Syria: what do Liberal Democrats want?

Last night we brought you Nick Clegg’s view on Syria, which can be summarised as follows:

  • if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent
  • the use of chemical weapons is a repugnant crime
  • we will not stand idly by when chemical weapons are used in complete breach of international law
  •  Government “is not going to act outside the remit of international law”
  • we want to stand up for the standards and norms in the civilised world

In the last couple of days Paddy Ashdown and Sir Menzies Campbell, two of the most respected voices this country has on foreign affairs, have been saying slightly different things. It’s almost like it’s being cleverly choreographed. Paddy is slightly in favour of action, Sir Menzies slightly against. In the Times on Monday (£), Paddy said:

What has happened in Damascus is a challenge to our humanity. It is also a challenge to our system of international law. If the international community will not now find the means to make it clear that we will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction, like poison gas, for the mass murder of innocent citizens, then the fragile structures of international law that we have painfully erected these last 20 years will be undermined, and the threat of the future use of weapons of mass destruction will be widened.

What sort of intervention does he want to see? Well, he doesn’t really say, but he says what he doesn’t want.

Here what is needed is something proportionate, consistent with international law, closely defined and tightly targeted on the crime. So no to no-fly zones — even if they were militarily possible. And no to arming the rebels too — even if that was wise (which, by the way, neither is). It means something sharp, quick, specific and punishing. And preferably — strongly preferably — legitimised by a UN Security Council Resolution.

On the other hand, Sir Menzies, while being equally measured in his comments, reminded us that intervention in Iraq didn’t end well. Speaking on the BBC News Channel yesterday, he said that any intervention must have clear objectives and understand the potential consequences. He said that he was not persuaded that military action is the right thing to do.

From what I can glean, the predominant feeling in Liberal Democrat circles, amongst those is intense anxiety. This is entirely appropriate. Nobody should ever contemplate something like this without calculating the human cost. Whatever we do or don’t do, people will die. What is the least worst option?

This is no six month debate like Iraq. We are hurtling towards a decision which will have long term and serious consequences and Parliament will vote tomorrow on a motion which is as yet unseen. We can expect that action will follow swiftly thereafter, given that the Commons is being recalled just two working days early. Why the haste? You can understand that nobody wants a repetition of the scenes in Damascus last week, and the longer it’s left, the more likely it becomes.

Nick Clegg has a lot of work to do if he wants to persuade an anxious party to go along with any military action. The major concerns that I can see are:

Is it legal and what is the evidence for action?

There’s no chance of UN backing, but, as Jonathan Fryer argues, the “responsibility to protect” might cover that:

 As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success.

We have Nick Clegg’s assurance that action will be legal, but we must see the basis for that argument and we must know why it’s being done, with the evidence spelled out in words of one syllable.

Is there an international consensus in favour?

My sense is that people are pretty much opposed to a unilateral action involving just Britain and the US. They want to see broad international support for action. This is one area where the slowly turning diplomatic wheels and the perceived need for speed to prevent further atrocities clash. Our European liberal partners are not so reticent. ALDE’s Guy Verhofstadt wants Assad out:

Europe should show to Assad that it cannot accept in any way his crimes against humanity. We should be united in this. This intervention should not be a loose coalition of the willing but a strong cooperation between the US, the EU, Turkey and the majority of the Arab countries. We should also work together in a strategy to get Assad out as this is the most important obstacle for peace talks.”

Together we should discuss how to arm the Free Syrian Army, how to implement a no-fly-zone to protect the Syrian people and how to deal with the growing number of Jihadis. Such a common and effective strategy will only be possible if the EU speaks with one voice. I call on the High Representative to convene a new urgent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. Also, I have called on my colleagues in the EP Conferce of Presidents to meet for an urgent discussion on Syria.

What are the objectives and exit strategy?

Do we know what we are doing and have we thought it through properly, and have we taken account of the fact that according to a poll in today’s Sun that we’re facing public opinion of 2:1 against? I suspect that’s not a million miles from where the Liberal Democrats are.

As I said yesterday, I am seriously struggling with this. My instinct is against, but where military action is proposed, it almost always is. I wasn’t happy about the Falklands War when I was 14. I see where Nick Clegg is coming from, and I am prepared to listen to what he has to say. I just hope that Parliament steps up to the plate tomorrow and properly goes through the issues with as fine a tooth comb as time permits. We need a measured, cautious, serious tone.

