The case for Syrian air-strikes: not overwhelming, but strong enough

In the early hours of 21 August 2013, rockets began to land in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The civilian population of Syria had now become used to this, since Bashar al-Assad had decided over 2 years earlier that in response to a peaceful uprising against his totalitarian rule he would prosecute the most brutal military campaign by a ruler against his people that this century has seen. But this attack was different: the rockets were filled with sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

When the images of the hundreds of people killed and thousands injured began to circulate, there was international outrage of a level not so far seen in the Syrian Civil War. Momentum gathered for a military response. Obama’s red line had been crossed. Enough was enough.

Only it wasn’t. Obama dithered. Miliband played politics. Assad survived to kill another day.

And the war rumbled on. Assad continued brutalising. Barrel bombs continued to fall on schools and hospitals. And, of course, a new force took hold in the vacuum that northern Syria had become: jihadis from around the region, and later the world, gathered and declared the creation of their caliphate.

The use of chemical weapons by a state, not against enemy combatants but directed deliberately against civilians, is the sort of clear and unimpeachable example of a war crime as it is possible to imagine, and overwhelmingly justified (and indeed necessitated) a military response. The lack of such a response has not only prolonged the war in Syria, it has turned the use of chemical weapons from an action likely to be met by overwhelming force from the international community to a risk-free tactic for every megalomaniac with the capacity to inflict such a sin.

The case for UK airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria is not such an overwhelming one. Not that IS has not committed war crimes of unspeakable horror: it has, and is. And IS is more of a direct threat to the citizens of Europe and the US than Assad, so the proximity of its barbarism is a factor.

Nobody, though, expects airstrikes, and specifically Britain’s participation in them in Syria, to ultimately defeat IS. Unlike Assad, the coalition of forces (with the exception of Russia) engaged in air strikes will always, inevitably, seek to minimise civilian casualties. In those circumstances, airstrikes can only ever be part of a solution to take out militants where they are living amongst civilian communities.

And whilst there are regional ground troops with whom airstrikes are coordinated, they have not proved themselves capable of resounding victory over IS (though there has been some success in Iraq).

The case for UK airstrikes

There seems to be a consensus among Liberal Democrats that Islamic State needs to be destroyed, and that the UK should play some role in that given the direct threat if nothing else. The primary question therefore is what that action should be.

Hopefully there is also a recognition too that IS will only be defeated militarily. They cannot be negotiated with; they are ultimately a military organisation and will only be defeated militarily. It seems to me that the logic from that point may not have been followed through, though.

Once one has accepted that IS needs to be defeated, that we should play a role in that defeat, and that force is needed, there a few choices available, and none of them is particularly palatable.

One would be a broad a coalition as possible putting troops on the ground, including British forces. That would almost certainly lead to a defeat for IS in a relatively short period of time. But if is also politically impossible.

Broadly the other option is for local actors to do the ground fighting and those nations who can to support that from the air and in other ways (with intelligence and equipment) – essentially the current proposal.

That is less likely to guarantee ultimate success, though there are signs that it is a strategy that is working in Iraq, where IS has lost territory.

The other question, which the prime minister has referred to, is whether any action we propose should only take place after a wider negotiated solution is reached to end the Syrian civil war, or whether we should act against IS now.

Despite some progress in the Vienna talks, the Russians and Iranians still seem to be strongly protecting Assad, whose departure is a pre-requisite to any negotiated solution, both because of the impossibility of him fronting a peaceful settlement in a united Syria (given the tens of thousands of civilians he has killed) and because of his responsibility, direct and indirect, for the rise of IS in the first place, and for its continued success.

Given the remoteness of a negotiated solution at present, therefore, the case to delay action is essentially a case for no action, and IS will continue to maintain its strength in Syria at least, inflicting horrific brutality on people in the regions under its control, recruiting more and more jihadis from around the world, and exporting its terror to Paris and elsewhere.

So whilst a negotiated settlement to the wider conflict is fundamental to guaranteeing IS’s ultimate destruction, the action in Iraq has shown that they can at least be significantly degraded without western troops on the ground, through coordination between western air forces and local troops. Weakening IS in preparation for an ultimate defeat as part of a wider settlement is not the ideal scenario, but it is certainly better than nothing.

The final argument is that given the US and France (and, when they are not assisting Assad, Russia) are already all bombing IS in Syria, UK assistance would add little. However, that ignores completely the advice of the military figures who ultimately know whether or not that is true, and they say that whilst British involvement will not be significant in terms of the number of sorties, the RAF has technical abilities that are not shared by the US and France and can therefore make a valuable contribution, particularly in ensuring strikes are as targeted and precise as possible.

Decisions on whether to take military action are rarely clear-cut. The case for UK airstrikes against IS in Syria is not an overwhelming one. There are some good arguments against. There is no guarantee of success, even on the limited terms we set. But the case is sufficiently strong that Liberal Democrat MPs should back the government’s motion when it comes up for a vote.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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69 Comments

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 29th Nov '15 - 2:45pm

    I wanted to respond to a comment that has been made widely in this debate, but couldn’t fit it into the piece. It has been common to hear an objection that runs something like this: “Cameron wanted to intervene on the other side against Assad in 2013, now he wants to attack Assad’s enemies.”

    There are several things wrong with this, but here are three. First, IS didn’t exist, at least in its present form, in 2013. It was the continuation of the civil war, and vacuum it left in Northern Syria, that allowed jihadis to take so much territory. And it was the abandonment of the people of Syria by the democratic West that in part led to the increasing radicalism of Assad’s opponents.

    Secondly, to talk of IS as Assad’s opponents is to swallow the Assad/Russia/Iran propaganda hook, line and sinker. It would be more accurate to describe both Assad and IS as the combined enemy of the people of Syria. IS’s rise has served Assad well, giving credence to his assertion that his “opponents” are all terrorists — something he has been saying, for a long time without foundation, since the peaceful uprising against him. It is little wonder, then, that financially, and in other ways, Assad has supported IS. Only last week the US and EU sanctioned individuals who had been facilitating the sale of oil by IS to Assad https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0287.aspx

    Third, the proposed action against Assad was a specific response to his use of chemical weapons against civilians. Many of us would have liked to see even earlier intervention to bring his indiscriminate slaughter to an end, but there was no international appetite for that. Initially at least, it looked like a military response might have been forthcoming for such a clear breach of international law. In the end, of course, it never happened and are now trying to cope with the consequences of that inaction.

  • John Roffey 29th Nov '15 - 3:43pm

    Nick Thornsby

    There was an article in the Guardian, by Giles Fraser, on Thursday entitled:

    “You won’t win a war against Isis if you don’t know what the peace looks like” – followed by “War can only be moral if it ultimately aims at some greater peaceful purpose. Without this, not a single innocent death can be justified”.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/nov/26/you-wont-win-a-war-against-isis-if-you-dont-know-what-the-peace-looks-like

    What does the peace look like for you NC – at $70,000 for a hellcat missile?

  • Denis Mollison 29th Nov '15 - 3:49pm

    In sum, western powers have dug such a deep hole in the Middle East that the only thing we can do is keep digging?

    You say a negotiated settlement is a prerequisite to progress but won’t accept the need to negotiate with Russia and Iran. And you don’t even mention that some of our allies, notably Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are tacit supporters of IS.

