Tim Farron questions Cameron on Syria

Here’s the exchange between Tim Farron and David Cameron from today’s debate on Syria. Tim asked about safe havens to protect the innocent civilians who are trapped there and about the role of other countries in the region in helping the forces on the ground. It was a civilised exchange. The Prime Minister was on his best behaviour today.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for early sight of it. There are understandable knee-jerk reactions on both sides to the horror of Paris and of Beirut. There will be those who say, “Intervene”; those who say, “Intervene at all costs”; and also those who say, “Do not intervene no matter what the evidence points to.” The Prime Minister knows that the Liberal Democrats have set out five criteria against which we can judge this statement. On that basis, may I press him on two particular points? The Prime Minister recognises that air strikes alone will not defeat ISIL. He has already heard that he will need to give much more evidence to this House to convince it that the ground operations that are there are sufficient and have the capability and the credibility to deliver on the ground, which is what he knows needs to be delivered. What role will Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the other Gulf states play in delivering this victory, if that is the direction in which we choose to go as a country and as a House? There is also a reference to humanitarian aid in this statement. He will know that no amount of aid can help an innocent family dodge a bomb. There is no reference in this statement to establishing no-bomb zones or safe havens to protect innocent civilians if this action takes place. Will he answer that question?

The Prime Minister:
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response and for the fact that his party wants to engage with the arguments, think very carefully and consider the key national security arguments before making its judgment. I know that the national security adviser was pleased to brief its members last night and stands ready to brief them and answer any detailed questions that they might have. I am determined that there should be no knee-jerk reaction. I take very seriously what happened in Paris. I know absolutely that that could just as well happen in the UK, as it could happen in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe, and that the threat that we face is very, very severe. I want us to consider this and to think it through. I do not want anyone to feel that a good process has not been followed, so that if people agree with the case being put, they can in all conscience vote to support it.

The hon. Gentleman asked two specific questions. On humanitarian aid, we will continue to deliver that. On no-bomb zones, the dangers and difficulties with no-bomb zones and safe zones are that they have to be enforced, and that can require the taking out of air defences, which would spread the conflict wider and which, in many cases, requires the presence of ground troops. We will not be putting in ground troops for those purposes. I do not want to declare a safe zone unless it is genuinely safe. Of course what we want is a growing part of Iraq and a growing part of Syria to be no-bomb zones because there will no bombing taking place as we will have a political agreement that will deliver the ceasefires that we need, and we will have taken action to reduce ISIL.

On the question of ground troops and the role of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, they on the whole have been helping to fund the moderate Syrian opposition which, in my view, needs to play a part in the future of that country, and they strongly support the action that Britain proposes to take.

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23 Comments

  • nigel hunter 26th Nov '15 - 9:40pm

    The Financial Times has an article covering the oil revenues that is helping to fund ISIS, destroy these sources , hit them in the wallet. If their funding sources continue the war can go on for a long time and, as usual civilians will still be in the line of fire

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '15 - 9:42pm

    We don’t necessary need to defeat Daesh anytime soon. Airstrikes are right in principle, so I think the argument that airstrikes alone won’t defeat Daesh in Syria kind of misses the point. It is right to show that people can’t attack us and our best allies with impunity, I believe.

    The point about no-fly zones I find rather illogical. The idea that we can’t bomb Daesh in Syria unless we also start a military confrontation with Russia seems to be a strange demand. I can understand wanting no-fly zones, but not refusing limited airstrikes against Daesh unless we get them.

    The idea behind much of the UK’s political and security establishment seems to be Britain should do almost nothing or jump in with two feet with a parliamentary vote. Why can’t we just him them with a limited strike? Voting no would be a diplomatic disaster and show really if you want Britain to help you militarily you are trying to swim upstream.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '15 - 9:53pm

    PS, I know you can achieve a no-fly zone diplomatically, but it isn’t explicitly said and it looks like the equivalent at this stage of writing Putin an angry letter.