Mike Crockart, by the way, has emailed all the people signed up to his email newsletter to ask for their views. He said:

The Prime Minister has said that MPs will vote on a ‘clear motion’. It is likely that the motion will consider whether Britain should take military action against the Assad Government.

I appreciate that people across Edinburgh West hold strong views on the situation in Syria and I wanted to contact you to ask that you share your thoughts on the matter with me.

Others may have done similar – please add any you know of, along with your own view, in the comments.

Update: our young Mr Farron wants to hear from party members:


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Good article. I think – despite the anxiety – that I’m in favour of action, simply because otherwise we are saying that any rogue state supplied weapons by the Russians gets a worldwide veto on any action taken against them whatever they do.

    It’s not about chemical weapons for me, horrific though they are. It’s about a state determined to fight its own people and no international action that can be taken while they retain Russia’s support. It strikes me that the arguments for leaving – or at least renegotiating – the UN are much stronger than they are for the EU, as I feel we need a solidly legal way around a single block on the Security Council.

    But – how can we be sure that any strikes will have effect and not just be posturing? How can we stop ourselves starting the slide to another Iraq? How can we prevent Israel and Jordan from being sucked in to our attacks in the form of a retaliation, and the conflict escalating? How will strikes provide safety for civilians? Unless we strike chemical weapons directly, how will we prevent their use? If we do, won’t that be even more dangerous? What is the plan for after a short-term campaign of strikes? I hope there are agreed answers to these questions as they are deeply worrying.

  • Reading my comment back, I’ve missed a key point. The question of ‘why now’ was never answered in Iraq; it was all about the fact that the Americans were going in anyway and it was about whether we joined the misadventure alongside them. The question of ‘why now’ has a much more obvious answer in Syria – as it did in Libya – with the government actively attacking their people with increasing confidence and bloodshed.

    That’s a crucial difference and if we do go in, we should be able to make that case as a party.

  • I appreciate the fact that some EU spokesmen want to act in concert, so as to achieve a credible international concensus on this issue. But where is the evidence that the EU can do this in practise, let alone within the required time -scale?

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 28th Aug '13 - 10:25am

    If the Liberal Democrats support the bombing of Syrian civilians they will lose every inch of the moral high ground that they occupied over Iraq. Saddam Hussein gassed his own people: I didn’t notice the Liberal Democrats calling for Iraq to be bombed then!

  • One problem is that there is a lack of trust in UK and US intelligence assessments following the debacle of the 2003 Iraq war run-up.

    We are paying the price globally for not bringing Tony Blair and GW Bush to account for this. So the poison of the lies and deceptions of that time corrodes our options now.

    Unfortunately we have not yet used our insider status in the Coalition to force essential information into the public debate.

  • So, you’ve basically done a complete volte-face on invading countries which have used chemical weapons on their own citizens, in flagrant disregard of international law, by now supporting the invasion of said countries in flagrant disregard of international law.

    Bravo! I think the satirical intent of the Lib Dems is now obvious, move onto your next piece of performance art.

  • Jack Holroyde 28th Aug '13 - 10:37am

    I’ve written to all lib dem MPs today:

    Dear X,

    As a Liberal Democrat member and Council candidate, I feel I must write to you to urge you to vote against taking military action in Syria when the house votes tomorrow.

    I can see two opposing viewpoints – one that there is a moral imperative for removing Assad from office and that use of chemical weapons must not be tolerated.
    Then others would say that the evidence against Assad is not absolute.

    I worry that we are about to make the same mistake that Blair made in Iraq – albeit with public support.

    To me, I see a clear moral imperative for an occupation – but only by international forces wearing the blue beret of the UN.
    Britain and America cannot police the world. It is not a liberal or a democratic mindset to assume that it must fall to us to sort out these issues.
    We have shown over and over that We are incapable of bringing lasting peace and improved quality of life to civilians in the Middle East through force.

    In my view we should be working hard within the UN to ensure international agreement on action in Syria.

    If Russia use the veto, which they are likely to do, then we must accept that as the democratic will of the UN.
    We could maybe campaign as a nation around the reform of veto rights.

    But we simply cannot afford – financially, morally and politically – to be left holding the baby in Syria as we have done for a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    It appears that many are taking this vote to be between sitting on our hands or providing quick ‘surgical strikes’.

    I would suggest the vote is between committing ourselves to work as a member of the UN or settling into a protracted war where we cannot support either side ethically, and end up trying to police a interim government.
    It never seems to work out how we think it will!