  • Nick, this is a very good piece, but what’s lacking is a coherent vision of what the aftermath of military action looks like. What would you suggest is the best plan to avoiding Libya 2.0 or Iraq 4.0 from occurring? And what would you say is the best way to effectively counter IS’ ideology and rhetoric?

    I look forward to reading your response.

  • Andrew McCaig 29th Nov '15 - 4:11pm

    Nick Thornsby

    Did you support the airstrikes against Libya? And did they have a positive outcome?

    (BTW I did, at the time, more fool me!)

    Libya gave the lie to the idea that there is a “moderate opposition” ready to take over from Middle East dictators. It is possible for the USA to impose such regimes on countries if they actually invade them, but the evidence from Afghanistan and Iraq suggests it does not last in the face of fundamentalists

    Also it would appear that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the biggest material supporters of IS – shall we bomb them as well? And presumably if Assad does not go peacefully we will be bombing Iran and Russia as well?..

    And does anyone really believe that we have a significant airstrike capability not matched by the USA, who spend 10 times what we do on defence? Adding Syria to our existing campaign against IS is a purely symbolic political gesture. If we were the only people attacking them of course it would make sense. As it is, solidarity with France, appeasing British public opinion whipped up by the Press, and destruction of the Labour Party are the main motivations.

  • (IS)…”are ultimately a military organisation and will only be defeated militarily”. No – Islamic State is an idea, and you cannot counter ideas by bombing. There may be ways of re-taking the territory that Islamic State fighters hold at present, but bombing is not going to achieve that without other measures either. To defeat the idea the West, and Middle Eastern States, need to isolate those in the Gulf States and Saudia Arabia who promulgate it. Not much chance of that when they are such good customers for our arms, such good friends with our royal family and prominent politicians, and such massive investors in our infrastructure. Much easier to turn a blind eye to that and think we are achieving something by dropping a few bombs.

  • Nick Thornsby 29th Nov ’15 – 2:45pm……………..I wanted to respond to a comment that has been made widely in this debate, but couldn’t fit it into the piece. It has been common to hear an objection that runs something like this: “Cameron wanted to intervene on the other side against Assad in 2013, now he wants to attack Assad’s enemies.”………
    There are several things wrong with this, but here are three. First, IS didn’t exist, at least in its present form, in 2013. It was the continuation of the civil war, and vacuum it left in Northern Syria, that allowed jihadis to take so much territory. And it was the abandonment of the people of Syria by the democratic West that in part led to the increasing radicalism of Assad’s opponents…

    Sorry, Nick, but that is nonsense…As far back as early 2012, a secret US internal document (recently released) reveals that the USA’s assessment of the Syrian situation thus….

    A. Internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction…
    B. The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (ISI) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria…
    C. The West, Gulf Countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the regime..

    It goes on to document ISI military gains and, unlike earlier documents, makes no mention of ‘moderates’…

  • I shall reply to Nick Thornsby main argument in a separate comment. Here I just want to challenge one of his supporting comments. He states “the action in Iraq has shown that they [ie IS] can at least be significantly degraded”. In September 2014 the UK Parliament voted to provide military assistance to the government of Iraq. Since then Iraqi armed forces have had the assistance of the RAF and the USAF. UK and US forces are on the ground in Iraq, albeit not officially and probably not in practice, in a direct combat role. And yet despite eight months of air strikes in May IS captured Ramadi. That does not appear to be a significant degredation.

  • Firstly, thank you to Nick for writing a sensible argument. I make no claims to know the answer to this one and intelligent cases being made for bombing are harder to come by than perhaps they should be.

    I agree with the general principle – that Daesh is a military organisation that requires a military response to defeat it.

    However, for all of Nick’s good analysis, I’m not sure this article really moves beyond “Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do this.”

  • Shaun Cunningham 29th Nov '15 - 4:39pm

    Only a fool could fail to see the threat Isil poses to the region in which it operates: the wholesale murder, destruction and enslavement of people provide overwhelming evidence of the dangers out there if we simply wash our hands of a problem that is real.

    We are in Isil’s sights. Their mentality is unaffected by notions of appeasement. All Western civilisation is their enemy. They would undo us as soon as look at us, and the Corbyns of this world deceive themselves by pretending otherwise.  Those who say we should not be part of this fight to rid the world of this vile cancer are complete hypocrites. Why?

    Because those who cry loud that bombing would kill men, women and children are very happy to stand aside and allow men,women and children to be butchered, raped and killed in the most ghastly and appalling manner, unseen from the eyes of world until mass graves are found, out of sight out of mind. Hypocrisy, there is no other word for it. In the last 12 months the RAF has been in action over Iraq, taking out targets with absolute precision with no reports of any civilian deaths, it is a myth to paint a different picture. The RAF have one of the best capabilities to ensure accurate and precise targeting which is why the French have asked us to join the action. The U.K. intelligence services are clear in their assessments of the risk we all face. It takes a special person to recognise reality and take those difficult decisions. Not sure what our party MP’s will be doing with regard to voting for military action, but I clear in my mind, this party should be supporting military action over Syria, it is a big call, one which should be taken after considering all the facts, however it is the right call.

  • The author has adopted hawkish positions in the past, so his position is highly predictable. For the first time in many years, I can see potential justification in theory for backing strikes, but the case has not been made.

    There are a number of problems with his case.

    Firstly, nobody has any genuine idea how to ‘destroy’ the so-called IS, at least not quickly. Given that it exists in Europe and Africa as well as the Middle East, the idea it can ‘only be defeated militarily’ is fantastical.

    The objective has to be to neuter it. That means cutting off supplies of money and weapons – something we have palpably failed to do.

    Then there is the question of how to deal with it in its strongholds of Libya and Iraq as well as Syria. Statebuilding – which should have taken place in the former – is essential unless the objective is to create another vacuum into which extremist violence flows.

    I cannot see how the current talks with Russia and others can be ignored except if you consciously want to repeat the same blunders made in Iraq and Libya that has caused this mess. Having at least some shared vision of what happens if Assad goes (the future of his regime being unpredictable anyway) is important.

    So the theory is as ludicrous as a ‘political’ solution; for even if the UK was to overnight reform its stance on Palestine and cut the flow of arms to all manner of dodgy regimes from Israel to Saudi Arabia, jt would take at least a generation for us to be seen as a force for good.

    The reality is that, as the FT has set out, Britain bombing Syria would achieve nothing and cause many more problems than it solves. And until not only an objective but a medium-term outcome is identified and agreed, that will remain the case.

  • Shaun Cunningham 29th Nov '15 - 4:41pm

    The threat Isil poses to the region is huge : the wholesale murder, destruction and enslavement of people provide overwhelming evidence of the dangers out there if we simply wash our hands of a problem that is real.

    We are in Isil’s sights. Their mentality is unaffected by notions of appeasement. All Western civilisation is their enemy. They would undo us as soon as look at us, and the Corbyns of this world deceive themselves by pretending otherwise.  Those who say we should not be part of this fight to rid the world of this vile cancer are complete hypocrites. Why?