  • A question he might ask, can the Prime Minister confirm that expanding the air war will not reduce the air support to the Kurds who are the only effective on the ground forces against ISIL/ISIS.

  • I am deeply unhappy about our likely involvement in the oncoming campaign in Syria – but given that Labour is about to eat its own face off over this, it is good that we as a by-and-large party of doves are willing to set out the clear set of criteria we need to be convinced otherwise. It’s a smart route to take, and hopefully it resonates with the public during the oncoming campaign.

  • There is no part of the prime minister’s case for bombing in Syria that makes sense. To take one small example on page 13 of his statement he talks of “strengthening the territorial integrity of the state of Syria”. Flying warplanes over a country without its government’s consent does not strengthen its territorial integrity. Some of the forces in Syria who according to the Prime Minister are moderate and should be promoted, such as the Kurdish forces, are unlikely to be motivated by a wish to strengthen the territorial integrity of the state of Syria when they would wish to establish their own homeland.

  • Huw Dawson 26th Nov ’15 – 11:37pm……………….I note the media are full of the “Labour in disarray” headlines…How quickly they/we forget that it was Tory rebels who, with Labour, defeated Cameron’s plans for bombing Assad’s troops…
    Let’s also not forget that most LibDem MPs voted for the attacks on Assad’s troops and the result of the vote was condemned by Lord Ashdown, who tweeted that in “50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed/ ashamed”.
    Where would Syria be now without the Turkish army who, with the Kurds, are the only effective ground forces opposing ISIS…

  • Denis Mollison 27th Nov '15 - 8:31am

    Eddie – how can you say “airstrikes are right in principle”? It has to depend on who they hit, and the evidence seems to be that they kill many innocent civilians – not surprisingly IS fighters hide among civilians whose territory they have occupied.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Nov '15 - 9:29am

    Hi Denis, I don’t believe airstrikes are right in principle if aimed at civilians, but that is not what Cameron’s vote is about.

    I agree the idea that they are right regardless of who they hit is a scary one and would do us harm. By right in principle I mean we don’t need to have the peace mapped out at this stage.

  • WW1 was described as “lions led by donkeys”, an arrangement Cameron clearly aims to restore with himself braying the loudest. As Richard says, the case he sets out for bombing makes no sense.

    For one thing he skates over the embarrassing detail that ISIS emerged with the tacit support of the US from the outset (hence minimal bombing of its oil convoys) plus the very active support of key regional allies – among others Turkey (whose president, let’s not forget, is himself an Islamist set on dismantling Turkey’s democracy) and Saudi Arabia (which has been described as ISIS with a seat at the UN). Assad was in the US’s bad books for wider geopolitical reasons and the US apparently saw ISIS as a useful stick with which to beat him. As ever with US schemes, the plan has spiralled out of control.

    Cameron talks repeatedly of the “moderate opposition”. This is a total fantasy; the US has spent years trying to identify them will little success. Lots of weapons were supplied but it turns out the opposition is an ever-changing patchwork of groups and alliances so most of those weapons flowed to the extremists. Many, perhaps most, of those described as “moderates” are Al Qaeda affiliates. There may indeed be, as he claims, 70,000 fighters on the ground but he cannot say they don’t belong to “extremist” groups. That may be true today but there’s nothing to say it will still be true tomorrow. After all that’s gone before in the region who is to say that any further intervention won’t drive fighters straight into the hands of the extremists whatever their misgivings. That’s what ISIS apparently thinks and I’ll bet they know the locals’ psychology better than the neocon warmongers do.

    As for the claims about Britain’s unique military assets – forget it. The purpose is to provide political cover, not military.

  • @ Eddie Sammon ” Hi Denis, I don’t believe airstrikes are right in principle if aimed at civilians”.

    Well that’s good to know. And what foolproof method do you have for ensuring there are no civilians down there ?