    On this basis, I would urge you to vote against military action at the emergency vote tomorrow.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.
    I hope to see you on the campaign trail soon.


    Jack Holroyde
    Kilburn (Brent) Ward

  • @Mack(Not a Lib Dem) – I believe you are wrong. When Saddam Hussein gassed the Marsh Arabs in 1991 (the last time he used chemical weapons) IRRC Paddy Ashdown did call for action against him; but this was just after Gulf War I.

  • Bob Browning 28th Aug '13 - 10:48am

    All we have is the International Criminal Court. Anything else will make matters worse.

  • I fully agree that chemical weapons are abhorrent and that there are rightly international conventions against their use. However I still find it very strange indeed that the decision on whether we act or not should hinge so critically on the method the regime uses to kills its citizens. In real terms why does it matter how Assad is practicing genocide?

    I also believe that whatever words are used in justification the Lib Dems will be seen as highly hypocritical if they support action. Can anyone seriously tell me that they believe that if they were still in opposition the Lib Dems would not be very loudly opposing this?

  • Until recently the question which side released the chemical agents was being raised; now this debate appears to have gone away. Is there new evidence that places the blame on Assad’s government without a shadow of doubt or have we persuaded (maybe deluded) ourselves that the probability of the guilty party being government forces is so overwhelming that it is a safe assumption ? Unless this assumption really is nothing less than 100% safe , dare we risk military intervention ?

  • Just as a reminder if its needed – the immense complexity of the middle east connections as shown on a chart published by the Washington Post.

  • If chemical weapons were used, was it Assad that actually used them against his own people? We know that Al Qaida is active in the rebel movement and they would use them?
    It is Al Qaida forces that are committing war crimes against the Kurds in Northern Syria.
    Any unauthorised military action without the UN will only make conditions worse for them.
    We can see that the UK foreign secretary has already taken sides.
    Can we Liberal democrats be sure that any unauthorised military invention is not in our name.
    I would sooner the LD party make it clear and resign from the government if the Conservative want to go ahead with an illegal war (just as the last Blair government did).
    When George Galloway asked the question in parliament of the difference between Al Qaida in Syria and Afghanistan? the only answer was the UK conservatives was carrying out orders from the White house.
    The Liberal democrats must stand up for human rights, international law, and resist imperialism from the last remaining empire. Lets investigate who really used chemical weapons and produce evidence to UN.

  • “… the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success.”

    But if there is no consensus within the international community, does this concept really give carte blanche to any country to intervene militarily at will in another country on humanitarian grounds? Doesn’t that make a mockery of the concept of international law?

    On the other hand if it is really a question of the Russians frustrating an international consensus by the use of their veto, is there any reason why action cannot be authorised legally by the General Assembly under resolution 377A (‘uniting for peace’)?

  • Isn’t it odd that just as the focus has moved away from Syria toward the Egyptian military coup the Syrian government (actually in the ascendant) should under the noses of the UN launch a chemical attack – what advantage would that give the Syrian government? Surely it is far more likely that the opposition, made up of forces in some ways more repugnant than Assad, could very cynically have launched such an attack. We need to discover who is actually responsible for this crime. We need the evidence! The governments of UK and US say they ‘know’ Assad is responsible – again I say we need evidence and as David Owen says we need to be guided by the UN Charter; wise words also from Ming Campbell on the situation – ‘jawjaw over warwar’, is always preferable to bombing so called ‘target’ sites’ which always involve that Orwellian term ‘collateral damage’ (always a hateful term to Liberals and humanitarians).

    When discovered who is responsible the security council of the UN must agree to be able to send in the blue beret peace keepers to investigate andremove all chemical weapons. but in order to do this we must try to get China on side in and if possible Russia – get everyone back to the table (Geneva 2) and start thrashing out the issue rather than just hitting out at Syria – a course of action that as with Iraq could lead anywhere. After all do we really want some of the opposition (including Al Queda) to be a beneficiary of such action. After the Syrian democratic opposition to Assad’s regime was hijacked by rather repulsive and undemocratic forces who knows how this could develop after a jung-ho knee jerk response to this chemical attack; we could end up with an escalation of troubles including a bloodbath of Allawites etc and it spreading to neighbouring countries such as Iran. Also will Assad sit back and calmly accept being bombed or will he more likely, with his back to the wall, launch attacks on say Israel – all is unpredictable as a response to thoughtless action

  • Some views you might find ‘obvious’ from the source, but what US Quakers with Military experience are saying…

    The suggestions they are sending to President Obama

    Might be relevant to our own Government.

