action against them to negate the advantage they perceived. We also need to demonstrate that, if they do it again, there will be future action to again remove any advantage they may think they gained.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '13 - 6:25pm


    Yes, it’s awkward to justify drawing a line somewhere. It is bound to be somewhat arbitrary. In terms of logical argument, the easiest policies to support are the extremes – “never intervene”, or “always intervene”. That does not mean that either extreme is actually a sensible policy.

    Obama leads a nation which suffers badly from religious extremism and militarism. He has tried, if not always well, to pull back from the worst excesses. His generals have openly boasted that they control the shots, not some jumped-up elected politician. When Obama warned that use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, he probably hoped that a warning would deter. That does not mean that sympathy for Obama should equate to hot-headed action. However, if Obama were now to declare that his warning had merely been a bluff, he would just be inviting the condemnation of the American muscular Right and a victory for the Tea Party in 2016.

  • A lot of the debate here seems to be based on the assumption that we have to make a choice between the heart and the head. But the two are not mutually exclusive. For me, the decision that my heart makes would be to go for whichever option would result in the fewest deaths of innocent people of any nationality (I won’t use the word ‘civilian’ here as that would discount groups such as British soldiers. I can’t define exactly what I mean by ‘innocent’ here, so bear with me on this one). I genuinely believe that military intervention in Syria would lead to more deaths in both the short and long term. We have seen this from Iraq and Afghanistan – it is far too simplistic to believe that by invading and removing an oppressive regime, harmony will follow.

    Given this, my heart says no to military intervention as well as my head. We should of course be providing humanitarian aid wherever possible. But we should not arm the ‘rebels’ (although to lupmp the rebels into one singular group is a ridiculous thing to do) or send in our own troops.

    My main concern, as I pointed out in the article, is that with Parliament away we are letting the seemingly pro-war Hague shape the debate on a political level with few dissenting voices. It is therefore up to the media and the general public to put forward the case against military involvement. I have spoken to many people from across the whole political spectrum and have not found one person who believes that going to war is both just and practical. Yet our politicians are apparently blind to this.

  • Are the LibDems kidding? How can any of you possibly support this and not Iraq? Blair tried everything to get a UN resolution. What has Clegg done? Nothing. The LibDems called Blair a war criminal, well if this goes ahead there will be no maybes, Clegg will be a war criminal, an attack against Syria has no legal basis.

  • @gary

    Perhaps you should listen to what Nick Clegg says, rather than make it up.

    I’m totally against war or military intervention, but that isn’t apparently what’s being considered. [I’d still be against drone strikes or similar as I was with Libya]

    So kindly stop attacking the Lib Dems for what they haven’t said or done.

  • John Carlisle 28th Aug '13 - 3:57pm

    This is a Middle East problem. What has the West done to try shame them into sorting it out? It is there region, it is their culture (Arab) and predominantly Muslim. Any Western intervention will be a lose/lose, with the West left holding the very fractious baby.

  • nigel quinton 28th Aug '13 - 4:51pm

    @Richard Dean

    ‘The perpetrators will have believed they would get some advantage from their use of chemical weapons. We need to take sufficient action against them to negate the advantage they perceived’

    Hmmm. So if, as some suggest, the perpetrators purpose was to encourage US intervention, what action would you deem sufficient?

    And if one assumes that you are correct in your assumption (as I see no sign of any definitive objective evidence being quoted (on either side) ) that Assad’s regime is to blame, just what do you expect the use of force to achieve? What is the end that justifies the means? Is there any credible evidence to suggest that a negotiated peace is any more likely with or without our military engagement?

    Like it or not, conflict resolution requires dealing with one’s enemies. Russia has a veto here, and the only way any peace will come is through their support for an outcome. Unpalatable. but that is surely the reality. As David Allen and Darren Reynolds have pointed out above, we (US/UK) have to work through Putin, not against him, if what we want to achieve is to make any material difference.

    Sadly though, this is once again more about US domestic politics and posturing now than it is about the outcome in Syria.

  • I think the government should consider providing food, medical supplies and protective equipment to those that need it in Syria and if destroying their air defence system beforehand is the only way to enable that then it should be carefully considered. The security council is a weapons manufacturer club, they rarely agree as usually one has a financial stake in the regime.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Mohammed Amin
    I live in both Manchester and London, splitting my time between them. I cannot remember how I first became aware of the Mill. However after just a few weeks ...
  • Guy
    There's plenty for teachers to strike about at the moment - picking solely on pay is a massive mistake. To me, this dispute has been a long time in the making a...
  • David Evans
    Peter, Indeed you may be right, but indeed Peter Watson may be wrong. All in all, I think my point still stands. I would urge you both not to judge so...
  • Martin
    Mick Taylor: For issues of intimidation and harassment there are other considerations that involve the care and protection of innocent parties. You do have to a...
  • Anthony Acton
    Why are the LD leaders not shooting at an open goal on this? It's the one national issue where the public would expect the party to lead. If fear of anti EU sen...