Vince Cable writes…Where we can all agree on Syria

The political debate on Syria has produced a bewildering array of people proceeding from the same premises to opposite conclusions and from different premises to the same conclusions.   We have an ‘anti-war’ coalition which unites Nigel Farage, David Davis, Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP, the Greens and the Mail and the ‘pro-war’ camp includes the Tory government, a sizeable chunk of the parliamentary Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Financial Times and the Indy.

At recent party events I have attended there is disquiet and confusion.  I see that two thirds of Lib Dem Voice readers oppose the British air strikes. Veterans of Iraq war marches ask why we are not marching again to recapture one of the party’s finest hours.  I share some of the confusion no longer having the benefit of participating in discussions amongst parliamentary colleagues. I have had the benefit of Cabinet-level briefings, which led me to endorse air strikes 18 months ago; but much has changed since.

It would be useful to identify a series of propositions on which I believe most reasonable people, on either side of the debate, can agree.

The first is that we are dealing with a conflict of great complexity with a constantly shifting balance of forces and alliances and numerous ethnic, confessional and ideological factions. The enemy is a hydra-headed organisation which pops up in numerous locations, is now well embedded in Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa as well as Iraq and Syria and has the capacity to mutate indefinitely. The concept of ‘victory’ as employed in the Second World War or the Falklands is almost certainly unachievable and is largely meaningless.  We must beware of armchair generals, geopolitical strategists and politicians trying to render this complexity into a simple narrative: a Clash of Civilisations (ie Christianity versus Islam), a Fight against Fascism, a War on Terror.

A second point is that there is much evil on all sides.  I buy the argument that Daesh (as we have been told to call it) is exceptionally evil because of its systematic cruelty. But it has fierce competition from the Assad regime, which has killed far more people, used chemical weapons against its own citizens and, like its former Baathist neighbour in Iraq, has practised barbaric cruelty in its prisons.   Then there are the various factions operating under the Al Quaeda franchise (which has somehow acquired the label ‘moderate’ in this war) and the Shia militia imported from Lebanon and Iraq..  This is also a proxy war which has attracted in a range of unsavoury regimes –Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran-all now, theoretically aligned against Daesh.  There aren’t too many ‘good guys’, though the Kurds are being lionised in the West even if not by their neighbours.

With so much complexity and confusion, the public debate should be characterised by humility and open-mindedness.  That is what makes so unforgivable the crude and abusive campaigning.  There is no room in civilised discourse for the Internet trolls and the thuggish activists threatening MPs who voted for air strikes or accusing them of murdering babies.  No less disreputable is the attempt by David Cameron to smear those who oppose strikes, even in his own party, as “terrorist sympathisers”.   Shrill self-righteousness is a poor substitute for the moral high ground.

We should be able to agree that there are serious risks both to intervening and not intervening. It is simply implausible to believe that air strikes in Syria will make us safer, since there is bound to be retaliation, however clever the security services are in intercepting bombers.  But it is equally implausible that Britain can insulate itself from terrorist attacks by abstaining. We are already being  attacked as the tourist victims of bombings in Tunisia know to their cost. And the  involvement of British jihadis in the fighting means that as a country we are embroiled whether we like it or not.

We should also be able to agree that the British contribution to the military effort, while doubtless of some value, is marginal. The Americans provide the planes, the weapons and the technology.  We are not offering ‘boots on the ground’ which might make a difference but is inconceivable after Iraq and Afganistan.  In so far as a non-military person can judge, there is already an adequate supply of bombs and planes, which we are offering, relative to targets which are militarily relevant but do not put numerous civilians at risk. It seems self-evidently sensible to attack oil installations which help to finance the Islamic State and makes one wonder why no one thought of this before (or why the refinery is being left alone).  In any event, whether the British intervention is right or wrong will make little difference to the outcome of the war.

So, what should the sceptic do who is unimpressed by simplistic and emotive calls to arms or to militant pacifism? It is very tempting to say ‘no’ and to say it is all a terrible mess which we should try to steer clear of.   Having voted against the Iraq War, with my Lib Dem colleagues, I can see worrying parallels in the lack of strategic clarity and the potential for blundering into a Middle Eastern swamp with no obvious exit. I find that most of my friends and party supporters assume that my party would automatically repeat its opposition.

