Yesterday was Parliament’s nadir

30th August, 2013 9:20 am

It was a gruesome split screen moment. Just as it became clear that Parliament had voted against giving itself the option to consider military action, a harrowing news report was aired on the BBC. Twitter was erupting with a mixture of MPs gloating at their opponents’ embarrassment, self-congratulation at a ‘great day for parliamentary democracy’, and debates about what this meant for who was up and who was down as a result of the day’s shenanigans. At the same time we were seeing the aftermath of strike on a school. Yes, a school. It was an indiscriminate attack with what appeared to be a ‘napalm-like’ substance and it was perpetrated by Bashar Al-Assad’s troops. If this was democracy at its best, I’d hate to see it at its worst.

The arguments against intervention are well made. Outcomes are uncertain, no strategy for engagement has been properly expressed within the UK or the US and France, and the legal basis for intervention is not clear without a UN Security Council Resolution. International law absolutely has been breached as was argued yesterday.  In my view, that justifies a proportionate military response. But I do understand the arguments against- recent history encourages humility.

All these arguments were heard in Parliament yesterday but that is not what explains the outcome. What really happened was a failure of political leadership across the board to work in a constructive fashion when the world from Damascus to Moscow to Washington was watching. Much has been made of the Government rebellion. It was negligible when compared to the Iraq War vote: thirty-nine rebels against one hundred and thirty-nine back in 2003. The difference was that the opposition voted against. This wasn’t a vote to engage in military action but the comparison is still instructive. The leadership of the two main parties failed to work together at a critical national and international moment. Now they will blame each other. Both bear the responsibility.

The relationship between senior players in the parties is shockingly bad. Cameron acts with haughty disdain. Labour is happy to impugn motives. The language that is strewn around is despicable. The body language is revealing – and appallingly bad. Now we’ve seen the consequences of failing to put political and personal differences to one side in pursuit of a greater good. There were easy ways to combine both the Government and opposition motions but instead they ploughed their separate furrows.

All this has enormous external consequences. Most importantly, the one unequivocal victor out of yesterday is Bashar Al-Assad. The coalition that was coming together against him has fractured. Any chance of getting agreement in the UN Security Council – vanishingly small already – have disappeared. The pressure is off China and Russia now. They will hide behind the British Parliament now. Obama will come under more intense domestic pressure. That he is a second term President may insulate him but still this makes the pathway to intervention – and taking on Assad’s cruelty – fraught. All these angles seemed to be completely missed in yesterday’s great day for democracy.

For Britain, it sets us on a pathway to irrelevance. The quiet life has its advantages but it makes you smaller, irrelevant, inconsequential. Make no mistake that we as a nation are far away from infallibility and we’ve made grievous errors. Yet, our values are good values. We are an important voice for humanitarian principles and freedom. Now we have muffled our voice. Our influence will be set on the wane.

For politics, and this is the least important consideration today, our leaders are now complete bystanders. It looks bad for Cameron this morning. That’s hardly surprising. He has continually shown himself to be a leader without strategy – as argued yesterday – and an arrogance which undermines him. What is certain, however, is that as events unfold over the next few days, this may all change quickly. Ed Miliband has a choice about seeking to hammer home narrow political advantage or laying out a realistic strategy for Labour’s approach to Syria. Leadership would constitute the latter.

The next stage is to wait for the UN weapons inspectors’ report. That will determine the pathway of this situation. Obama clearly wants to act. If he does so on the basis of a robust report then the hope has to be that Cameron and Miliband can work together to put right what was wrong yesterday and come up with a cross-party British approach to Syria. In so doing, they may rebuild both their own and Parliament’s reputation.

Whether you are for military intervention or against, yesterday was not a triumph for British democracy. It was its nadir. Against its own apparent will, Parliament managed to damage its humanitarian principles, undermine national interest, and remove some heat from a terrifying and brutal dictator. Britain was a nation that stood up to bullies. Today, it’s a nation that turns it back on children burning with chemical agent. Our leaders need to put right some of the damage they have done. Democracy was not at its finest yesterday. It was at its worst.

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  • trotters1957

    Blair’s heirs want another illegal war, it seems.

    • David Battley

      I wonder what the cassus belli you need is, since clear humanitarian grounds are inadequate.

