Vince Cable on Syria

In an email to members Vince Cable writes:

I am certain that you are as appalled as I am about the horrific scenes coming out of Syria.

The use of chemical weapons is barbaric. It is a crime against humanity and it is a clear violation of international law.

The Liberal Democrats are an internationalist, outward-looking party – and part of that is being willing to play our part in upholding international law.

In the next few days, it is possible the Government will ask MPs to decide on potential military action in Syria. This is not a decision we will ever make lightly.

As Leader, I want to be clear with you how I and our group in Parliament will make such a decision.

Firstly, in advance of any debate or vote, the Government should share with Parliament what evidence it has of the Syrian Government’s involvement, and that of their Russian backers, in last weekend’s attack.

Secondly, the Government must present the objectives of any proposed action to Parliament. Any proposed action should be targeted at reducing the capacity of the Syrian regime to repeat these attacks.

Thirdly, any response should be on a multilateral basis. A unilateral response by any country, outside of a wider strategy, without the support of their allies is not the way forward.

And of course, there MUST be a full and frank debate and vote in the House of Commons ahead of any military action.

We will judge any military action the Government proposes against these tests.

This is not a decision we will make lightly, or without the fullest consideration of the evidence. If you would like to share your views on this with me, please email [email protected]

I will keep you informed as the situation develops.

With best wishes,

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  • Time is of the essence, why go to Parliament?

  • Graham Jeffs 12th Apr '18 - 10:00am

    Maybe I’m a minority of one, but I do find this email style of putting certain phrases in bold type extraordinarily irritating! Are we assumed to be idiots? For me it detracts from the message.

  • A sensible and comprehensive approach echoing the Labour and SNP statements…However, I’m not certain that May will, with her precarious majority, want to chance Commons scrutiny…There seems to be an unseemly rush to war from Trump, May and Macron..
    As for the use of chemical weapons? For months Russia/Assad have been warning of a ‘false flag’ attack on the anniversary of Trump’s missile strike of last April and it seems very stupid of Assad to actually use the one method guaranteed to invite another retaliation. The battle for Eastern Ghouta had been won (today Russia claims the fighting is basically over and the Syrian flag is flying there) so, again, what reason was there to use such a weapon?

    The only answer from Trump/May appears to be “Russia/Assad are evil”…That may be the case but are they also stupid?

  • David Cooper 12th Apr '18 - 10:11am

    Vince, how about adding “we should try not to make a bad situation worse”?
    Intenational law implies a “responsibility to protect”. A far more sensible obligation would be “responsbility not to meddle in fights we don’t understand”.

  • It’s oh so easy to get into a war – but it’s oh so difficult to get out of one.

    Trump and Putin both make me nervous…. for goodness sake let’s remember that we should not be at the beck and call of an unpredictable unstable American President. One of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s best choices was to refuse to get embroiled in Vietnam when LBJ came calling.

  • John Marriott 12th Apr '18 - 10:31am

    The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins recently suggested that we should let Assad win before deciding what to do. You know (shock horror), he may just have a point. The whole sorry mess in the Middle East can be put down to the UK, France and Imperial Russia’s attempt to pick over the rotting carcass of the Ottoman Empire through the Sykes Picot plan drawn up during WW1. As in Africa, frontiers were created that bisected traditional tribal lines and quasi states formed largely to exploit the oil potential of the area. So, with the collapse of Imperial Russia, it has, in modern times, been a Franco British problem.

    Now it would appear that the new Russian ‘Tsar’ is flexing his muscles in an area once earmarked for his predecessor, especially after attempts by Bush’s USA and Blair’s Britain to bring ‘democracy’ to an area where, as far as I know, it has never really caught hold, have failed. Admittedly, the so called ‘Arab Spring’ gave some hope that such artificially created countries might really be for capable of change. Quite frankly, what used to appear to be the blueprint for a civilised society that we understand in the West, cannot just be transplanted into a basically feudal society, whose predominant religion, in many ways, is comparable to our own Christianity in the Middle Ages in its evolution.

    So, Mr Jenkins, despite the obvious cruelty that has taken place and with the prospect of even more horror stories, may not be as crazy as some may paint him. As they say, you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs. Finally, there IS one democratic state in the Middle East and ironically it’s Israel, not that its actions render it blameless in this and previous conflicts. However, you have to ask yourself, how would we react, if threatened with annihilation by our neighbours?