But there are some big differences from the Iraq war.  There is no question, here, of defying international law.  This is not about regime change (indeed we are now de facto allies of the awful Assad regime).  Saddam, however odious, was not attacking us. And we are not on the coat tails of a crass, ideologically driven, US administration. On the contrary, the Obama administration has shown admirable restraint and a marked reluctance to extend its military role.

One of the most regrettable features of the Iraq war is that it drove a large wedge between the UK and US on the one hand and, on the other, France and Germany.  On this occasion we are with our European neighbours and allies.  We are making a statement of solidarity with France, not just over recent terrorist attacks, but in the political battle to neutralise the anti-Islamic hatred being fomented on the Right.  We are also with Germany whose government has, at some political risk, courageously embraced Syrian refugees, in marked contrast to our own.  Tim Farron is quite right to link the refugee issue with the military conflict and to clearly differentiate us from the Tories.  At a time when the European project is in serious trouble,  Britain  should be part of a common European response of which the air strikes should be just one part.

* Sir Vince Cable is MP for Twickenham and was leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2017 until 2019.

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  • Thank you Vince for this, I too applaud working with our neighbours. However I remain unconvinced that our involvement in Air strikes makes much, if any, material difference, or helps hasten the end of Daesh’s human rights abuses, and genocide. Tim Farron’s focus on the refugee crisis and need for humanitarian aid and sanctuary, is the silver lining for those of us at best sceptical of the case for air strikes.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Dec '15 - 8:28pm

    First of all thanks to Lib Dem Voice for giving us notice about this article. It is always interesting to hear from Vince and especially on a subject as important as this.

    Secondly, thanks for the insightful and polite article from Vince. I have a disagreement with emphasis throughout, but I agree with its conclusion.

    For starters, I’m one of the minority of approximately 20% who feels safer after the vote. Maybe it is because I called for airstrikes and to see them not happen made me feel a bit exposed. However even though I agree the vote will bump us up the IS priority list, they should now be less able to carry out terrorist attacks, no matter how small the difference that is made.

    The point about us being de facto allies with Assad is a worrying one. I never thought that if we attack IS then we must also attack Assad to the same extent, but something more needs to be done to sanction Assad to show we are not on his side.

    There are other points worth discussing that this article raises, but I’ll leave those points to others.

  • James Sheerin 6th Dec '15 - 9:07pm

    I’m afraid this is just a wringing of hands. Unless we can identify an achievable objective by bombing we are just contributing to evil and misery

  • Tony Dawson 6th Dec '15 - 9:46pm

    A thoughtful piece, as ever, from Vince C.

    What I do not accept, however, is the idea of ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’ groupings.

    There is no war. The ‘west'(sic) have been playing at it but clearly have never had any intent on using air power to eradicate ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, let alone Syria, partly because they know this is impossible given the level of ground troop support they had (and refusing to commthat the US are far fromit their own) and partly because of the ‘recruiting sergeant’ effect of this action which ISIL clearly relishes. Nor have the efforts of the ‘west’ here been civilian casualty free. I do not know for sure about the U’K air strikes in particular but recognise free of what they sickeningly call ‘collateral damage.

    It is far from clear whether the terrorist cells in Europe, the USA etc either use nor need any ‘base’ in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere. It would appear that they can source (and hide) their personnel, cash and arms in any of these countries that they operate in.

    The Russians (and the Turks who may switch sides at any time) are the only people who are serious about a war and it is clear that they are serious about a war in which Assad topples both ISIL and the Free Syrian Army. They don’t appear too bothered about in which order these two enemies are obliterated. They know well that fatally damaging one makes it easier for Assad to turn his attentions on the other and then return to greater murder, torture and oppression of his own people while sustaining the Russin naval and air bases.

