Message to Cameron on Syria: Don’t Go There!

Whose side is he on? I don't know.  You don't know.  Cameron doesn't know.

Whose side is he on? I don’t know. You don’t know. Cameron doesn’t know.

There is absolutely no question that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is an appalling development, and an affront to basic human rights.  It is shocking.  And there is little doubt in my mind, based on the news coverage (I have no inside track) that the Assad régime is responsible.  Despite the line taken by Moscow, and by a number of well-meaning letter-writers in national newspapers, I don’t think that a nerve gas attack, and the numerous videos, on the scale we have seen, could or would have been set up by the rebels.

So the headlines are screaming that an attack on Syria is due within 48 hours, by the US, UK and France (Germany has indicated it doesn’t want to join in).

The UK government (or at least the Tory side) is gung-ho.  Again.  Cameron, with Hague not far behind, has said “We cannot stand idly by” in the face of this atrocity. Yet all the indications I have  suggest that the British public, and many of their MPs, have serious reservations.  I rarely agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I see that even he has urged caution.

I Tweeted this morning Cameron on Syria: “We cannot stand idly by”.  Yes we can, Dave.  And perhaps we should.  Here’s why.

I believe that any engagement by British forces should satisfy a number of criteria.  Is there a clear and immediate threat to this country?  Do we have a clear objective?  Do we have a reasonable prospect of achieving that objective?  If achieved, can we be sure that the outcome for Britain will be better than doing nothing – and significantly better, to justify inevitable costs and losses?  Are the potential downsides, and the consequences of possible failure, tolerable?  Is there an exit strategy?

It’s not clear to me that a Syrian adventure satisfies any one of those criteria, let alone all of them.  And we don’t reach that conclusion in a vacuum.  On the contrary, we have our recent experience in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya, to inform our judgement.  I don’t think anyone would argue that we’ve made things a whole lot better in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the jury is still out on Libya.  British forces, however, are not yet out of Afghanistan, after ten long years.

But aren’t the gas attacks in Syria too much to tolerate?  Don’t we have a moral duty to go in? (I seem to hear you ask, or at least to hear William Hague ask).  OK.  And what about the atrocious position of Southern Rhodesia (alright, Zimbabwe, if you must)?  There at least we have the argument of our responsibility as the former Colonial Power.  Or what about the Kafka-esque police state of North Korea, where deaths and abuse of human rights exceed even the Syrian scale, and where there is a nuclear threat, if not to the UK, then at least to friendly countries in the region?

Where do we stop?  If things go from bad to worse in Egypt, will it be boots-on-the-ground in Cairo?  You could even imagine the current trouble in Turkey turning to armed confrontation between Islamists and the Army.  So Istanbul next stop?

We talk glibly about arming “the good guys” amongst the rebels in Syria.  Yet we have a fast-moving situation with many competing groups, more or less Islamist, some indigenous, some sponsored by external countries or terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda.  It is risible to imagine that we can arm one group without arming others, or that we can somehow control the ownership and use of the arms in a war zone.

What we have in fact is a proxy Islamist civil war between Sunni and Shi’ite, fought out in Syria (and to an extent Lebanon), but involving much of the Middle East as surrogate combatants.  There is no way we can resolve those centuries-old divisions with a few hundred Tomahawk missiles.  We may have honourable intentions, but by going in and bombing, with inevitable “collateral damage”, we feed the Islamist narrative that the West hates Muslims and wants to kill them (and to steal their oil, as they usually add).  It’s a bit like using a sledge-hammer to repair a watch.

Let’s stay out.  I don’t want to see any British soldier die merely to enable Cameron and Hague to enjoy a warm feeling of moral rectitude.

This morning, Thursday, Cameron seems to be backing down. Maybe he read my blog.

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22 Responses to Message to Cameron on Syria: Don’t Go There!

  1. Graham Brown says:

    Hear Hear! Why oh why do British prime ministers regularly feel the need to justify their existence by sending our valuable soldiers and spending our valuable tax money on foreign conflicts?

    • David says:

      Yesterday I heard blair supports action there, he still has not learnt anything eh.

      I fully support your views here Roger, another fine piece.

  2. David Graves–Moore says:

    Roger is right, although I am not so sure that it is impossible for the rebels being the culprits. What benefit would Assad’s forces derive from such an attack, since it was known that it might well trigger outside intervention ? Just as likely is the possibility that a rebel group decided that using gas was a good way of putting the blame on Assad and achieveing their aim of securing western involvement.

    It astonishing that Cameron is again contemplating another Tony Blair–style adventure. Has nothing been learnt from the experiences of the second Iraq war, Afghanistan and Libya ? We expend vast amounts of money and squander the lives of our own people to achieve what ? Can anyone seriously claim that any ot those three countries is better off for our intervention ? Iraq and Libya are both more likely to harbour terrorist than they were before, while Afghanistan seems to face the prospect of a return to the status quo.

    Very few people can fail to sympathise with the innocent victims of the Syrian civil war, but Britain cannot and should not pose as the policeman of the world. We have not the resources, and neither can we achieve anything positive. What is the next logical step if an extremist regime of fanatics takes over in Syria ? Do we go back and remove them as well ?