  • Richard Underhill 12th Apr '18 - 11:05am

    Graham Jeffs 12th Apr ’18 – 10:00am:
    Vince Cable is being misrepresented by Downing Street spin doctors, which some in the press find convenient to follow. The decisions should be made by parliament (and can therefore be recorded by Hansard).
    The threat needs to be credible. For instance Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made statements over Poland (jointly with French) which he had no capability (nor presumably intention) of delivering. He did deliver leaflets over Germany by air.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Apr '18 - 11:07am

    Source: A chronicle of the year 1939, the year we left behind, Robert Kee, Sphere Books Limited.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Apr '18 - 11:21am

    Here we go again.

    Trump is totally committed. If he doesn’t act he will be like Obama drawing a red line and then backing off.

    So in that light, what do we do? The email contains three or four conditions for our support. So … suppose May does not meet one of these, or two or three ..?

    Is not going to the House of Commons our red line?

    Why don’t we just say ‘No, we are not supporting this.’

    The alternative is ‘Yes. we support this, even though 1, 2, 3, (delete number not applicable) our conditions have not been met.’

  • My advice to Vince and his team is oppose any military intervention. All such intervention in the past has made matters worse. We were right about Iraq and can be right about Syria.
    Stop arms sales to the region, impose financial sanctions, help humanitarian groups and use diplomacy to get all sides round the negotiating table, but under no circumstances commit UK service people to fight in this civil war.
    We already have terrorists striking on UK soil, because of the government’s past unwise intervention in the Middle East and their perception of it.
    If the Tories, with their Labour allies, choose to go to war, we must stand out against it. It doesn’t matter if it is UN sanctioned (which it won’t be because of the Russian veto), it would be wrong both morally and politically to become embroiled in yet another Middle East war, which all our experience tells us will not help the peace process.

  • Completely right, Mick.

  • >Time is of the essence
    Please explain, is the UK or Europe about to be invaded?

    From what I can see this is just an attempt by T.May to get the media and public’s attention off the Brexit negotiations. Shame it doesn’t seem to have been thought through, if the government doesn’t have the capacity to fully address Brexit then if it is to take on another major challenge in the same timeframe, something will have to give…

    Perhaps the UK government will wake up when HMS QE unceremoniously becomes an artificial reef…

  • Mick Taylor 12th Apr '18 - 2:11pm

    One further thought. If Mr Corbyn decides NOT to support intervention (and given his position on Russia it’s possible) then helping Mrs May to go to war would be even more stupid.
    No UK troops, boats or planes should be committed in this civil war.

  • David Evans 12th Apr '18 - 2:28pm

    Bill le Breton “Here we go again.” Absolutely. I’m sure you remember last time, when there was a vote on bombing ISIS in Syria, when we set five conditions. Of those five conditions, the government achieved at best one and a half, but we pretended they had done them and voted in favour.

    The worst was “We call on the government to step up its acceptance of Syrian refugees, and opt in to Save the Children’s proposal to rehome 3000 unaccompanied refugee children from with Europe.”

    Somehow we rationalised a cave in as follows “The Prime Minister has confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood report will be published in the next two weeks, and has agreed to commission a wider report into the funding of jihadi groups in the UK. The government has also agreed to look carefully at the proposals to take 3000 unaccompanied children from within Europe, which is a big step given they previously wouldn’t even accept that there were unaccompanied children.”

    All in all a bit like “That nice Mr Cameron has told us very nicely that they will look at doing something nice, and that is such a monumental breakthrough we know we can trust him, because he is very nice.”

    If we set conditions, lets make sure we really mean it this time.

  • Arnold Kiel 12th Apr '18 - 7:36pm

    One thing is clear: Mr. Assad will win. No-one in the West is ready to match him, Putin and Khamenei in terms of resources committed and ruthlessness applied. Any action to save Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Macron’s face will just kill more Syrians and prolong the deadly process. Besides, no thoughtfully coordinated action with Trump is possible.

    Losing the vote in the Commons might be the most elegant way out for Ms. May.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Apr '18 - 8:24pm

    I am very glad to see that most comments on here agree with my view that going to war here would be folly in the extreme without rock solid evidence.
    I agree 100% with expats. When there is an atrocity committed I always ask “who gains?”