    THE ‘west’ on the other hand appear to have been wanting to create a murderous stalemate between ISIL and Assad just as they previously did for years between Sadaam Hussain and the Iranian Shi-ites. Indeed,the suggestion that the USA fostered the original ISI Caliphate as a buffer against out-of-control expansion of Iranian-backed Shi-ites in Iraq is less than far-fetched, mirroring as it does their earlier backing of Bin Laden’s gang against Afghan communists and the Soviets. The trouble is that Russian intervention has put the whoe shebang out of the US’ It is complicated by the US now deciding that perhaps the Iranian government arent quite as bad as they once said th at they were, thus infuriatiing the forces of international Zionists along the way.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Dec '15 - 9:49pm

    I disagree with Vince Cable that when there is uncertainty or the arguments are finally balanced, that adding to the bombing of Syria has any place in our response.

    Primum non nocere. – Above all, do no harm.

  • Having watched the speech in the Syria debate of the Tory who defeated Vince I would like to think that the voters of Twickenham are feeling thoroughly ashamed of themselves for what they did on May 7th.

  • John Laband 6th Dec '15 - 10:01pm

    So as I expected our motivation is just about adopting a pose with our neighbours and with a sense of not wanting to be left out. Where does that get us? What good does it do? Why don’t we really try and help by searching for and spending our resources on a diplomatic solution and a proper humanitarian effort. Try to win the battle for hearts and minds instead of taking sides and alienating the civilian population. Why do we continue to provide arms to probably all sides? Because war is a business. A disgusting mess that we have our snouts well and truly embeded in.

  • Tim Johnson 6th Dec '15 - 11:09pm

    So, a clear account of the issues, all leanng against bombing, as sugar on the pill, followed by a quick reversal to a yes vote on an appeal to European solidarity, presumably chosen as the issue LibDems are most likely to swallow.
    Well, I’m not going to take this medication. For a start, the comparable case for me is not Iraq, but Afghanistan. The argument for intervention there after 9/11 was much stronger than for Iraq – the Taliban did provide a base and safe harbour for Al Qaeda. But experience since then has shown that the world would be much better off today if Bush had chosen diplomacy and sanctions rather than bombs as his main weapon for defeating terrorism. Without the invasion of Afghanistan we would probably have a better based and more effective government there today and, perhaps even more important, Pakistan would be much more stable.
    If Britain stood aside from the bombing we could make a stronger contribution to diplomacy and the voices of moderation, not least in out own Muslim community. That would do more to make our own streets safe than anything else, and increase our wider influence if anything,

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Dec '15 - 11:29pm

    John Laband – ‘Because war is a business. A disgusting mess that we have our snouts well and truly embeded in.’

    In that sentence who is, ‘we.’

    ‘Try to win the battle for hearts and minds instead of taking sides and alienating the civilian population.’

    Look, I’d like peace as much as the next man, but very frankly the people in the region are not all going to wake up one day and subscribe to your world view. We are some way from rainbows and unicorns. Now I’m sure you know this, fair enough. But let’s at least recognise that, ‘hearts and minds,’ runs the risk of being little more than cant.

  • John Roffey 7th Dec '15 - 12:07am

    “The first is that we are dealing with a conflict of great complexity ”

    That certainly is the case – but not necessarily in the way that VC suggests!

    BREAKING: Russia’s Huge Announcement That Will Change The War

  • John Roffey 7th Dec '15 - 12:10am

    The above seems to be supported by the legendary John Pilger

  • This is probably the closest article to my own stance on this. It’s refreshing to read something that I can relate to, being from an Int. Politics background. I am on the ‘no’ side, as I weight some of what Vince says here far less heavily (I personally feel it’s not actually all that relevant that our allies are going in – the choice has to be made in the case of British interests) and some far more (the fact that this puts us in an impossible situation in regards to Syria’s future, and seems more and more likely that we’ll cave in and allow Assad to remain in post if we are to have any outright chance of victory).

    My overarching belief is, though, that Vince’s point about IS being a mutating hydra is the best reason why we should not be performing these retaliatory attacks. I fear that focusing on defeating IS in Syria is not going to happen – because it’s the completely wrong route to destroying them, which lies in diplomacy and rigorous counter-terrorism operations. I worry that dragging us into Syria will compromise that.