  • Can Tim ask another question, before we go into Syria with all guns blazing ?
    Why is the West knowingly turning a blind eye to Turkey, and the Erdogan family members in particular, who it appears, have an open door policy for the smuggling and sale, of ISIS procured oil, plus terrorists and weapons across the Turkey / Syria border?
    This madness needs to be stopped.

  • AC Trussell 27th Nov '15 - 4:32pm

    If half a dozen “men” sitting in a flat in Paris can plan and execute such terrible atrocities-( a dozen for New York); I can’t see how dropping bombs on people in Syria is going to make anywhere any safer?
    We have been led by donkeys for many years.
    The militarization of Islam will continue while the Jews in “Israel” continue to occupy and maltreat the Palestinians.
    It started with the “Nakba” and has grown into a monster. Of course this won’t change because of the “Christian” West totally ignoring the atrocities.
    No one dare say a thing against the Jews- There is no hope while this situation remains.
    67 borders would be a start.

  • @AC Trussell
    “No one dare say a thing against the Jews”

    Though you just did. To be clear, you have an issue with “the Jews” in general, not just those in Israel responsible for bad things happening in Palestine?

    “The militarization of Islam will continue while the Jews in ‘Israel’ continue to occupy and maltreat the Palestinians.
    It started with the ‘Nakba’ and has grown into a monster.”

    With Christmas coming up, you might want to ask for a good history book covering the middle east between the years 624 and 1948 AD.

  • David Pollard 27th Nov '15 - 5:39pm

    Don’t vote for Cameron’s motion to bomb Syria under any circumstances. Read today’s Independent if you are doubtful.

  • Denis Mollison 27th Nov '15 - 7:20pm

    @AC Trussell – I hope you meant Zionists not Jews in general.

    @Stuart – just how far back in history do you want to go? To justify Israel’s 20th century colonising of Palestine/Israel (call this area what you like) you have to go back to the 1st century AD – in short it was a ludicrous claim.
    Somehow, for peace, they have to share it with the other inhabitants, whether as one state or two.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Nov '15 - 7:51pm

    Let me be crystal clear. I do not support any military action by the UK in Syria, because it is an utterly stupid policy that refuses to recognise that previous action by the UK and others in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya has not only not created peace and democracy, but has led to the formation of ISIL/Daesh. It beggars belief that the protagonists of further military UK involvement in Syria cannot see that all such action will achieve is more recruits for ILSIL/Daesh and a greater likelihood of terrorist atrocities in the UK.
    I am certain that peace and stability in Syria and the wider region will only be achieved at the negotiating table with all parties coming without preconditions to the table and staying there until agreement. This will be a very protracted process given the wide gulf that exists between the warring factions. It seems to me that Cameron is trying to shortcut this difficult and lengthy process by a bombing campaign mainly because he wants a quick solution and to be seen doing something. It won’t work and it will make matters worse. When the bombs start to go off in the UK – and they will if the UK gets sucked in to this regional conflict – then one of the main culprits for that will be Cameron and those who vote with him for military action.
    Military intervention in Syria by the UK is morally wrong, militarily inept and will not deliver the end it seeks.

  • Denis Mollison 27th Nov '15 - 10:18pm

    @Mick Taylor – absolutely!

    There’s plenty of good analysis of the tangled wars of the region if you look for it, e.g.
    http://www.lrb.co.uk/search?q=patrick+cockburn

    It might be worth fighting IS in Syria if we can agree a strategy with the Russians – by no means ideal allies but they’re more on our side inthis conflict than either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Nov '15 - 12:41am

    Not much hope for the west in terms of a prosperous and secure future. Our foreign policy professionals just seem to be moaning about border controls, security and military action against Daesh.

    According to these professionals the responsibility for IS does not mainly lie with IS but with Assad. Worse, people will start defending IS using all sorts of different arguments saying it is just a response to Assad.

    Cameron is right and in my opinion the professionals are wrong. Their proposals are not politically feasible and only make sense on paper.

  • @Denis Mollison
    “just how far back in history do you want to go?”