    Because those who cry loud that bombing would kill men, women and children are very happy to stand aside and allow men,women and children to be butchered, raped and killed in the most ghastly and appalling manner, unseen from the eyes of world until mass graves are found, out of sight out of mind. Hypocrisy, there is no other word for it. In the last 12 months the RAF has been in action over Iraq, taking out targets with absolute precision with no reports of any civilian deaths, it is a myth to paint a different picture. The RAF have one of the best capabilities to ensure accurate and precise targeting which is why the French have asked us to join the action. The U.K. intelligence services are clear in their assessments of the risk we all face. It takes a special person to recognise reality and take those difficult decisions. Not sure what our party MP’s will be doing with regard to voting for military action, but I clear in my mind, this party should be supporting military action over Syria, it is a big call, one which should be taken after considering all the facts, however it is the right call.

  • When UK armed forces fought under a UN mandate in South Korea and Kuwait it was to restore the authority of the government. These cases are not similar to Syria because we want to weaken the authority of the government and not restore it.

    When UK armed forces fought without a UN mandate in Iraq they initially became part of an occupying power which under the Geneva Convention had a duty to provide order, security, food and medical care. This case is not similar to Syria because we are not attempting to occupy any part of the country. Furthermore the Prime Minister has assured the House of Commons that he will make no attempts to set up any safe zones in the country.

    So our actions are designed to weaken the de-facto rulers of part of the country. We are not providing a replacement authority. If we weaken IS [and bombing might strengthen them] then any territory they then abandon might then be taken any other armed group in the country – including Syrian government forces – a brutal regime according to Nick Thornsby. This would make the UK responsible for the deaths of civilians killed as “collateral damage” whilst UK forces target IS and partially responsible for any secondary killings which occurred when other irregular forces/the Syrian army retook territory from IS.

    As there is no long term plan then the war could continue for years. At present all the UK government is offering to do is to add to the killing.

  • Shaun Cunningham 29th Nov '15 - 4:59pm

    The military action is working Richard.
    With regards to to Ramadi Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and have encircled the city, The fact are IS are being hit hard and are being degraded by the current military action. We need to step up the action.

    The victory by Kurdish forces in Sinjar was another one in a string of losses for the militant group as it faced attacks on multiple fronts — from Ramadi in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria. All possible because of air support.

  • sally haynes-preece 29th Nov '15 - 5:02pm

    The only necessary for evil to win is for good men to do nothing. Sadly we have, for various reasons, done nothing for 4 years since the arab spring. I was ashamed to be british the day Milliband’s tactics managed to defat the motion for action against Assad. Obama’s dithering didn’t help tho. Am I a warmonger? hell no! Do I want to see anyone killed? Again no. But reality is , violence is the only language Daesh understands……..and I agree a military victory is our only option. I feel we have a duty to do what we can to protect innocent Syrian civilians who just want the right to live in peace in a democracy ….something we take for granted. IMO we no longer deserve to be called ‘Great’ Britain if we are not prepared to join in with our allies.

  • Toby Fenwick 29th Nov '15 - 5:04pm

    Nick, many thanks for this.

    For me, the question of airstrikes is intimately tied up with their legality and probable effect.

    I’m happy to have a legal debate on the position prior to the adoption of UNSCR 2249 (2015), but there is very little question that after the (unanimous) passage of 2249 military action against ISIL/Daesh is legal anywhere in Syria (it already was in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi government.)

    The question then is whether airstrikes (and UK airstrikes ) would make a material difference to the important battle, which is the war against ISIL/Daesh on the ground. With some background in this area, I think that the answer is a qualified yes: the UK does have some unique capabilities – the oft-mentioned but frequently misunderstood Brimstone air-to-surface missile is one such – which would be useful in attacking point targets supporting ISIL/Daesh operations: the lines of oil tankers at ISIL/Daesh controlled oil facilities are an obvious example, and close air support and battlefield air interdiction in support of Kurdish and FSA forces could prove tactically decisive. Given that there is rarely enough CAS/BAI assets available, I expect that a UK contribution in this area would be gratefully received – not least as the RAF have proved their mettle in this demanding business in Afghanistan through to the UK withdrawal.

    But airpower alone will not defeat ISIL/Daesh, and we should not pretend that it will. Ultimately, defeating Daesh will take a land force to apply continuous pressure on the so-called Caliphate and ultimately take and hold the territory currently under Daesh’s control. We will need to keep this under review, and whilst I would strongly prefer a regional force to do this, it is right that we do not exclude the potential for UK and allied ground forces to join the fight against Daesh.

    None of this, of course, answers the question of building a peaceful Syria: but any hope of a stopping the civil war is contingent on the defeat of Daesh first.

  • Shaun Cunningham 29th Nov '15 - 5:09pm

    Richard
    How about concentrating on the brutal acts of IS. They are in all probability planning more attacks like Paris. It is no longer an option to do nothing after the deaths in France, hope does make good policy

  • >”but what’s lacking is a coherent vision of what the aftermath of military action looks like.”

    I think what is also lacking is a coherent vision of what the military action itself might look like.
    I think many don’t see the point of air strikes on their own, particularly given the number of players already in that game. However, if we have people on the ground then the ability to support them with directed air strikes makes sense. The question is therefore what is it that we intend doing on the ground that will require air support…

  • Shaun Cunningham 29th Nov '15 - 5:35pm

    Hello Roland

    Us mere mortals will never see the whole picture because we don’t have all the facts. I expect we wouldn’t be very good at planning a military conflict. Our MP’s would have had access to intelligence briefings over the weekend however history teachers one thing, good must confront evil. The examples I have posted above shows with air support a lot can be achieved.

    Off now to wait for the verdict from our MP’s …….Tuesday?

  • Something must be done, this is something, so we must do it’

    Who cares if it works or makes things worse. Let’s just ignore Russian and Iranian involvement in any post action agreement. So what if we if we keep creating failed states and end up dealing with people we had previously been told only understood bullets like say the Taliban. This time it’s different,.

  • jonathan pile 29th Nov '15 - 6:18pm

    @nick thorsby
    I’m genuinely conflicted on Syria airstrikes . We have a duty to France & demonstrate our willingness to oppose ISIS. This clearly not Iraq – ISIS did murder in Paris , while Saddam Hussein did not cause 9/11, nor have WMD which could hit UK in 45 mins. One point if disagreement on your article : plan to bomb Assad in 2013 was not made & might have led to ISIS controlled Syria. We should be reluctant to airstrikes : case for limited to East if 38 degree longitude. To minimise conflict potential with Russia. We must ask hard questions of Turkey, it’s clampdown & allegations made by Russia about complicity in ISIS oil trade . We need to demand Putin ask his client Assad to stop barrel bombing. We ought to question truth of. Cameron’s 70,000 moderate Syrian soldiers. We ought to consider if the needed boots on the ground might have to come from 100,000 Iranian, Russian & Syrian govt troops rather than Western forces. limited UK airstrikes might be necessary but Cameron’s plan is flawed

  • John Roffey 29th Nov '15 - 6:38pm

    It appears that I was mistaken in believing that the Hellcat missile would be used – as has been pointed out above it is the Brimestone missile that would be used. However I underestimated the cost of each mission – from Sky:

    “Calculating the anticipated cost of Britain’s contribution to the anti-IS coalition is imprecise at best.

    According to a Ministry of Defence report to Parliament in 2010, each Tornado flight costs £35,000 per hour.

    Typically, two Tornados fly each mission, lasting anywhere between four and eight hours.

    So let’s land somewhere in the middle: a six-hour mission costs a basic £210,000.

    Then we have to consider the cost of the missiles.