  • A thoughtful summation of the different strands of the various arguments for and against military action.
    However. I’m not convinced that standing with Franc is a good enough argument for getting bogged down in another conflict with no coherent strategy. Also we stood with France in Libya and it didn’t turn out well. The reality is that Cameron wanted to destabilise and remove Assad in 2013 and we are now bombing in a sovereign country uninvited with mixed motives to aid more phantom moderates even though they failed to materialise in any of our other muddleheaded recent ME misadventures.

  • Stephen Yolland
    No shortage of Daesh videos on the internet of innocents being beheaded, (Did you see the one where a chain had been wraped around the necks?) throats cut or men being burnt alive.
    There are no easy answers.

  • I liked Obama’s Oval Office speech .

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Dec '15 - 4:06am

    People keep mentioning Libya. We need to revisit it. The state of Iraq and Libya today continues to undermine confidence in our foreign policy.

    Naturally, we should care about these things anyway, but there is a good national interest case in re-building these countries too. Arguably it is imperative.

    I’m not suggesting another military intervention in Libya at this stage. But maybe we can give more financial aid to the Libyan government and charities focused in the country?

    Apparently there have been positive developments recently that could see a single government and elections within two years:

  • Eddie Sammon. ‘People keep mentioning Libya’.
    Mr Cable voted for the intervention in Libya and should be ashamed of that. All it did was create death, destruction and chaos where Daesh is now flourishing. They are taking control of areas so I do not see the positive developments you do and I doubt Daesh will have elections! The announcement of elections is a desperate one. Read the article in the Independent ‘ Bombed in Syria, Isil’s new base is now Libya’. Looks like the bombing will restart there. Of course Daesh are now in Afghanistan and taking over the Taliban. Arms dealers must be salivating, lots of money but is that not what it is all about in the ME? Countries that were once secular are now fractured and run by religious extremists. How many died under Saddam and Gadaffi and how many since by the West? If we topple these why not the house of Saud with therir mass beheadings and stoning of women? The hypocrisy of the west is disgusting.

  • I decided to quit the party over this vote. For me it is not finely balanced. Bombing will definitely strengthen the terrorists, ISIS is adept with propaganda and social media. There are better ways to degrade and disrupt them. Farron has learned nothing from Libya, Iraq etc.The RAF has flown missions over Northern Iraq more or less continuously since the early 90s and it has become an ISIS stronghold, bombing is not the answer.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Dec ’15 – 4:06am…………..People keep mentioning Libya. We need to revisit it. The state of Iraq and Libya today continues to undermine confidence in our foreign policy…………….Naturally, we should care about these things anyway, but there is a good national interest case in re-building these countries too. Arguably it is imperative……….I’m not suggesting another military intervention in Libya at this stage. But maybe we can give more financial aid to the Libyan government and charities focused in the country?……………..

    In the wake of Gaddafi’s removal Cameron visited Libya not once,but twice, to promise all help necessary in rebuilding their country…
    Sadly, like most of his promises that, like ‘faerie gold’, vanished in the morning…..The money spent on such promises doesn’t have the same appeal on his CV as the ‘Shock and Awe’ of Brimstone missiles….

  • Stephen Yolland:
    Three simple answers?
    1) As few as possible (unlike Daesh, for whom the answer would be ‘as many as possible’)
    2) Because Assad was no threat to us, for a start.
    3) We won’t, we can only make informed judgements on the basis of the information available which will not be perfect, or even close. Military action is by it’s nature like that: messy and brutal. But not as brutal in this instance, as the alternative: allowing Islamic fundamentalists to rake in cash from black-market oil, to fund murderous attacks around the world.
    (In fact I happen to be against, too, but only on balance. There are arguments on both sides – and the case for acting against Daesh is a strong one, backed by most of the international community, unlike Iraq.)

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Dec '15 - 11:02am

    Vince Cable speaks of a ‘sizeable chunk ‘ of the Labour Party being in the ‘pro-war’ camp.

    I think it is to the credit of the Labour Party that, even with a free vote, the vast majority did not vote for the bombing in Syria.