    Since I was answering AC’s specific point about what he calls the “militarisation of Islam” – which he reckons started in 1948 – I figured it appropriate to go back to 624, when Mohamed first took up arms against non-Muslims, but feel free to suggest a different date.

    “To justify Israel’s 20th century colonising of Palestine/Israel (call this area what you like) you have to go back to the 1st century AD – in short it was a ludicrous claim.”

    I agree with that, but I fail to see what it has to do with anything I said in my post.

    It isn’t necessary to defend anything that happened in the 20th century to defend the continuing existence of the state of Israel. Palestine in 1948 was not an independent state and never really had been. Almost all the people living there then are now dead – we can no more right wrongs done to them than the architects of Israel could right wrongs done in the 1st century. So on that aspect I agree with you – we have to focus on the people living there now, instead of harping on about the past.

  • AC Trussell 29th Nov '15 - 7:21pm

    Denis Mollison-
    Of course I should have used the word “Zionists” – but the same still applies. Because after all, It is very handy for all Jewish people living in “Israel” to live in a country supported by billions of US dollars that is intended to force a religion into an area that has, over many generations & centuries, become Islamic. Provocative may best describe it.
    I understand that all “Israeli” citizens are forced to join the army, and so have contributed -for decades now, to the humiliating control; terrorizing and killing of Palestinians; destruction of their houses & olive trees; constant changing of rules; isolation and collective punishment, separation of families; restrictions of goods; attacks by “settlers”stealing more land etc,etc. with no repercussions of any significance.
    In fact, after the attack by “Israel” on the American ship USS Liberty during the six day war, it was shown that “Israel” could get away with anything!

  • AC Trussell 29th Nov '15 - 7:24pm

    Stuart-
    I suppose you wouldn’t mind if a group of people that followed the words in a book written thousands of years ago- and much of what it said was impossible and made no sense- therefor nonsense- were allowed to come here and force us all to live in Wales (nothing wrong with Wales) and on the Isle of Man. Just because their ancestors may have lived around here thousands of years ago and their imaginary God said they are The Chosen Ones.
    I have been incapacitated somewhat for the last twelve years and I have seen many, many instances of the behavior of the “Israelis”. I am a very peaceful person and have always seen people and peoples equally. But seeing what I have; I have been forced to see the plight of the Palestinians and it has instilled a great deal of empathy with them, and anger with their occupiers. I am quite sure that I would not just put up with occupation in this way for all my life, by a strange religion or any other group for that matter.
    Living under these conditions would, no doubt, cause me to react.
    This is what many Muslims and others are driven to do. They see it all online and when they have the imagination to put themselves in the Palestinian’s situation, the inhumanity becomes intolerable and they feel they MUST do something about it.

  • AC Trussell 29th Nov '15 - 7:26pm

    Stuart-
    My thoughts on the sources of terrorism are stated in an interview with Abu Hafs al-Muritani on the Al Jazeera News channel 21st Nov He was a member of Al Qaeda with Osama bin ladin. He left because he did not agree with killing citizens. He stated that the reason for Al Qaeda and Isil/Da’esh is purely because of the occupation and treatment of the Palestinians by the “Israelis”. (Why does everyone ignore this?)
    This is why bombing Syria or anywhere-else will not stop the terrorism in the West. Just a few people or even one! can decide to copy what happened in Paris, or any other terrible thing- anywhere they happen to live. believing that they are damaging the people that are supporting the Israeli occupation. They probably think : “why are these people having fun while their own fellow Muslims are enduring humiliating occupation.”
    With AIPAC controlling the media in America and most institutions and media in the West – either conditioned to see everything from the “Israelis” viewpoint or too wary to say anything negative about any Jews/Zionists/Israelis, I am afraid it will only end up badly for the Palestinians and many others.
    Sharing the land would be a good idea- but they want it ALL. The way they treat the Palestinians I don’t think they deserve ANY!
    I think some people love a Crusade. The imposition of Israel is costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

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