    The expected payload would be four Paveway bombs, £22,000 each, and two Brimstone missiles, £105,000 per unit.

    So let’s say that’s £508,000 per aircraft in total, just a smidgen over £1m per mission.

    If they carry Storm Shadows at £800,000 a pop, then the cost rises considerably.”

    http://news.sky.com/story/1342768/how-much-will-airstrikes-on-is-cost-taxpayer

    I don’t know how many missions Cameron has in mind – but are those advocating bombing Syria certain that these attacks will make the situation better and not increase the likelihood of Paris style attack in London or elsewhere in the UK? Are they sure that there is not a better way to spend these millions by leaving the ME alone to resolve their own problems.

    Yes it is almost certain to be bloody however it is resolved – but considering we with the US caused the mess – and we haven’t improved anything after 14 years of war on terror. Isn’t it time to acknowledge our leaders have had no idea what they are doing [apart from enriching the weapons manufacturers] and contribute only through facilitating some kind of eventual reconciliation via talks?

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Nov '15 - 6:53pm

    I was against bombing Assad in 2013 and pro bombing Daesh in Iraq and Syria now. The first decision won’t look great in hindsight, but I have been on the side of the public in all three military interventions I have analysed, albeit I am more enthusiastic than the public in this case. But I don’t support mass bombing of Syria. The problem I see if Cameron doesn’t get the vote it says that even if we identify a military target over Syria we still won’t hit it. I think this would be bad for our security and relations with our allies.

    We should revisit the prospect of military action against Assad in maybe about six months time. It only needs to be limited. If anything I’m a pragmatist and not going to do something to provoke world war 3. At the very least we need economic sanctions. We can’t just keep thinking words is going to sort the matter out. Not quickly enough anyway.

    Best regards

  • For all you gung-ho posters…YOU aren’t in the firing line…..Voices from Raqqa: ‘We can’t hide from your bombs. Tell MPs to say no’…….
    Assad tried using ‘barrel bombs’ dropped from helicopters…you can’t get much more accurate than that but still hundreds of civilians were killed….It doesn’t take a military genius to understand that ISIS are spread throughout the city…In Stalingrad the Luftwaffa had absolute air superiority and bombed the city into ruins; the defenders just retreated into the cellars….

  • The main argument against bombing is not that it will cause civilian deaths, although it will, it’s that it doesn’t really work and has actively worsened the situation on the ground. And I’m sorry but I do not think ISIS is really a drect threat to the UK in the way it’s being presented. Two or so years ago the recent attacks would have been attributed Al Qaeda and we assured would end when we got the man in a cave. Our allegencies have much more to do with cold war era geopolitics than right or wrong. Saudi Arabia beheads more people than ISIS and is waging a merciless war in Yemen, but that’s ok because they’re our despots. is the logic. Assad though is Russia’s despots so he has to go and even though we know full well Turkey buys oil from ISIL and most of ISIL’s foreign fighters travelled legally to Turkey before popping over the border to Syria , the real problem is Iran, Russia and Assad. Just like when the Saudi nationals of the 9/77 plot who we had supported against Russia in Afghanistan were really caused by Iraq where Bin Laden clearly had is secret cave even though, like the current leader of Al Qaeda, he lived quite openly in a compound in Pakistan another of our trusted allies. In fact it’s even more obvious. Despite al these terrorist attacks being caused by offshoots of Sunni Islam the threat is really Shiites, Honestly you couldn’t make plotting so contrary up,

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 29th Nov '15 - 7:04pm

    Intricate sophistry doesn’t change reality. And just because a narrative is upheld by the mainstream political class and media of our country doesn’t make it true. It sems the author is one of those who, as Patrick Cockburn puts it “believed 6 impossible things before breakfast”., ambitiously swallowing shovelfulls of tripe that Natalie Nougayrède, the Guardian editor and other elite armchair commentators pump out about the Syrian catastrophe.

    To counteract this Alice-in -Wonderland’ projection of NATO/EU’s wishes from contorted half-truths, allow me to empty a bucket of cold reality with 5 quick points:

    1. American covert policy since 2005, was to destabilise Assad’s Syria.
    Condoleeza Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney etc ‘Birth of a new Middle East’ by redirecting Saudi Wahabi fanatics away from Sunni “insurgency” in Iraq, towards Syria to scratch the scab of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising.

    2. Assad’s Syria was never particularly worse than any other middle Eastern govt (including Israel) in its treatment of people it ruled. It’s where most of the millions who fled Iraq’s chaos- set up camp, until the ‘Arab Spring’. In many ways, it was a heck of a lot better than most. But a severe drought from 2005-10 across rural Syria wasn’t good news.

    3. Assad brutally crushed the “Arab Spring” in 2011 of ‘peaceful’ demonstrations: Err….except that was only part of events. Our media and political class simply loved the idea of “Middle Eastern perestroika”, where millions were rising from the streets to embrace Western liberal consumerism. ( LOL)
    But some reports revealed why the Syrian Army was seemly over-reacting so bloodily:- snipers, bombings etc were erupting as if out of nowhere.
    (Continued…..)

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 29th Nov '15 - 7:05pm

    4. Gas Attacks: A slick media operation ran within the nebulous Syrian ‘rebels’ by 2012. Everyone knew why the West displaced Saddam Hussein: He was a monster with WMD, and besides, “gassed his own people”. Youtube footage of ‘Assad’s atrocities’ surfaced. Sometimes these freelance outputs got too enthusiastic -the FSA chap triumphally snacking on a govt soldier, and some Atrocities looked more like the rebels’ own handiwork.
    It’s still unclear who was gassing civilians, but Turkish media reported in 2015 how Turkey provided Sarin and mustard gas to the rebels during 2013.

    (Continued from above)
    4. The Prime of Ms Jean Brodie syndrome:
    Go, go, young clueless bored muslims, to fight for Franco against the wicked atheists in Spain- I mean for the FSA against Assad. We, the govt, haven’t a clue what it’s about, but doubtless Assad is wicked and it’s all for a good cause….

    5. ISIS came out of the FSA: Why pretend otherwise? They put out their slick media productions to get the west to bomb the Syrian govt in 2013, waiting to take over Syria amongst the inevitable vacuum and chaos, but the West backed out at the last minute. So ISIS had to go alone with its media-myth debut, without grabbing all of Syria.

  • @ N. Thornsby : ” Miliband played politics”

    Oh come off it. I’ve had enough of the right wing stuff from fans of the Coalition. Miliband did what oppositions should do………. and evidently 30 Tories and 9 Liberal Democrats had the honesty to vote for what their consciences and intelligence told them … rather than what the whips told them.

    As to the poster (a Mr Cunningham) who accused opponents of bombing Syria of being “hypocrits”, I suggest a lie down in a dark room – together with a bit of thought on liberal debate – might help.

  • Steve Comer 29th Nov '15 - 7:28pm

    Nobody has mentioned which country in the Middle East routinely beheads people, persecutes dissidents, and funds fundamentalist interpretations of Islam with oil money. That is because its that great ‘ally of the west’ Saudi Arabia!
    This feudal Monarchist Dictatorship has paid for mosques to be built and trained Imam’s in their strict conservative Wahhabi tradition for years, and Jihadism is merely an extreme offshoot of that.