    Military action is often like looking under the lamppost for your lost keys not because it is where you lost the keys but because its were the light is. One does what is possible not necessarily what is right or productive.

  • Why did whoever carried out the chemical attack carry it out? It served no real strategic military purpose. Why would Assad do it knowing what the response would be? The only side to gain from provoking such a reaction is the rebel side and even if Assad did carry it out then it is still most likely that he was looking for the same response from the US. So, why are we going to respond in the way the perpetrators of this hideous act want? Apparently, for no other reason than because the US said they would and would look a bit silly if they don’t respond. Any targeted strikes are very unlikely to improve the conflict and bring it to a resolution. They are much more likely to make the situation worse.

  • One focus should be on upholding the nonviolent resistance that exists still within Syria…

    And just for the record this is what British Quakers are asking of the Government and its constituent parties.

    As a Quaker this is essentially my position regardless of what my party does.

  • Richard Dean 28th Aug '13 - 1:10pm

    Military action looks to me like the only thing that will save many more innocent men, women, and children from being gassed. It is our duty, IMHO, and one does not shrink from a duty simply because it will be hard to do.

    So, IMHO, our moral choice is not whether to act, but what actions to take, and what limits to accept. Sanctions won’t work, freezing bank accounts will have no effect, as will talking to the closed Assad mindset. Pain seems like one of only two languages they have chosen to be able to understand.

    The other language would be the conviction that pain will come, and we might begin to talk that language by destroying the Assad air capability, for example. Perhaps less effective but worth considering might be to destroy the economic assets they would expect to enjoy if they were to be allowed to win their war against the ordinary people.

    If there was another way, I’m sure we’d want to try it, but realistically there doesn’t seem to be one.

  • @Chris – Agree that General Assembly under resolution 377A (‘uniting for peace’) should be used if Russia vetoes, as there looks to be a huge majority elsewherein the world for a response to chemical weapon attacks.

    @Edis – I’m sorry, but suggesting non-violent response to 1,000 civilians being gassed is just ridiculous. Non-violent response to Hitler also? I think not.

  • Alex Dingwall 28th Aug '13 - 1:43pm

    Well as a party member I want Nick to oppose military intervention. Frankly tuition fees would be nothing compared to the staggering hypocrisy required to ditch our principled position on Iraq, the rule of law, the role of the UN, etc..

    Syria has allowed inspectors on the ground, they are still working and crucially there is no UN mandate for military action. Why is Nick not taking inspiration from Charles Kennedy in 2003. Why not seek dialogue with China and Russia to back demands for Syria to place its chemical weapons stocks under UN supervision? All diplomatic alternatives must be exhausted before military action is even considered and as the UN Secretary General has made clear they have not been.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
    The team’s already “gathered valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses,” he said, adding that investigators should be given the time they need to complete their research. “Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop acting and start talking,”

    Hans Blix:
    British Prime Minister David Cameron also doesn’t seem to care much about international legality. And this time, neither do the French. As far as they are all concerned, a criminal act has been committed so now they must engage in what they call “retaliation.” I don’t see what they are retaliating about. The weapons weren’t used against them. It should be the rebels who want retaliation. If the aim is to stop the breach of international law and to keep the lid on others with chemical weapons, military action without first waiting for the UN inspector report is not the way to go about it. This is about world police, not world law.

  • Tony Greaves 28th Aug '13 - 2:30pm

    It may in reality be more like a game of international cowboys and indians.

    I am concerned about the effect on the streets of this country of yet another high powered attack by western governments on a Muslim country – which is how it will be seen by many British Muslims.

    I am also frankly gobsmacked by the way that the mandarins, diplomats and lesser mortals of the FO and all their fellow travellers down the years stil seem to regard the Middle East (ie the Arab world) as part of the British and French sphere of interest. We are no longer the imperial powers in the region and it’s time we stopped behaving as if we are.


  • Richard Dean 28th Aug '13 - 2:49pm

    Should we also be concerned about the effect on the streets of this country of doing nothing? Seeing TV images of people gassed, and seeing Western countries do nothing to stop it, is a radicalising experience too, particularly if it was the West or Russia that supplied the gas.