    I am grateful that one party leader, and the majority of MPs in his party spoke for people like myself. (Nigel Farage’s one MP did not.)

  • David Allen 7th Dec '15 - 3:54pm

    Tim Johnson,

    “So, a clear account of the issues, all leanIng against bombing, as sugar on the pill, followed by a quick reversal to a yes vote on an appeal to European solidarity, presumably chosen as the issue LibDems are most likely to swallow.
    Well, I’m not going to take this medication.”

    Yes. We’ve been fed this diet of pap consistently throughout the Coalition years. The refrain has always been much the same. We are intelligent, leftish, liberal people of great human worth, and we have a nuanced and humanitarian understanding which is infinitely superior in both moral and intellectual terms to anything those stupid Tories could possibly conceive of. Nevertheless, there are subtle clinching arguments which, on just this one occasion, show us that the best option will in fact be to align ourselves with what the Tories are doing. With, of course, plenty of meaningless caveats and paper reservations. Oh, and we will make a real stand for liberal values, next time.

    I hoped that new leadership would put paid to this stuff. It seems not. Could it be that the puppeteers who hold the purse strings are all still in place?

    Nick Clegg never really looked like a puppet. His song and dance act was all his own. When Nick spoke up for Tory values, you couldn’t detect any jerky arm movements when his strings got pulled.

    I fear that Tim’s leadership act may get to look rather less natural. After the “five tests” speech, the sudden decision to vote in favour has all the hallmarks of a violent raising of the right arm by an external controller. Cable’s article, which basically argues that it’s just natural for one’s right arm to shoot skyward at the last moment, does not actually do much to dispel the impression that it is all a puppet show.

  • Jayne
    There is a difference between a pacifist position and an anti-war position.
    STWC published a story on their website titled “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”.This story was soon taken down and STWC issued an apology.
    I don’t think the views of STWC represent the views of a majority of people in the UK.

  • Vince Cable – “Daesh … has fierce competition from the Assad regime, which has killed far more people, used chemical weapons against its own citizens …”

    How sure are you about those chemical weapons? Circumstantial evidence around the most infamous incident – that in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta – always made it look like a false flag despite the media immediately jumping in to proclaim Assad’s culpability.

    The Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh who has unparalleled contacts in the US defence establishment looked into this and came to a sobering conclusion.

    “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.”

    Bob Rigg, a chemical weapons expert references opposition Turkish MPs who say the sarin came from Turkey and noting that the ‘rebels’ have form when it comes to CWs.

  • It is frequently claimed that Assad has killed more people than Daesh and that may well be true (although I am cautious about such definitive statements when they come out of a war zone). But is it the right question? Does the context change things?

    Surely, it is more important to know how many each has the ambition to kill? On that point there is no contest. Daesh aims to commit ‘genocide’ (not quite the right word) and kill anyone who doesn’t support their extreme fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam. That’s around 2.5 million Alawites in Syria plus various other groups. Should the Assad regime collapse, the sheer numbers involved would mean only a tiny minority would be able to escape. Those people probably owe Putin their lives because that collapse was very close when Russia intervened.

    Then too, the chemical weapons story (see earlier comment) plus lots of other evidence too long to detail here suggests that what is really going on in Syria is not so much a civil war between Assad and assorted rebels (including Cameron’s 70,000 unicorn cavalry) as a covert invasion, disguised as a rebellion, by Turkey under an Islamist president who wants to turn Syria into the first protectorate of a new Ottoman Empire. The US supports this plan as part of its own scheme to achieve global hegemony. Hence it sees Daesh as a useful tool (although it cannot afford to admit this publically) and so ‘fails to notice’ (like heck!) convoys of road tankers stretching to the horizon over open desert until embarrassed into noticing by Russia – and even then US attacks on them have been desultory.

    So, if it’s a covert invasion who is to blame for those deaths? Assad for defending his country or those that invaded it? I submit Assad is a run-of-the-mill dictator. Nasty certainly, but not materially different than many others the West has no trouble working with.