    So before we go slaughtering Syrian civilians caught up in the conflict, perhaps we should ask whether the Saudis are going to send ground troops or whether their contribution to the anti-Daesh effort is merely to kill Houthi rebels in Yemen with the armaments Britain sold to them?

  • HI Shaun – I agree that we will not know the details, however I do expect to be told what the intention is: is it purely to do air strikes (because blowing things up makes politicians feel they are doing something) or is it in support of some on-the-ground action involving (or not involving) GB personnel. Currently, the impression being given is that the debate is all about whether we (the UK) do our own air strikes or nothing. As you point out doing air strikes as part of a team and co-ordinated with on-the-ground action can achieve alot.

  • Toby Fenwick 29th Nov '15 - 7:50pm

    Expats wrote

    “Assad tried using ‘barrel bombs’ dropped from helicopters…you can’t get much more accurate than that but still hundreds of civilians were killed….”

    Actually, barrel bombs are a particularly inaccurate weapon, as barrels are designed to fly through the air. They exist only because of the Assad regime’s lack of alternatives and complete disregard for their population and the laws of armed conflict. UK airstrikes would not be remotely similar.

    “It doesn’t take a military genius to understand that ISIS are spread throughout the city…”

    Which is why you don’t carpet bomb cities….

  • Toby Fenwick 29th Nov '15 - 7:52pm

    My previous should of course read

    “barrels are not designed to fly through the air”….

  • I’m not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination but I’m genuinely surprised that so many Lib Dems are swallowing Tory rhetoric… Firstly, the threat that ISIS pose to us in the West is a terrorist threat. Anyone with an ounce of commonsense or historical perspective knows that bombing will only act as a recruiting sergeant. Secondly, this is a multidimensional conflict, there is not a clear “right” side. Thirdly, militarily, we can damage ISIS but if bombing worked why are ISIS so successful in Iraq where we are already bombing?
    Fourthly, the suggestion that we are balancing the lives of 100 civillian casualties killed by us with 1000 killed by ISIS is completely ridiculous. ISIS are not going to march an army into the middle of a deserted area and allow us to call in a surgical strike. Our bombs will kill vast numbers of non combatants.
    Finally, who will we partner on the ground for these surgical strikes? Assad, user of chemical weapons? The Turkmen, supported by our Turkish allies but targetted by Russia, our comember of the security council?
    We should send food, medicines, shelter etc

  • John Roffey 29th Nov '15 - 8:26pm

    Toby Fenwick 29th Nov ’15 – 7:50pm

    TF – I don’t want to sound overly dramatic – but according to the best science we have – there are 7 + billion lives at stake, plus the continued existence of many species apart from our own – if we don’t get the necessary action on climate change instigated.

    What are we doing playing blind mans buff in the ME when the same energy and resources could be devoted entirely to the singularly most important issue of our time by far?

  • Just to be clear. I think the fiasco of military intervention in the ME has gone on far too long and see no reason why more of the same will work any better this time. I think we should pull out of the ME conflicts altogether, sure up our security measures and put a full stop on a very poor record. The threat to us is a spill over of terrorism and that’s it.
    I think there is zero chance of uniting Syria in anything that resembles it’s old borders, less than zero in solving Libya and about the same in Iraq. I suggest people look at film and photographs of these destroyed countries before our attempts at “helping” them and then ask themselves some themselves some serious questions. None of it has worked and none of it will work .

  • Jonathan Brown 29th Nov '15 - 8:40pm

    I think there is a case for airstrikes, but only as part of a wider strategy to defeat ISIS – which will require troops on the ground. Airstrikes undoubtedly saved many Syrian Kurds, and almost certainly saved the Iraqi Kurds. They have been a key part of Kurdish successes against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.

    But the Kurds cannot and will not defeat ISIS outside of the Kurdish areas.

    And the UK will not and should not deploy our own troops to Syria.

    Instead, as on previous occasions, ISIS will have to be defeated by the Sunni communities it has a parasitic hold over. A lot of people are keen to say that Assad is the lesser evil, but if you’re Syrian and you’ve been free of regime rule for years now, I’ve got news for you: he’s not. Assad has killed far more Syrians than ISIS. So if we’re serious about defeating ISIS – and we should be – then we should take seriously the concerns of the Syrian opposition, divided and diverse though it is. Only if we back them will the defeat ISIS, and only if they are strong enough to resist Assad and his allies will there be any point to holding peace talks.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Nov '15 - 8:48pm

    As I have said: I agree with getting rid of Assad, possibly militarily, but one study has said 461,000 died due to Iraq war 2, so are Bush and Blair worse than Assad? Or equal? You can’t just measure evil by number of deaths, although it is obviously concerning.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24547256

  • It seems to me that any UK involvement would be largely symbolic. A handful of RAF jets is not going to make an ounce of difference to the outcome. And even if it did – what outcome are we trying to achieve? Attacking ISIS in Syria increases the chances that they will launch terrorist attacks against UK citizens. Some might consider that to be a price worth paying to achieve “victory”, but can anyone tell me what “victory” will look like?

    We should stay out of this until someone can define what end result we are trying to achieve, and then a strategy to achieve it.

    And to those who talk of the UK’s unique capabilities, generally assumed to refer only to the Brimstone missile, the Brimstone is particularly handy for hitting MOVING targets. It’s no better than a number of other “precision” weapons that the US and France already have at hitting parked up static convoys of fuel tankers, or picking out ISIS fighters hiding amongst civilians in built-up areas. If the Brimstone was really such a game-changer then the US and others would be lining up to buy them from us.

  • There’s no a chance of getting rid of Assad trough any kind of military means. He got the Russian military on his side. What do you think, they’re gonna give up because we don’t approve? And even if you could we were told the same things about Gadhafi and look at how that turned out. For all the bluster not even Turkey or the Gulf states will put boots on the ground. There’s nothing we can do there and we should just stop pretending there is. Not only that even if we could negotiate a new set of leaders, why on earth would they trust us. Even relatively friendly Egypt decided a military dictatorship was preferable to our idea of a democracy that included rule by politicised Islam.

    Eddie Sammon ask whether you can measure evil by the number of dead. Well, it certainly muddies the waters. Personally, I think we’ve messed up badly, killed far to many people, been complicit in too many tortures, and been to compliant with too many despotic kingdoms to claim any kind of moral imperative. I say you can measure ” evil” by a combination of the company you keep, the death toll and by the deals you make. I would prefer to stop repeating the same destructive mistakes.

  • Little Jackie Paper 29th Nov '15 - 10:50pm

    Nick Baird – I have no issue with anything that you say, but symbolism DOES matter. We have been asked by a NATO partner for help. That alone is a significant point – what one makes of it is another matter but there is a geopolitical dimension to this both in terms of UK alliances and a UK role in setting the direction of the future of the region.

    It may be that other concerns outweigh that, fair enough, – but symbolism and geopolitics can’t be wished away.

    ‘We should stay out of this until someone can define what end result we are trying to achieve, and then a strategy to achieve it.’

    This sounds a bit like a policy of non-decision. As I said on another thread, the best I can say is that I personally don’t really see a strong case for UK involvement. But I don’t see non-decision as credible.

  • Little Jackie Paper 29th Nov '15 - 10:52pm

    Glenn – ‘our idea of a democracy that included rule by politicised Islam.’

    Just as a matter of interest, how do you conceive a democracy that rules out politicised Islam if that’s what the vote says?