    In this case Assad had nothing to gain, while the opposition has everything to gain by bringing America and Britain into the civil war. The opposition includes and is perhaps dominated now by Al Qaeda related jihadis. These people have shown themselves capable of killing innocent children just as much as Assad.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Apr '18 - 9:36pm

    I agreed with previous action as it was to destroy ISIS, and this has been in many ways successful.

    I agree with Mick and David here. This is tit for tat and accomplishes nothing.

    I would vote against.

  • None of the MPs that vote for this will be sending their own children to fight in a proxy war against Russia – so why should we? Send food supplies, medicines, defensive weapons, communications equipment etc but bombs are not achieving anything.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Apr ’18 – 9:36pm……….I agreed with previous action as it was to destroy ISIS, and this has been in many ways successful…….

    Have you forgotten that we voted to bomb Assad; it was the Labour party assisted by sensible Tories that prevented Cameron’s Syrian adventure…As has been said we then voted to use airstrikes against ‘nasty rebels’..(this same vote is now being used to justify Assad without Commons approval).

    Every military interference ,by the west, in this region has just made matters worse; will we ever learn?

  • I welcomed Vince’s consultation, particularly as I remember Tim not consulting last time. I have responded to Vince as follows:
    Dear Vince,

    Thanks for your message.

    I think your second test is the most important: the government must present the objectives of any proposed action. There is a real danger of what I call the false Edward VIII syllogism: “Something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done.” We need to be clear that any action will actually change the behaviour of Syria and Russia. As yet I see no evidence that limited military action will achieve that and I do not believe that we should even contemplate a full-scale attack which would put us in a state of war with Russia.

    Regarding your third test, “any response should be on a multilateral basis”, Donald Trump is behaving like King Lear:
    “I will have such revenges on you both
    That all the world shall—I will do such things—
    What they are yet I know not, but they shall be
    The terrors of the earth.”
    What we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq is that the UK has no control of these joint missions but is dragged in whatever direction the USA decides.

    I do not envy you or your colleagues in having to take this decision but, as ever, let us found our response on evidence and not on sounding tough when in fact we may not have that ability.

    As ever,

  • I share the concerns of Vince on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the horror these have brought to innocent civillians. I also fully endorse the ‘tests’ or criteria the UK Government should meet before taking part in such action.

    However I do believe we also have to ask the question as to whether military force will result in an escalation of violence from those that will simply view this as a further example of western military imperialism. This has to be weighed up.

    Inteligence on the ground and through satellite surveilance are aware where there are stockpiles of chemical weapons. I would ask that UN backed inspections with the co-operation of the Russians and the international community (and not just Donald Trump) and the destruction of these stockpiles under supervision of a UN inspectorate. For this there has to be a strictly adhered to timeframe.

    I also believe the west has to up its efforts to take more Syrian refugees, if only until the conflict is eventually resolved.

    I’m strongly of the opinion we do not have to jump to the tune of May or Corbyn or Donald Trump, but instead come up with a reasoned response which can definitely show we care about lasting peace and not a reaction which will possibly lead to an escalation of violence.

  • During World War 2 Archibald Sinclair served as Secretary of State for Air in the coalition government. As Secretary for Air, he worked with the RAF in planning the Battle of Britain. Towards the end of the war he found himself at odds with Churchill, arguing against Bomber Harris’s strategy for the Bombing of Dresden

    One of the little known WWII air campaigns was the dropping of copies of the 1942 Beveridge plan for a post-war welfare state on Nazi Germany to demoralise the population in an audacious propaganda exercise.
    Propaganda was an important tool during the war with 6,000,000 leaflets dropped on Germany during the first week of the conflict blaming Hitler on the outbreak of hostilities. Copies of Beveridge’s report were said to have been found in Hitler’s Berlin bunker after the fall of Nazi Germany.

    Leaflets and social media postings may not deter the Assad Regime or its Russian and Iranian backers from continuing breaches of the Chemical weapons convention in the way that military action can. They may just, however, give some hope that a better world and a United Nations determined to protect civilians from war crimes and genocide is not an altogether impossible dream.

  • @ Joe B “One of the little known WWII air campaigns was the dropping of copies of the 1942 Beveridge plan for a post-war welfare state on Nazi Germany to demoralise the population in an audacious propaganda exercise.”