  • @ Richard Dean

    The Assad regime has been brutally killing its opponents for months, now they have killed some with chemical weapons people are up in arms and say we must attack the Syrian regime. What is so difference between killing someone by different means? It sounds to me as though the Lib Dem leadership is caught between a rock (being in government) and a hard place (its position on Iraq) and is clinging on to to the chemical weapons aspect in the hope that no one will notice the hypocrisy if they agree to an attack without UN sanction.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Aug '13 - 3:46pm

    What the British people want and what the Syrians want is more important than the three major concerns listed above.

    We need to kick up a huge fuss over this, I don’t see how the Justice and Security Bill and The Home Office vans are worse than lobbing some cruise missiles onto a dangerous country against the will of the people.

    I wrote to my Lib Dem MP last night, maybe if we all write to our MPs it will make a difference:

  • Simon Bamonte 28th Aug '13 - 4:15pm

    So did the Liberals call for action against the US when they used chemical weapons in Vietnam (Napalm?) Why did LibDems not call for America to be targeted after they used chemical weapons on civilians in Iraq (Depleted Uranium and the Fallujah massacre, anyone)? Or is it a case of “it’s ok when WE do it”?

    Have we forgotten that a large segment of the so-called “rebels” are actually infested with al-Qaeda and other fascist, anti-human Islamists? Are we sure that the “rebels” won’t retaliate by launching their own air strikes against our forces? And how come we didn’t have such a rush to war earlier in the year when these rebels were allegedly using chemical weapons themselves? Let us not forget the “rebels” have been proven to have waged campaigns of ethnic cleansing in various parts of Syria. Are these the type of people we should be supporting? For all his faults and bloodiness, Assad, at least, ran a pretty secular government where minorities such as Christians and Alawites have been protected.

    This whole thing stinks to high heaven of another plan for profiteering by the military-industrial complex. The British people do not want to go into Syria (not that this government cares what the people think). We’re told there is no more money for the disabled and unemployed. No money for legal aid or the NHS. But apparently there’s plenty of money for getting bogged down in another war.

    As horrible as Assad is, I fear the “rebels” are even worse. This whole situation in Syria has largely become a Shia-Sunni civil war (as in many other parts of the MidEast). If LibDem MPs vote for this action, I truly see no further point to this party existing. This is not our fight.

  • paul barker 28th Aug '13 - 4:45pm

    On the specific question of “Whats so special about chemical weapons ?”
    Modern poison gases are potentially a very effective weapon, a single shell can take out an enemy – held position with no risk to your own forces. There are plenty of Regimes where the consequent loss of Civilian lives would be an advantage, a dicouragement to anyone contemplating rebellion.
    The only thing stopping the use of Chemical weapons is the Force of International Law/dissaproval. Once thats lost through inaction it doesnt just make the use of Chemical Weapons more likely but other banned weapons too, Biological Agents, Lasers used to blind, Cluster Bombs & ultimately Atomic Bombs too.
    Surely we should have learned from The Last Balkan War that Dissaproval/Threats followed by inaction make Future Atrocities more likely ?

  • Jonathan Featonby 28th Aug '13 - 6:27pm

    I’m really not clear as to the point of any military action being proposed. So far the argument has been that we need to strike in order to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. But the purpose of any action won’t be regime change and it seems the Americans aren’t keen on targeting chemical weapon stores for the very good reason that this could lead to chemicals being released into the environment. So the action seems to be to strike at some military target that doesn’t have a high risk of civilian casualties. This will probably mean that it’s not a very high profile target and so could potentially have little impact on Assad, unless he is cowed into submission.

    Of course, it could just mean that Assad ups the anti and the civil war escalates with increased atrocities on all sides. And if Assad is eventually overthrown in this way, there isn’t a clear opposition group – like there was in Bosnia – that would be able to take power. Instead, there’s likely to continue to be a struggle for power with the possibility of an ongoing civil war that has the capability of spreading into Iraq as Saudi Arabia and Iran fight a proxy war.

    And not taking military action does not mean doing nothing. It means returning to the UN and working harder with international partners, including the Arab League, to find a diplomatic solution. I’m not sure what that solution is, but I just can’t see how military action, no matter how limited, can help.

  • David Allen 28th Aug '13 - 6:51pm

    I believe we have got to be prepared to take military action. But –

    When Ban-Ki-Moon asks us to give his UN inspectors a few more days – Are the Lib Dems going to refuse to wait?