    It is time for Britain to look after its own people and its own interests. That is, or should be, the reason for having defence forces: to DEFEND Britain.

  3. neilfutureboy says:

    Much of your reasoning there fits the late medieval definition of just war & if it was good enough for St Thomas Aquinas….

    I am much less convinced than you that this was carried out by Assad. Partly the apparent posting of videos by our al Quaeda allies before it allegedly happened; partly technical stuff like the victim’s eyes not dilating which suggests it was some poison other than the nerve gas the government has; partly that we got 10 years of atrocity stories from the “moderate” genocidal ex-Nazis and al Quaeda allies we were supporting in the Yugoslav wars which in some cases were false, in most others no evidence was subsequently found; and partly because our media pushed these false stories & made up their own such as ITN’s “accidentally” faked concentration camp video in a way reminiscent of what they are doing now.

    Repeatedly, at ever decreasing intervals we have, to quote an American insider, decided to “take some shitty little country and throw it against the wall”. It is only months since Cameron was saying we had to bomb Mali because if our al Quaeda enemies took Timbuktoo (as we helped them take Libya) they would shortly reach Europe’s capitals, Repeatedly we were rushed into doing so because there was allegedly no time. Repeatedly the alleged reasons look threadbare in retrospect. Repeatedly we have left the country broken and far more murderous than when we got there. Repeatedly our allies/hirelings have turned out to be far more corrupt and murderous than our self chosen enemies (eg the KLA).

    Wars are often a way of getting public support (Galtieri was certainly a case in point) but the increasing tempo of aggression looks like a junky needing an ever stronger fix.

    UKIP have opposed all the wars in question (Afghanistan was, however pointless now, initially self defence) and since it looks like this time the LudDims will not reprise their one honourable opposition – Iraq – I hope we will see one party making an honourable stand.

  4. Martin Dixon says:

    There has been too much killing in Syria already. Why do we want to get involved, which will only result in more killing, as well as perhaps making new enemies without turning old ones into friends. We really have no business in Syria.
    Killing is killing, and is always wrong. How the killing is done is very secondary. But at the very least we should make sure we know for certain what happened and who is responsible before we even consider what to do about it. And even then, the preferred option should almost certainly be do nothing.

  5. Me_Again says:

    Many write ‘What is Assad’s benefit from a chemical attack in such an extraordinary way on his own capital city?’ A place known for kicking out rebels too. There aren’t many obvious answers to that. Ask the reverse question ‘How does it benefit the so called rebels?’ More logical answers pop up straight away. False flag mean anything to anyone?

    I sincerely hope the UN inspectors are totally unbiased and that they are allowed an impartial report, any overt military activity before they even report is arrogance personified.

    Others have made so many sage points about our record of abysmal failure with middle eastern intersessions. But lastly, since lord knows when, they’ve been hacking at our defence budget with an oversized machete and it seems every other week ask the surviving members of our armed forces for more, more, more. If I was still in the service I’d be more inclined to pop a few tomahawks into Westminster rather than Syria as it is quite plain who our enemies are.

    • neilfutureboy says:

      I wrote a letter on this to a number of newspapers which, I believe was as well reasoned as normal, but has not been published by any. If there are a number of well meaning letter writers actually getting published I can only assume that by an overwhelming majority, letters submitted oppose war.

      • Me_Again says:

        That’s where we fall foul of editorial policy. Sod the truth or the opinion of the real people

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    Saddam Hussein used poison gas on the marsh Arabs just after the first Gulf War. Nothing was done about that.
    Roger, you are – as frighteningly often – right. The casual announcement by “Dr” John Reid over Afghanistan where he said our soldiers would not actually fight but just train the Afghans shocked me much more than Tony’s lies and the suspect death of Dr Kelly.
    Who put us in charge of Syria, I wonder? How would we feel in Northern Ireland if the Americans/Syrians had walked in and cruise-missiled Belfast?

    Have they not heard? We lost our Empire some 50 years ago?

    PS An even more frightening development for the future is Jose Manuel Barroso’s talk, oft repeated, about a joint European Force. At the moment, it is just hot air, but if it ever came about under a real Commission President, perhaps facing another economic or political crisis, I shudder to contemplate what would happen.

    • Me_Again says:

      Mike, you should check out Eurogendmerie eu and their remit add them to europol with their ‘get out of jail free’ card and you have the equivalent of the FSB/KGB and the Moscow Militia.

      What these idiots in whitehall think we can achieve after they’ve pulled all our teeth out in defence cuts is beyond me. No only that but we just don’t have the right.

  7. Jane Davies says:

    Cameron and his band of millionaire buds have spent the last couple of years stealing money from pensioners and the sick on the basis that “we are all in this together” and that means making life for those at the bottom of the wealth heap suffer in “this time of austerity”. Thousands of UK senior citizens die each winter from cold related illness because the lowest pension in the EU means that they are unable to heat their homes and afford decent food. Yet all of a sudden there is the money to contemplate going into a foreign country, not to defend the UK citizens, but so that Cameron and Hague can join Blair in the history books.
    Cameron needs to address his own problems at home, one of which is the call to suspend the UK from the Commonwealth until the UK government abide by the “rules” set out in the new Commonwealth Charter in which all Commonwealth countries declare that discrimination will not be tolerated in any form. Yet the UK government still discriminate against just 4% of state pensioners who live in mainly Commonwealth countries who suffer the frozen pension scandal.