    Evidence from the National Archives please. The RAF certainly dropped leaflets on Kiel in the 1939 phoney war period – but in 1943 ? Don’t believe all you read in the Daily Mail.

    Given Bomber Command had the highest casualty rate of any arm of the forces (55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action, and 9,838 became prisoners of war) – it seems highly unlikely Sinclair would risk precious crews solely on dropping the Beveridge Report (which itself was not supported by Churchill).

    Dad was an RAF pilot (Fighter Command) and he would have regarded such a use of aircrew as totally unacceptable, and incidentally there’s no mention of this in Gerard De Groot’s biography of Archie Sinclair – and Professor De Groot had access to the Sinclair family papers..

  • David Raw,

    the source for the Daily Mail article is the 2014 book “The Fourth Revolution” by The Economist’s editor in chief, John Micklethwait, and its management editor, Adrian Wooldridge

    There is a copy of a leaflet penned by Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris available online that is reported to have been dropped in the spring of 1942

    “..we are bombing Germany heavily. Why are we doing so? It is not revenge — though we do not forget Warsaw, Belgrade, Rotterdam, London, Plymouth and Coventry. We are bombing Germany, city by city, and even more terribly, in order to make it impossible for you to go on with the war. That is our object. We shall pursue it remorselessly.
    … it is up to you to end the war and the bombing. You can overthrow the Nazis and make peace. It is not true that we plan a peace of revenge. That is a German propaganda lie. But we shall certainly make it impossible for any German Government to start a total war again. And is not that as necessary in your own interests as in ours?”

  • David Raw,

    seems leaflets were used extensively over Japan in the summer of 1945. General Curtis LeMay, commander of the XXI Bomber Command, part of the Twentieth Air Force, ordered the dropping of leaflets purporting to reduce the needless killing of innocent people. One of the leaflets dropped on targeted Japan’s cities, with the text on the back, read:
    “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or a friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories, which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique that they are using to prolong this useless war. Unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s well-known humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives.
    America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique, which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace, which America will bring, will free the people from the oppression of the Japanese military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan.
    You can restore peace by demanding new and better leaders who will end the War.
    We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked, but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”
    I expect your Dad would not have been happy at putting aircrew at risk in these missions. But it is war and you have to follow the orders of your commanding officer like it or not.

  • Well, neither Vince nor Corbyn got a chance to ask any questions (even Blair and Cameron went to parliament). But, far more importantly, neither did the inspectors who were supposed to verify the truth of Saturday’s chemical attack…
    Rush to war or what? May’s speech, ” after the event, sounds much like Blair’s Iraq reasoning….

  • Joe Japan is a long way from Berlin in a Lancaster – or even for a Flying Fortress from the mighty US of A.

  • Ps thanks , but I did know the source of the Mail story

  • David Raw,

    in this day and age I doubt that aircrew or bombers would be risked for leaflet drops, more likely a squadron of specially adapted drones.

  • Mick Taylor 14th Apr '18 - 9:02pm

    In her haste to appease Trump, Mrs May has ignored parliament. So much for democracy. Bombing targets in Syria will solve nothing and will increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK.
    I once again urge Vince to have nothing to do with this foolish venture.

  • Nick Collins 17th Apr '18 - 2:48pm

    Excellent speech by Vince Cable in the House of Commons a few minutes ago.

  • I share many of the concerns here, but take issue with John Marriot’s characterisation of Syria. This was, before its descent into chaos, a relatively advanced and well-educated country – as was Iraq before Saddam. To characterise the religions of the area as being at a similar stage to medieval Christianity is patronising (though of course, there were good things about medieval Christianity).

    As for the point about Western responsibility for the carve-up of the Middle East, undoubtedly Britain and France did carve the area up after the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was a corpse by then, but before the war it had, like Tsarist Russia, been making rapid steps towards reform and economic development. While the frontiers drawn by the Western powers were artificial, it’s not obvious they could have done much better, except perhaps to have created a Kurdish state and not to have disturbed the relatively successful balance the Turks had kept between different religions in Jerusalem. Similar difficulties occurred in the Balkans after the retreat of the Turks from that area: where an empire has ruled for a long time, traditional boundaries become less relevant and people move around within the empire. Then when the empire collapses, people can argue about which historical boundaries should be used and there are always people on the wrong side of the border.

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