    Not getting at you.

  • Ben Jephcott 29th Nov '15 - 11:47pm

    I am a little perturbed, as the five tests set out by Tim on whether to back air strikes made sense. ISIS must be defeated, but I do not see how the case made by Cameron meets the conditions we have suggested – so I was surprised to see Tom Brake somewhere on fb indicating that the Lib Dems were likely to support bombing this week. We should hold our nerve and vote against or at the very least abstain, explaining clearly what more needs to be done.

    Air strikes are unlikely to make much difference to ISIS in the absence of an assault by troops we can work with. The FSA are not fighting ISIS, they are fighting Assad. The Russians are not bombing ISIS, they are bombing the FSA. But ISIS are very keen to create martyrs to encourage their recruitment in Britain and in all the other western nations. We should not fall into their trap, after all the experience of the last 15 years where the Lib Dems have made the right call.

    The evidence is that targeting is just not accurate enough to avoid a high proportion of civilian casualties in urban areas like Raqqa. There is no sign of a deal to end the civil war, which will not be easy or simple to pull off, or of a credible opposition of indigenous anti-ISIS soldiers we could provide close air support for, other than the Kurds in the east, who are being bombed by Turkey whenever they get too successful. There is little progress to identifying safe areas or at least bomb-free areas where civilians can be encouraged to go.

    I would not rule out any air strikes in principle, but we should not allow ourselves to be bounced by the commentariat into agreeing a pretty open-ended involvement without our very sensible preconditions being met.

    Most people in my family and people I meet day to day, even normally Tory or UKIP types, are against war without an ally or an exit strategy. Jeremy Corbyn is on the right track I think, on this issue, as Charles Kennedy was over Iraq.

    I urge our MPs to vote against, or at least abstain.

  • Little Jacky Pepper, Democracy develops around institutions. Our conception of it was arrived at over centuries Universal suffrage wasn’t even part of it until the 19th century and actually not even really until the 2Oth. The point is that it isn’t just one person one vote, it’s a history of separation of state from church, the reduction in the role of the monarchy, changing social values, education, finance, class, philosophy and host of other factors along the way.

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Nov '15 - 12:45am

    @John Roffey

    I’m completely with you on the COP negotiations. But we can (and should) be capable of doing more than one thing at once.

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Nov '15 - 12:48am

    @Jonathan Brown – yes, Johnathan, I almost completely agree. I wouldn’t rule out a NATO ground force at some point in the future, however.

  • David Evans 30th Nov '15 - 2:38am

    The case is nothing like strong enough. Anyone who thinks Lib Dems should help Cameron have his own military escapade really doesn’t want us to be any different from the rest at all.

  • Bruce Marsland 30th Nov '15 - 2:47am

    The use of military air power is a tactic, not a strategy. Similarly, the destruction of ISIS is an objective, not a strategy.

    There is nothing in this piece that convinces me that the use of British air power could be a successful tactic in achieving its stated aim. Furthermore, there is too little here that tells me what our overall strategy for dealing with ISIS actually is.

    Part of the error is in the assumption that ISIS is “ultimately a military organisation”. ISIS may be heavily militarised, but it is not just a traditional military entity working along clear battle lines. Thus, to approach it using traditional military tactics is strategically misguided. In fact, the more the West attempts to confront ISIS by military means, the more its influence spreads, from Iraq and Syria to places like Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt.

    Is it our intention to bomb more and more cities in more and more countries, as ISIS (or potentially some successor organisation) builds on its status of “resisting the West” and spreads its poison ever further? If we carry on as we are doing, our tactics will lead inevitably to this sort of ever-expanding battlefield.

    I urge MPs to vote against the tempting but futile ‘quick fix’ of British air strikes in Syria that is currently on the table. We need a coherent strategy, including a vision of what victory looks like, and not an extended game of whack-a-mole that benefits nobody except the arms manufacturers.

  • John Roffey 30th Nov '15 - 6:14am

    Toby Fenwick 30th Nov ’15 – 12:45am

    “I’m completely with you on the COP negotiations. But we can (and should) be capable of doing more than one thing at once.”

    But it is not the case – Osborne, backed by Cameron, has been telling us since 2010 that we must keep spending within tax receipts – indeed run at a surplus to start reducing the massive national debt. We knew before the Autumn statement that Osborne was going to cut environmental spending and following the Paris attack – cut this spending further to enable him to spend more on defence.

    Since Osborne has made this case repeatedly – it should come as no surprise to Obama, Putin & Hollande if he tells them the UK simply cannot afford to included in this international group dealing with ISIS – beyond diplomacy.

    Over the years, because of our history as a great power ‘defence’ has become to mean ‘attack’ and although preemptive strikes must never be ruled out where there is a clear and present danger – as a broke middle ranking nation – we should adjust to reality and accept that we can no longer afford to sit at the top table on international affairs. Fallon admit that there is a greater risk of a Paris styled attack if we do strike Syria. Since there is no chance of ISIS launching missiles at as from warships or aircraft – we should spend any additional defence cash on additional police and army personnel – the assets we require to defend us here from the known threat.

    It is true that only economically strong nations can afford to be strong militarily and although Cameron clearly loves to stride the world stage making grave statements – he needs to find himself another Chancellor who might achieve greater economic success – rather than making every conceivable concession to the global corporations to allow them to make vast profits here and then remove them abroad without paying a fair rate of corporation tax or spending them here to create a more vibrant economy.

  • Little Jackie Paper 30th Nov '15 - 7:31am

    Glenn – ‘Democracy develops around institutions. Our conception of it was arrived at over centuries Universal suffrage wasn’t even part of it until the 19th century and actually not even really until the 2Oth. The point is that it isn’t just one person one vote, it’s a history of separation of state from church, the reduction in the role of the monarchy, changing social values, education, finance, class, philosophy and host of other factors along the way.’

    Democracy develops around a civil society. Institutions are the instruments of democracy but civil society is the prerequisite. It’s no good having democratic institutions alone. Now yes, religion and radical religion in particular can weaken a society, but there is no reason why religion can not be a part of a thriving civil society. Why would anyone be a part of a civil society that seeks no place for their religion? The whole problem in the ME in many ways is that there really isn’t much civil society. In ex-Yugoslavia there was enough of a civil society (just) to hold states together. There is I accept a wider question here about the future partition of Syria, maybe Iraq too.

  • It doesn’t take a genius to realise that bombing alone will make no difference to ISIS and may well strengthen their position with the local populations even if they are forced to concede some territory. There will be a greater risk of terrorism in the West as a result and Syria’s problems will be no closer to being resolved. It is beyond my comprehension why people choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of the last 15 years. Yet, however, they are in the majority. This ‘war’ isn’t a war – we’re not prepared to risk British lives – it’s a vengeance bombing and it will have the same military effectiveness as Hitler’s vengeance missile and rocket programme. This is bombing to win over the votes of Mail readers.

    If military action in Syria were to stand even the remotest possibility of success then it requires (a) consensus between the countries currently involving themselves in Syria’s affairs regarding the post war map and settlement of the region, (b) a large number of ground troops, (c) massive aid to the people of the region in the form of investment and security provision, including the ethnic groups currently supporting ISIS.