    When Labour say they will vote to wait for the UN evidence – Are the Lib Dems, in what would be a staggering reversal of the events of 2003, going to insist on rushing into war?

  • The countries of Europe had an interest in trying to contain it and resolve the the Balkan conflict because it was a war taking place in Europe . Military intervention was therefore justified, although taken later than it should have been. With regard to the Middle East, as Tony Greaves points out, the UK and France are the imperial powers historically responsible for the mess in the first place (Sykes/Picot, Balfour Declaration, arbitrary boundaries, imposition of ‘Royal Families’, and so on). Why the UK, France (and the post imperial power, the United States) believe that our intervention is going to be welcomed by anyone in the Middle East baffles me. If the UN is incapable of taking concerted action then the only countries with any justification for intervening are those in the region. I realise that because of the political schisms within and between those countries this is unlikely to happen in the short term (or medium term), but as long as the West keeps meddling in the area local dialogue and co-operation is unlikely to develop.

  • Part of the problem experienced in Syria today stems back to rash decisions taken at the end of the First World War to impose colonial artificial boundaries in the middle east. This has resulted in problems in Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon. I believe that the UK should lend its weight to appointing a commission to explore with all communities a new federal structure for Syria which seeks to maintain the integrity of the state whilst guaranteeing the rights of the various communities within Syria. This could perhaps be based on the checks and balances which exist in the Lebanese constitution. This approach will need to involve Iran, given the strong links between the Alawite community in Syria with Iran.

  • It is accepted that the use of chemical weapons on civilians is unacceptable in our world. But what makes USA,UK &France the world’s policemen? What about other nation? surely it is a collective responsibility which falls on all nations. Tony Hill & Tony Greaves are right as usual.
    Just a thought, why not ask Charles Kennedy? He’s the man with the judgement which has long been absent from our leadership.

  • juliet solomon 29th Aug '13 - 9:29am

    The Government seems to want to act with undue haste. I understand that it was believed that chemical weapons have already been used by the rebels, and nothing was done. While it seems clear that they were used on 21st August, we have no conclusive evidence about who used them. This evidence is fundamental and must be found before there is any thought of action.

    Secondly, the mind of dictators does not work like the “normal” mind. Our stiff and unimaginative leaders are in no position at all to assess what the results of any action might be. Think Saddam, think Mugabe, think a lot of the other dictators; would they be at all bothered by ” a shot across the bows”? They are not ordinary rational human beings in the sense in which we understand it, and cannot be treated thus.

  • John Whitney 29th Aug '13 - 10:09am

    I just had the misfortune of listening to Simon Hughs squirm, in justifcatio of possibly approving of Military action against Syria.
    The UK has NO Resposibilty and No right to be getting involved in the internal affairs of Syria.
    What typical British arrogance to think we have a right to start bombing and killing inocent women and children on some stuck up moral grounds that Maybe the regime has used Chemical weapons?? Iraq used Chemical weapons against Iran during the 80’s but that was OK as at that time the West supported Iraq!

    Liberal Democates do not support Military action under any circumstances that do not directly effect the UK. Please advise our leadership!

  • Michael Parsons 29th Aug '13 - 1:52pm

    One example of use of chemical weapons is the as yet unpunished US deployment of Agent Orange in Vietnam which is still causng birth deformities and suffering because of its genetic effects and the persistence of dioxins; another is the use of depleted-(and non-depleted) uranium weapons inIraq/Afghanistan wars which renders areas uninhabitable and causes deformed births and indeed radiation damage to US personnel involved.

    The proposed attacks on Syria are a sorry example of US double-standards and hypocrisy. The US is simply manoevering there to gain position for its planned attacks on Iran, with the same old lies and the same absurd ” air-strike democracy” that gave us a crippled Libya. We should oppose them with all our strength and try to prevent them igniting a regional conflagration.

  • “One example of use of chemical weapons is the as yet unpunished US deployment of Agent Orange in Vietnam which is still causng birth deformities and suffering because of its genetic effects and the persistence of dioxins”

    Agent Orange was a defoliant, not a chemical weapon.