    • Me_Again says:

      He’ll be in the history books all right will ‘one term Dave’ and it won’t be as some sort of hero defending the civilians of Damascus, It will be more like Richard the Lie-onheart as the prawn who fiddled abroad whilst his homeland was raped and buggered by the EU.

  8. I too express caution and agreement with Roger. At the time of writing the UN inspectors have nowhere near finished their investigation which will in due course produce a report and I imagine apportion blame. We daren’t ‘go in’ until absolute proof is found and even if we do so, we risk a scenario that might not have an end or at least an end envisaged at this stage. What we must do is condemn, consider other punitive options but only when we know for certain that Assad is to blame. Chemical weapons are an affront to all of us but Syria is a melange of muslim splinter groups and other self-interests. It has Iran and Russia and China involved. Caution, caution.

    • cosmic says:

      As I understand it the UN inspectors will investigate the incident, report on the type of gas and the number and type of victims, the extent of the attack and so on. However, it is strictly outside its remit to apportion blame and it won’t do it.

      More generally, I simply can’t imagine what Hague and Cameron expect to achieve by military action in Syria. Recent interventions in other countries in the ME have not had toward results, for huge expense in life and money, and there’s no reason to imagine this would be different.

      • Me_Again says:

        This is also what their military advice will be. But getting your name in the history books seems a great lure to these dickheads. I wish they’d put on a uniform and try it before pushing buttons and kicking off another farce.

  9. Bugs Man says:

    An excellent piece, Roger, and one that I wholeheartedly endorse. Your point about Zimbabwe and N Korea is one I have used myself, but it almost always falls on deaf ears.

    The claim that any action would be short and sharp deserves a loud snort of derision. WW1, at the start, was predicted to be over by Christmas 1914. Similar predictions fell foul of actual outcomes in Iraq, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan (for everyone who’s ever undertaken military action there), N Ireland…..

    As for the alleged ‘certainty’ that Assad is responsible for the use of chemical weapons, I imagine that the source will have been one or more of MI6, GCHQ, CIA, NSA, in which case we’ll not be told any independently verifiable details. We are only left with one other option, and that’s the UN (for which I have precious little respect) to sanction military action. And, since Russia supports Assad, there is zero chance of that happening.

    The idea of military action by the USA, UK and France going it alone, in the face of strong opposition from Putin in Moscow, would be an act of madness.

  10. matthu says:

    Thank you for continuing to oppose this madness.

    Apart from all the other arguments, evidence of culpability that cannot be published and that fails to persuade a large component of the security council is worthless and indeed dangerous.

    • Me_Again says:

      What staggers me is that they think they have credibility.
      They think we believe their bullshit.
      They think we want the military to go in and help the civilians -whichever ones they are.
      They think they can dance on the world stage and look big by threatening war.
      They think diplomacy is grandstanding to the media whereas it is done quietly in a back room.
      They are stupid enough to think they can make things better where everyone else has failed.

      • Graham Brown says:

        Today there is a feeling that Cameron and Clegg have been acting like school bullies about to pick on somebody that would have given them a pasting. They have been saved from themselves… by none other than the sensible among their own coalition MPs and, wait for it, … Ed Millibland. On Today, Clegg stumbled his way through a supposed justification like a schoolboy who was caught cheating at chess. Does he, and indeed his partner in crime Cameron, fail to understand this is not about catapulting a few marbles at a school bully but about escalating an already horrible civil war to greater ferocity without any forward game plan. Would Assad have just stood back and accepted the bombs, even if he was guilty of the chemical attacks (not yet proven)? He might have just did it again to thumb his nose at an impudent, impotent and incompetent Cameron. Or widened his attacks from his own people to neighbouring states. Who knows, but what was clear is that the Government had not thought it through. When asked, Clegg could give no answer to the what if question… what if our Tomahawks didn’t prevent another chemical attack?

        This has exposed Cameron’s woeful judgment terribly. In a crisis, is he a man to lead? Well yes, he’d lead us into a deeper crisis. Nigel Farage/UKIP 1 Cameron/Clegg 0, I’d say.

  11. Graham Brown says:

    Oh, and the one downside of not going for an attack? The racist blabbermouth Diane Abbot is still in post. Well, she probably didn’t mean she’d resign anyway, sigh.

  12. Linda Hudson says:

    Is there peace, and less, or more terrorism in Iraq who the West has had 2 wars with, and Libya who we have used airstrikes against, with the considerable loss of civilian lives, Has the terrorists consolidated their influence in the Middle East still further, does not the Shiites, Sunni, and fundamentalist Muslim political parties not seek power for themselves, while abusing each other in the process? There’s the answer!

  13. Linda Hudson says:

    Not forgetting Afghanistan with the loss of many of the Wests military, and the loss of Afghan civilians, for what, to have the Afghan Taliban in government, in the not too distant future?

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