  • Jonathan Pile 30th Nov '15 - 8:40am

    British Airstrikes debate is symbolic about Britain’s role in the world as an ally, NATO member & EU member. To stand aside ringing our hands would undermine all these vital alliances. However airstrikes are a side show. Around the corner will be the issue of boots on the ground in response to some horrible future atrocity. Then we face a tough choice. To get the necessary Russian, Syrian (Assad) & Iranian troops in large enough numbers to defeat ISIS will mean a blank cheque to Assad in Syria, Iran & Putin in Ukraine. The alternative of Western NATO boots risks conflict with Russia & another Iraq. Is there a third option of UN & OAO troops from African countries fighting ISIS (Kenya,Nigeria) ? We ought to be considering the next debate rather this & making our support for token airstrikes east of 38th parallel contingent on a more considered boots on ground which sees a mix of all three groups – some NATO, some Russian/Syrian/Iranian & UN African troops to combat ISIS. Lib Dem MPs could hold balance & we ought to be mindful of not seeing a re-run of 2013, but support a lib dem plan which bridges gap between Labour & Conservative positions in the UK National interest & shortens Syria Civil War

  • The situation is hideous and urgent, and I am impressed by all the foregoing, which I must read again more attentively. But I think there are two other considerations before we decide whether or not to support the PM in the vote he intends.

    1. Inevitably, a PM has more than one ‘event’ on his mind. Mr Cameron, and all of us, need friends in Europe — and the PM especially, with his Brexit referendum looming. How far does this influence his response to the French PM’s request for increased military support? And how far do Lib Dem MPs consider that to be important to the Syria debate? How heavy should Britain’s interests — not merely economic ones –weigh, when balanced against Syria’s? Irrespective of other considerations, surely Britain should be and be seen to be, a sturdily independent but fraternal member of the European family, supporting our neighbours when we can? But Syria IS another consideration, of course.

    2. There are two main ways to extinguish a conflagration. One is to drench it with hoses pumping bombs. The other is to starve it of fuel and air. Why have so many young men and women left their country, the UK, to join those trying to destroy it? Might even Syria’s best interests, taking the long view, be better served than with bombs, if our money were spent on making our country a better and less repugnant place for the children of Islam? Is there a germ of comprehensibility, if not validity, in their rabid alienation, which needs our greater attention?

  • Some of the people advocating airstrikes should really stand back and look at reality.
    The UK – and others – have been involved in dropping bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya for many years now. Ask yourselves the question ‘ has this bombing achieved its objectives?’
    Anyone answering this question honestly must say no.
    1. Al Qaida and the Taliban have not been defeated.
    2. There is no meaningful democracy or stable government in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan
    3. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and swathes of territory have been laid waste.
    4, Thousands have been made homeless and many of them have fled abroad creating the EU refugee problem.
    5. ISIL continue to garner recruits
    6. Terrorism is on the increase throughout the EU and especially in those countries taking part in military operations in the Middle East.
    So your answer to a policy that has obviously failed is to do more of it? What planet do you live on?
    No. A new policy is called for, one that seeks to make peace not to escalate war. That means slow, painstaking diplomacy of the kind John Kerry is attempting. A policy that gets as many parties as possible round the negotiating table, without preconditions, and keeps them there until a peace treaty is agreed. A policy that faces up to the difficult decisions about the role our so-called allies are playing in financing ISIL and buying oil from them. A policy that seeks to stop weapons being sold into the conflict area. This means it will take a long time, but in the end it’s the only road to peace. It is always the road to peace. Trying to bomb people into submission won’t work.
    Cameron wants to be seen to be doing something, even if everyone really knows his solution won’t work and may well bring more terrorism to the UK. Liberal Democrats must have nothing to do with it.

  • Conor McGovern 30th Nov '15 - 11:11am

    @Roger Lake – Careful, you don’t want Big Brother reading that 😉 I completely agree that buying into the polarised black-vs-white concept pushed by the media clouds the fact that a hell of a lot of people in Britain feel alienated and that some of us might have a point.

  • @ Mick Taylor : Completely agree. The voice of sanity.

  • From the title: “not overwhelming, but strong enough”

    To convict someone of a criminal offence requires the evidence to be “beyond reasonable doubt”. Here Nick Thornsby suggests we should go to war on the basis of evidence that is “good enough” which is entirely subjective and even weaker than the “balance of probability” test required to succeed in a civil case. If we do go to war yet again many, including civilians, will die so we must demand and expect the highest burden of proof.

    One of the arguments, routinely trotted out is the claimed superiority of the RAF’s Brimstone missiles (I assume this is what the article alludes to when it says “the RAF has technical abilities that are not shared by the US and France”). This may be true but sounds to me like an arms salesman talking (armament company shares rose after the Paris attacks) and entirely fails to explain how jihadists can be identified from 10,000 feet. As we know from other theatres drone strike routinely kill bystanders, wedding parties etc., an ’embarrassment’ the US military navigates by deeming that many collateral casualties must have been terrorists.

    http://airwars.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/airwars-cause-for-concern-civilians-killed-by-coalition.pdf

    Meanwhile, the chemical weapons charge against Assad is NOT proven so even the evidence presented is suspect. At the time of the Ghouta outrage Assad knew is was Obama’s red line and that he was spoiling for an excuse to invade. So why on earth would he use sarin? A false flag is much more likely – some Syrian CW facilities had been overrun by rebels and Turkish MPs have alleged complicity at some level by their government. The Ghouta case was (and still is) widely reported, but other gas attacks are ignored by western media.

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/bob-rigg/if-isis-uses-chemical-weapons-west-will-be-partly-responsible

    I think the US wants to depose Assad for reasons that have very little to do with the declared ones and that our media are complicit in providing remarkably supine reporting.

  • I am totally against UK air strikes. I supported the first Gulf Warr and the invasion of Afghanistan and with reservations the Iraq war, but what we have learnt is that our interference dis not making things better. Rather it risks escalating the conflict to an ever wider conflict. We cannot solve all the world’s problems. Pouring more petrol on this fire will not stem the losses. But increase them. We need a much more aggressive and assertive policy of containment. Let the forces that are in play burn themselves out. Then we can help pick up the pieces and support a new beginning. It is tragic, I weep for those involved but in Syria, right now we cannot help. Refugees and neighbouring countries need our help and support and we must devote ALL our efforts to helping and supporting them. In the end we have limited re resources, let us help those we can.

  • Alan Depauw 30th Nov '15 - 3:39pm

    A past prime minister led us to believe that Iraq presented an imminent danger to us and our allies. On that basis, a majority (including myself) approved going to war. Of course we were conned, discovering later that the supposed threat hid the real objective; that of regime change probably few Britons would have supported.

    But it is clear that ISIS does present an imminent danger.

    This is proven not just by multiple attacks in France, but also by the instigation of terrorism in a whole series of countries including some, like Tunisia, not involved in any anti-ISIS coalition. We are constantly warned of attacks planned in the UK. ISIS may not be recognised as such, but it considers itself a state with the territory and resources of a state and is providing weapons, organisation and purpose to criminals out to kill indiscriminately.

    Therefore we must defend ourselves and the question then is: how?

    We must, of course, attend to internal security and continue better to integrate our various communities. But we must also disable the criminals’ source of weapons and organisation.

    Some say that this should be done through negotiation. But how do we negotiate with people who have killed reporters and aid workers as well as thousands of others who don’t share their beliefs? With their resources intact, how would we know if they had ceased fomenting terrorism?