  • Since the tragedy of 9/11 the actions of the Bush administration have done everything to undermine the UN’s authority in the arena of international conflict resolution. It is no surprise now that Russia and China will not cooperate because of what they perceive as the West’s unreliability and hypocricy in this region. There are too many vested interests manipulating events or headlines for their own ends. For example, why should the West support the Saudi regime who espouse the most extreme form of Islam and oppress neighbours who threaten their worldview. What is being played out is a proxy war between Iran and the other Arab states, just as during the Cold War between Russia and America. That said, we are right to uphold international law and to try to intervene when there is human suffering on such a huge scale. But we have to call for a ceasefire and to call all sides to the negotiating table, including Iran, the Arab League, the US, the EU and Russia. You do not stop a sectarian war by bombing one side or another; there has to be dialogue in the end.

  • Conor McGovern 29th Aug '13 - 4:07pm

    ‘It’s almost like it’s being cleverly choreographed.’
    – It is

  • David White 29th Aug '13 - 4:21pm

    I was so proud of my (our) party when LD MPs voted against the socio-politically disastrous Iraq (mis)adventure.

    But now, I am deeply saddened by the gung-ho attitudes of almost all of our leaders in Westminster and many of our MPs. May God forgive him, I heard even Simon Hughes, on the radio, defending war rather than ‘jaw’.

    Others have asked why Britain didn’t bomb the USA when the continuing awfulness of America’s Agent Orange was spread over large areas of Vietnam and Cambodia. Oh, OK, nobody has asked the question about the UK bombing the Pentagon – because the answer’s obvious!

    And what did the UK do about Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against rebellious Kurds? We sold him more weaponry – of course.

    You see, selling more and more deadly weapons to murderous dictators is what we Brits do; we’re good at it. It’s a major UK industry. Our governments even ignore the bribery and corruption which (allegedly) enables our weapons salesmen to gain orders from despots.

    It seems that we don’t like President Assad very much – well, he buys most of his military materiel from Russia, ‘on easy terms’.

    Therefore, when Dr Assad decides to poison a few hundred of his recalcitrant subjects, rather than bomb them, shell them or machine-gun them into eternity, we LibDems get angry – really fierce!

    As yet, we don’t even know who killed whom with what. Will we ever know, with certainty.

    At present, our party leaders appear to be committed to take the UK to another undeclared war with no more proof than the last WMD fiasco – which, it transpired, was based on a farrago of lies.

    Oh, I’m sure that Clegg & Co mean well, just as I believe that Assad & Associates are evil. However, it seems that all British PMs need a war to make their CVs respectable and respected. I feel that we LDs should be wary of granting ‘Call Me Dave’ of his CV climax.

    Just about the only thing for which I respect Harold Wilson is that he refused to allow the UK to become involved in the Vietnam socio-military disaster. In his refusal, he really, really annoyed the US of A. Well done, Lord Wilson!

    But let’s suppose you think it’s right that we go to war against Syria. What will the objectives be? I don’t just mean the targets for the bombers and the missiles but, also, what outcome would Britain be seeking?

    I have some suggestions as to what undesired outcomes might occur, but I’ll save those until I’ve read responses from those who regard yet another international war in Islamic countries as a Wizard Wheeze.

  • Given the double standards of the USA, and the insistence of the Conservative lead government to carry out the wishes of their masters in the pentagon.
    The Liberal democrats should oppose ALL military action against Syria or any other nation without express UN sanction.
    Can the Liberal Democrat leadership in government give assurance that if the Conservatives do authorise military action without UN sanction, that they will resign on block and bring a vote no confidence in the Conservatives?

  • A Social Liberal 29th Aug '13 - 6:07pm

    Taking Earnests point.

    It is my understanding that the League of Nations fell because of the axis use of veto when one or another of them attacked other countries – particularly Mussolinis invasion of Abbysinia. The UN clarified intervention in order to protect a population from its government in 2005 in part to allow action without a clear UNSC mandate.

    If I am wrong in this, I am sure someone will give me the actuality.

  • “The UN clarified intervention in order to protect a population from its government in 2005 in part to allow action without a clear UNSC mandate.
    If I am wrong in this, I am sure someone will give me the actuality.”

    Per Wikipedia, the text agreed at the World Summit in 2005 said, in part:
    “The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
    [my emphasis]

  • Just a web user 1st Sep '13 - 8:36am

    You’ve got to love internet advertisement.

    I’ve been searching Google on how/why MP’s voted on Syria (& Iraq), so the advertisers now think I’m interested in anything related to War.

    Hence, beneath the article there’s an advert for “Thunder War – play for free” with pictures of explosions and biplanes.

    The advert selector (probably Google) really needs to look at context before it chooses adverts!
    Or at least develop some sense of irony.

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