    • Daniel Speight

      It seems to have touched a raw nerve of the Blairites. I don’t really understand why but I suspect by voting against military action in Syria it brings into question yet again the military action in Iraq. It’s almost like they needed a ‘positive’ vote for Cameron to show that Blair was right on Iraq. In fact Hammond was probably right when he said that Blair had poisoned the well because of Iraq, one of the few times Hammond has been able to open his mouth without making a mistake this week.

    • leslie48

      Nothing to do with the war crime by Assad of gassing 1,400 civilians!

    • $6215628

      Whatever ones view on this ,had we gone into Syria, why d’you think it would have been illegal

  • Barry

    “Parliament votes against bombing campaign = Britain now irrelevant on global stage”.

    Good argument.

  • Ben Cobley

    “For Britain, it sets us on a pathway to irrelevance.”

    I don’t think the only way of being ‘relevant’ is to drop bombs from a great height and fire cruise missiles from hundreds of miles away. This shouldn’t be our motivation.

    Myself, I would potentially be in favour of some action, but think the circumstances are altogether unfavourable on the ground (with Al Qaeda as our main allies) and there is no reason that Britain and say America alone should be taking responsibility for all the wrongs of the world. Others should be share that responsibility – others without the blood on their hands in the Middle East and wider Muslim world that we have.

    This should be made clear. The Islamist ideology that is so dominant among the world’s Muslim populations (though not so much in Syria from what I have read) make military interventions almost unimpossible for us now in these countries. We are not welcome there, let alone to drop more bombs.

    • anthonypainter

      “I don’t think the only way of being ‘relevant’ is to drop bombs from a great height and fire cruise missiles from hundreds of miles away. This shouldn’t be our motivation.”

      Which I haven’t argued. No need for straw men here.

      • Ben Cobley

        What were you arguing then?

        • anthonypainter

          Sorry, what bit of the article isn’t clear? Happy to clarify.

          • Ben Cobley

            You seemed to be arguing against us becoming “smaller, irrelevant, inconsequential” by not going to war, which would therefore seem to suggest remaining bigger, more relevant and consequential by going to war – and that would mean dropping bombs and firing missiles. That seems like straight logic to me – but maybe I’m wrong.

          • anthonypainter

            Instead of parsing and re-interpreting the piece, it’s best just to read it. Your logic above doesn’t flow at all from the actual piece. The argument is not to intervene in order to remain consequential. The argument is that it may be right to intervene (on the basis of the evidence yet to be published). Full stop. Then there is a discussion about influence. That’s why I put them in separate paras.

          • Ben Cobley

            I think my logic is just fine. In that paragraph you are regretting our waning influence as a nation as a result of not being prepared to go to war in this case. If waning influence = not dropping bombs, then maintaining/growing influence surely = dropping bombs.

          • anthonypainter

            This becoming needlessly time-consuming. Re-write it however you wish.

          • Danny

            It doesn’t take much, if any, parsing and re-interpreting. Parliament has voted against airstrikes (dropping bombs) on Syria based on the current available evidence and information.

            You believe that this “sets us on the pathway to irrelevance”.

            There are no straw men here, just some pretty poor and senseless logic.

          • Mike Homfray

            The sooner we abandon the rather pathetic fantasy of having influence the better. We have been America’s poodle . Nothing more. Ed won the leadership because many wanted a leader not stained by Iraq. He did the right thing. I don’t know any Party members who disagree.

          • leslie48

            Being America’s poodle is nothing to do with the war crime: 1,400 gassed last week.

          • Mike Homfray

            It has. They believe that the best thing to do in response is military intervention. I say its best to work for a ceasefire, because intervention is actually the first step to regime change

          • Dan Judelson

            I’ve read it twice and I think you are right about the failure of cross party leadership about which the blame will be interminably debated. Also about the coming challenge for Ed M, much as Mark Ferguson has already argued. Not so clear about the legislative exercising its role being described as a parliamentary nadir.

            I’m not outright opposed to what is awkwardly termed ‘progressive military interventionism’ – such as in Kosovo, though even then this makes salutary reading on that score: – but your final point, that the UK has damaged it’s humanitarian principles – only makes sense if those principles equate merely to the military intervention that Cameron hastily ruled out after the vote. Referral to the ICC? Cross border aid – or an increase in it? HR observers? Logistical support and political backing for the FSA? Some of these are already happening, but they do not seem to feature in your arguments above.