    They there is the argument that we should cut off their funding. But sanctions of this kind are notoriously inefficient and must be the more so in such an unstable region. And whilst we wait, more atrocities will occur.

    Similarly, we hear of a lack of future vision. But how can such a vision be built whilst ISIS continues as a major force? Let’s develop the discussions that have just started, but also support them by weakening the prime enemy.

    Then there are those who say that bombing won’t achieve anything without boots on the ground. Yet those few boots there who are friendly repeatedly complain of lack of support, without which they are condemned to become ever weaker.

    Finally, we hear the argument that RAF bombing would make no difference. This is akin to saying that we should let others do our fighting for us. This could be called a copout, for me it’s just plain immoral.

    Which is why I agree with Nick Thornsby.

  • I marched and campaigned against the second Iraq War. However this is different and I feel intervention is appropriate. This time there is a real threat to the homeland. We already have drones flying over Syria and identifying targets for the French. So really we are at war in that particular country. Isis needs instant destroying.
    On Saturday I was listening to someone giving every reason not to intervene, when I ask would they have supported war in September1939 and then after Dunkirk in 1940, they seemingly did not!!!!

  • A Social Liberal 30th Nov '15 - 4:16pm

    Shaun Cunningham said

    “The military action is working Richard.
    With regards to to Ramadi Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and have encircled the city, The fact are IS are being hit hard and are being degraded by the current military action. We need to step up the action.

    The victory by Kurdish forces in Sinjar was another one in a string of losses for the militant group as it faced attacks on multiple fronts — from Ramadi in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria. All possible because of air support.”

    Shaun, can you link to a credible source for your information about Ramadi being encircled because I have not seen anything to that effect? Certainly with regards to the Khurds cutting the Raqqa- Mosul road we have no further news and this is probably because the Kurds were not able to consolidate on a surprise attack and so were pushed back by a Da’esh counterattack. With regards to Mosul, the combined forces of Iraq and Iran have not been able to make inroads, despite being supported by the air forces of several nations.

    I do not support bombing in Syria because it would offer nothing extra – especially on the scale we would be able to operate on.

  • Saying RAF bombing will make no difference is not the same as saying others should do our dirty work. I dont agree with Russians French Americans or Syrians bombing cities controlled by ISIS, because I believe the collateral damage will be too great.

  • david thorpe 30th Nov '15 - 4:30pm

    I usually agree with Nick-but not this time

  • A Social Liberal 30th Nov '15 - 4:34pm

    Eddie Sammon said

    “as I have said: I agree with getting rid of Assad, possibly militarily, but one study has said 461,000 died due to Iraq war 2, so are Bush and Blair worse than Assad? Or equal? You can’t just measure evil by number of deaths, although it is obviously concerning. ”

    You obviously missed a bit of the report which stated, ” . . . . . and subsequent insurgency”. Most of the deaths in Iraq were down to Sunni insurgents, made up in part by the officers and men of the Republican Guard. These republican guardsmen were heavily involved in filling Saddams mass graves with it’s victims, and would have carried on doing so had the allies not intervened.

    You also, just as obviously, missed another phrase further down the report – “It exceeds the 112,000 violent civilian deaths reported by Iraq Body Count.”

  • A Social Liberal 30th Nov '15 - 5:03pm

    Bruce Marsland said

    “The use of military air power is a tactic, not a strategy. Similarly, the destruction of ISIS is an objective, not a strategy.

    . . . Part of the error is in the assumption that ISIS is “ultimately a military organisation”. ISIS may be heavily militarised, but it is not just a traditional military entity working along clear battle lines. Thus, to approach it using traditional military tactics is strategically misguided. In fact, the more the West attempts to confront ISIS by military means, the more its influence spreads, from Iraq and Syria to places like Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt. . . . . . ”

    First a little pedantry. The aim is the desruction and defeat of Da’esh, one of the objectives is to degrade the capability of Da’esh to take part in combat. One of several strategies used is the air war and the main tactic in prosecuting that strategy is the use of high altitude, guided missiles and bombs.

    Now, onto the main criticism of your post. Da’esh is using, amongst others, conventional/symmetrical warfare to hold territory. They can and will be defeated using, amongst others, conventional forces. The trick is to destroy them so utterly that they are unable to re-form. Where conventional warfare used to defeat terrorist organisations were successful can be seen in Israels destruction of the PLO, the remnants of which were pushed to Tripoli where they imploded as a terrorist entity. Where they were unsuccessful can be seen in the escape of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not because of the conventional warfare used against them but (I would suggest because of the use of irregular troops to watch the cutoffs) because of them escaping through the Bora Bora cave system.

  • In a longish article Seymour Hersh documents the events leading p to the Ghouta attack and confirms it was a false flag staged to push Obama over his ‘red line’ and into attacking Syria. From the article:

    “As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the [US] intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

    In any case Cameron’s plans may have been rendered academic by recent developments. RT is reporting that there have been NO American airstrikes in Syria since Russia deployed its S-400 air defence system. I expect there will be some limited US strikes to enable Obama to save face and pretend this isn’t a factor; Russia has no strategic interest in embarrassing the US.

    Scroll down in the linked article to see the S-400’s range.

    https://www.rt.com/news/323815-syria-s-400-us-airstrikes/

  • A Social Liberal 30th Nov '15 - 5:28pm

    MIck Taylor

    So many inaccuracies in one post.

    I will take up only your last point. In point six you are partly right in your assumption but only because until the 2000s terrorists had been very quiet. You seem to forget Bieder-Meinhoff, the Red Army Faction, the PFLP, Black September, Al fatah, Ordine Nero, the Japanese Red Army and ETA – not to mention our very own PIRA homogeny and their equally murderous protestant equivilent.

    As to ” . . . . . and especially in those countries taking part in military operations in the Middle East.” Really, have those who didn’t take part not have to up their security? Is Greece safer than France, is Cyprus or Turkey?

  • Bruce Marsland 30th Nov '15 - 6:53pm

    Social Liberal:

    I would contend that, in the extent of the territory that it covers and in its apparent aim of widening the conflict, ISIS is more akin to a combination of Al Q and the Taliban than to the relatively geographically restricted PLO. This means that it is more akin to those groups against which you admit our current conventional military tactics have failed. We are also still tying ourselves to what you describe as “irregular troops” on the ground. In short, we are repeating tactics that have failed us in the past and that continue to fail us now in Iraq (and to fail our allies in Syria itself).

    The fact that you use the term Da’esh goes to another point: it may be a small fact, but the fact that the West cannot fix a name on this organisation (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Da’esh) speaks volumes of our inability to understand it, its own objectives, and consequently how to defeat it. This then leads to another difficult question, which Western politicians seem largely attempting to avoid. ISIS, beyond being an organisation, is also the embodiment of an ideology – or maybe, in military terms, a doctrine. This is a doctrine that feeds off being attacked by “the West” to motivate its followers. Therefore, does our use of conventional military tactics against it help to create the very problem that we wish to solve? Furthermore, if we defeat the organisation of ISIS using the tactics that have fed its existence, it is highly likely that it will simply be replaced by another similar organisation … and so the whole terrible whack-a-mole process goes on.

    Either way, you have added nothing that explains a wider strategy within which the use of air power might be successful in achieving either peace or victory.

  • A Social Liberal, would you have supported airstrikes in Northern Ireland?

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