  • Peter Jones 7th Dec '15 - 5:44pm

    There is a perfectly good case to be made against Britain joining in the bombing of IS in Syria (whether it’s right is another matter), but it is only logical if you simultaneously oppose our role in bombing IS in Iraq, which we’ve been doing for over a year now. And by extension, that would mean opposing all the allied bombing of IS in both countries. Which then leads us to the question – where would IS be in both countries by now without any bombing?

  • Peter Jones.
    No it doesn’t logically follow. What other countries do is up to other countries. I’m not against removing ISIS I’m against British involvement and the continuation of policies that lead to the rise of ISIS and are plainly not working. To be blunt, I’ve come to the conclusion that our involvement in the ME is a series of inept disasters with no military or political coherence. We in short are part of the problem because we have a proven record of causing more damage to the situation than we are capable of solving and our presence is nothing but a pointless exercise in tokenism. IMO this combination political failure and doing something simply to be seen to do something means maybe we need to stop interfering ASAP. Sure the RAF will do the job it is given to do to the best of its ability, but realistically the action is being guided by politics rather than strategic sense.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Dec '15 - 11:11am

    @ Manfarang,
    I don’t doubt that the views of Stop the War do not reflect the views of the majority, that is why I think that they, and other protest groups have an important role to play in our democracy.

    The appalling comments that appeared in a blog on their site was taken down, according to them, because it did not reflect the views of the organisation either. I certainly hope so.

    I looked at their website when there was a move to join airstrikes in Libya. I wanted to check alternative perspectives on what was being planned.

    That someone can write the comments that you mention reinforces what we already know, there are some pretty sick people out there. If the website has an editor, the trustees , or whoever runs the website needs to take him/her to task. There are weak minded people out there who absorb this sort of claptrap uncritically, or worse, find it music to their ears.

  • John Beddow 8th Dec '15 - 11:01pm

    The Liberal Democrats have failed to grasp the political initiative and speak out against bombing as a tool of peace . Has Syria not suffered enough after years of Assad now Russia ,USA ,France et al?
    What possible good can British jets and missiles do that hasn’t been done already? The astonishing rapid attack and assumed destruction of oil terminals presumably missed after twelve months of American and French bombing is the kind of revelation that we learned during the Falkland campaign to take with a very large pinch of salt!!
    The civilian deaths will not need to be recorded as we know how accurate the RAF is with the amazing weapons they seem to have at their disposal.
    Vince Cables intervention and characteristic hand wringing offered nothing new and merely attempted to shore up Tim Farrons position after such a poor speech in the Commons.
    Having been along standing supporter of the party I’m afraid my loyalty had been exhausted! Having taken the medicine for five years I was hoping for something better not more of the same.
    Undoubtedly a difficult decision but as Charles Kennedy showed in the past, real leadership requires a broad vision rather than repeating the mistakes of the past .

  • Jonathan Brown 9th Dec '15 - 1:30am

    Overall, a very good article – thanks Vince. I too would have voted against air strikes because I think there are too many flaws with Cameron’s (lack of a) strategy and because we ought to be using a No Bombing Zone to place the protection of civilians at the heart of our aims ( but there are no easy answers to this complex mess.

    @Janet King – the Financial Times had a good article about the Assad regime’s extensive oil links with ISIS:

    @Gordon – you should have a thorough read of this: which thoroughly discredits the ‘false flag’ argument about the gas attacks.

    Not that you need evidence to do so as the theory makes no sense even on its own terms: why would people asking for western support keep attacking themselves over and over again? Why, having ‘trapped’ Assad into a commitment to disarm, wouldn’t they launch another ‘false flag’ attack to demonstrate that he wasn’t complying? Why would the anti-western groups like Nusra, who have always opposed intervention, want to lure the west in anyway? And why, if any of these opposition groups was sick enough to actually carry out chemical weapon attacks on their own neighbourhoods, wouldn’t they be willing to use these weapons against the regime they are fighting against?

  • Richard Underhill 9th Dec '15 - 9:26am

    Vince Cable | Sun 6th December 2015 – 8:00 pm Vince Cable was on the Today Programme on 9/12/2015. We need more of that. The part I heard was about the economy. He said that there is a lot to do in terms of investing in infrastructure in the UK and making good use of low interest rates, which the Chancellor is not doing. (Flash player needed),
    He also commented on China, which has different issues from the UK.