    • RogerMcC

      ‘The Islamist ideology that is so dominant among the world’s Muslim populations’

      Over-generalising much?

      Even in countries like Egypt or Pakistan where given a free election the majority of voters pick Islamic parties this does not necessarily mean that these parties are ‘Islamist’ in the sense of demanding a universal caliphate, the prosecution of eternal Jihad against all unbelievers and the imposition of full sharia law – or that there are not very significant forces in these societies who reject Islamism.

      And by far the most populous Muslim country on earth happens to be Indonesia which has a functioning democracy in which all three main parties are broadly speaking secular nationalists.

      So your underlying argument against intervention seems to be that Muslim populations are ‘Islamists’ who neither deserve or desire to be liberated.

      (And by the way welcome to the Islamophobe Club – or is there some Orwellian ‘Eurasia has always been the enemy’ flip going on by which the far Left will dump that term down the memory hole).

      But you yourself admit that Syria – which is the only country we were talking of intervening in – is ‘not so much’ Islamist.

      So by your own logic Syria may in fact be the one place not so tainted by Islamism that they might just welcome our intervention….

      • Ben Cobley

        That’s desperately unfair Roger, welcoming me to ‘the Islamaphobic club’ on the basis of things that YOU have said and that I didn’t. YOU made the universal equation between Islamism, a universal caliphate, the prosecution of eternal Jihad against all unbelievers and the imposition of full sharia law – not me.

        Islamism has many shades, but the most important aspect is a belief that ‘the West’, Britain, the US etc are all against Muslims – that is the ideological prejudice, and it’s incredibly widespread amongst Muslim populations. I’m don’t think I’m an Islamophobe for recognising that and for recognising its importance.

      • RogerMcC

        Sorry if I am being unfair but Islamism is literally a killing word and you are misusing it.

        And whatever it is it is not a simple negative and passive ‘belief that ‘the West’, Britain, the US etc are all against Muslims’.

        The problem is that you use definitive and superlative terms (‘so dominant’, ‘incredibly widespread’, ‘all against’) to describe what are actually very complex and diverse phenomena.

        While Islamists all advocate the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth by transforming society and converting unbelievers they differ hugely on how to get there (and many may not even be that sincere about the ends but use it as a means of gaining and retaining wealth and power).

        Even Iraq incompetent and misbegotten adventure though it turned out to be does not demonstrate an irreconcilable gulf between the immediate interests of ‘the West’ and ‘Islamists’ in that the very state which we created had to be handed over to elected Shi’a Islamist parties which did not promptly throw us all out but supported the war against even more radical Sunni Islamists.

        And Bosnia and Kosovo were both Muslim nations which incontrovertibly did welcome Western liberators.

        Turkey and even Pakistan are also Muslim democracies ruled by supposedly ‘Islamist’ parties which are firmly allied to ‘the West’ however uncomfortable this may make the fanatics amongst them.

        Indonesia – whose Muslim population is larger than that of the whole Arab Middle East and North Africa combined – is radically different again.

        Even Iran is for historical and geopolitical reasons not necessarily a permanent member of the axis of evil as ultimately its Sunni neighbours are worse enemies to Shi’ism than the Americans – why else are they propping up Assad’s nominally secularist regime other than to prevent it from falling completely into the orbit of the Saudis or Turks?

        So all I am saying is to stop massively over-generalising about the Islamic world: Syria is not Iraq or Bosnia or anywhere other than Syria.

        • Ben Cobley

          “Islamism is a killing word” – what the eff are you talking about Roger? And it’s all my fault?

          Sometimes (often actually) I despair of otherwise decent people on the Left who so callously and ignorantly castigate those who should be on the same side.

          It reaffirms for me that the Left needs ethics.

          Without decency, we are nothing. I actually think in this spirit we are worse than the Right, because we preach about how morally superior we are when in reality we’re nasty, petty, sour and attack people for not being ideologically sound.

          Step forward Roger.