  • Jonathan Brown – You ask “why would people asking for western support keep attacking themselves over and over again?”

    Did you read what I wrote earlier? Of course they didn’t “attack themselves” as you put it. The evidence suggests that they were the unfortunate pawns in a dirty and cynical war.

    You may remember that at the time the US was gagging for an excuse to take out Assad and had said that any use of sarin would be a “red line”. So anyone who wanted to involve the US was strongly incentivized to stage a gas attack to draw them in. Conversely, Assad would have been mad to do so.

    At the same time, as my second earlier link to Bob Rigg records, Al Nusra had already been implicated in a gas attack and their militants had been separately caught with sarin. It seems the US used its influence to muddy the water on these incidents – certainly the media has failed to join the dots convincingly.

    All this poses two questions. (a) Why didn’t the US in fact attack once their “red line” had apparently been crossed? (b) Who wanted to involve the Americans and had the capacity to do so?

    Hersh reports that the US discovered it was in fact a false flag operation. Given the furore around the Iraq ‘dodgy dossier’ that would have made any intervention far too politically dangerous however much Obama wanted to attack Assad. Further, as Hersh also reports suspicion rests on Turkey who certainly would have the capacity. As for motive (and here we much speculate a little) it is likely that Erdogan calculated that the US would be happy to let their ally, Turkey, supply its troops for the ground campaign leaving him in de facto charge of Syria. He has since moved troops into northern Iraq so his expansionary aims cannot be in doubt.

    As for sources, you cite Bellingcat – a.k.a. Eliot Higgins – a former admin clerk turned blogger who, since he was made unemployed in 2012, has worked from home using YouTube evidence to ‘prove’ that Assad was responsible. Hersh is multi-award winning (including a Pulitzer Prize) investigative reporter with outstanding contacts throughout the US defence establishment and a track record of major scoops. His account is consistent with a credible motive (see paragraph 3 above) and with other reputable sources (the Bob Rigg link above) whereas Bellingcat’s is not.

    Who do you believe?

  • Greg Simpson 9th Dec '15 - 4:59pm

    This disposition almost perfectly encapsulates my own conclusions about this – thanks for articulating so well Vince.

    Only additional point is extending UK airstrikes to Syria, deal with incoherence of operating in only one part of the battlespace.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Dec '15 - 11:31am

    Vince Cable was on BBC1 Question Time on 10/12/2015 and on the BBC I-Player for 30 days. The Question Time audience consists of people who have taken the trouble to be there, and are usually well informed and interested in news, current affairs and politics. They are balanced for the BBC in several ways. Increasingly the chairman asks for the views of members of the audience before asking all, or any, of the panellists.
    Vince Cable answered the questions asked, as he had done when in the Commons, which necessitates listening to the question. LDV bloggers may wish to comment on the BBC
    Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, was also on the panel. He said that he had been in the chamber for the vote. This should be taken literally. He is recorded as having voted. As a member of the Cabinet he must be a busy man. He had told the Sunday Politics, South-East region, that he would “support the Prime Minister”, He was asked why the Tories had a whipped vote. If anyone can understand his answer please say. It may be that he is too polite to have an opinion on the Labour Leader, or the Labour Leader’s opinions. Maybe he watched some of the debate on TV, but every MP is responsible for how he or she voted, whether there was a whip or not, and whether s/he voted with other members of the same party, or not. That is accountability.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Dec '15 - 1:32pm

    Vince Cable was on the Daily Politics earlier this week. He said that people who had previously voted for him had been frightened of a government led by Ed Miliband and had gone back to the Tories. Vince Cable was also on Newsnight on 16/12/2015, commenting on Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
    He was paired by a newspaper earlier in the year with Green MP Caroline Lucas . He was polite to her. She was rude about him. She did not say whether she would stand in the next leadership election in the Green Party, but their general election strategy failed. Perhaps Vince Cable could invite her to dance, and ask her.

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