  • eastender

    Its quite bizarre watching & reading folk who cant quite believe that the world is not as they think it should be. Watching the disbelief on the faces of various BBC journalists and commentators as it slowly began to sink in that they wouldnt now be spending the next few weeks breathlessly reporting on details of cruise missiles, submarine movements, going over to correspondents in Damascus / Washington etc etc and that in fact their careers might now be headed in a somewhat different (and I guess from their point of view less interesting) direction was a sight to behold.

    More raging at the dying of the light from Paddy Ashdown and company too (one hopes Tony Blair realises a period of discrete silence would be beneficial).

    Whether we like it or not the well of “liberal interventionism” has been completely poisoned by the behaviour of governments over the past 15 years. In this its strongest advocate, Tony Blair, must take the biggest share of responsibility. There are many on the Labour benches who still bear the scars of what happened and allied with a public mood very much against further “foreign” wars it is difficult to see that any UK prime minister will be able to get involved in the sort of action which might be justified in Syria.

    The case for intervention needs making anew, but not in isolation. It is part of making the case for a wider UK engagement with the world and touches on many difficult political issues, immigration, proper engagement with the EU, even language teaching in schools. Things wont change in the next few weeks and are very unlikely to do so with the current government (which sits rather strangely with the undoubted views of the Deputy Prime Minister and his party), this is a longer term project.

  • Primly Stable

    At risk of sounding heartless, the awful attack on a school in Aleppo is irrelevant to the goings-on in the Commons. It was not a chemcial attack (napalm is not classed as such), and therefore would not have been sufficient cause for UK military intervention under any of the proposals put forward. Cameron was very clear indeed that he wasn’t going to get the UK involved in the wider conflict, just “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons and deter him from doing so again. As fas as the government motion was concerned, Assad could drop TNT on every school in Syria and still not give the West a reason to get involved.

    • Not so irrelevant when you realise the footgae was available but not published before the commons vote…

  • rekrab

    Can we have a break down of the votes? did all labour MP’s vote accordingly?

    • reformist lickspittle

      No Labour members supported the government – contrary to predictions. Some 30 of our MPs did not vote – for various reasons.

      As for this article – pffft.

      Time for the Blairites to admit that their time has passed, and do so gracefully.

      • mightymark

        Well perhaps if you believe that it is somehow advantageous to end up going right back to the begining again to relearn the lessons Tony Blair taught the party – on this along with other issues.

      • $6215628

        Like jim Fitzpatrick,I assume brown was out of the country

  • BillFrancisOConnor

    Firstly, it was the legacy of Iraq that ultimately swung the vote – in spite of all the dead young British servicemen in Iraq- 2,000 people have been killed by political murder in Iraq this year alone.
    Secondly, innocent civilians are being shot to death in Egypt (admittedly not killed by chemical weapons but nevertheless killed) by a military government but we have evidently chosen to do nothing about that particular episode of killing.
    Thirdly, would UK intervention have improved the situation in Syria? There is enough evidence (IMHO) to suggest not and indeed some evidence to suggest that UK intervention might have made the situation worse given that the objectives of UK military intervention were not clearly established.
    Fourthly, Cameron’s colossal arrogance in the way in which he handled Parliament was a contributory factor to the way in which the vote turned out.
    These are the reasons for last night’s vote. They have little to do with immeasurable phenomena such as ‘shame and moral cowardice’.

  • Mike Homfray

    Disagree entirely. We are starting to recognise that we are not the world’s policeman and cannot continue to be a key player in that role. The right decision was taken and overwhelmingly the Party are united in its achievement. The proposed bombing would have achieved precisely nothing

    • RogerMcC

      ‘The proposed bombing would have achieved precisely nothing’.

      How on earth can you feel such absolute certainty?

      The Pentagon, State Dept and White House are no longer controlled by crazed neocon ideologues and evidently believe intervention could achieve something or they wouldn’t be contemplating it at all.

      The French who are more closely engaged with Syria as the former colonial power than us or the Americans evidently believe the same and having refused to participate in the Iraq adventure cannot be accused of being American lap-dogs.

      The Israelis are after the Syrians themselves the people who have most to fear from it all going horribly wrong and are in fact at this moment queuing up to be issued gas masks.

      And if Israel thought intervention would lead to disaster they’d be firing up the neocon/likudnik claque in the US to stop it – but in fact that claque are vociferously demanding intervention.

      Now there is a serious argument that what these forces regard as a desirable outcome from intervention might be worse for the Syrian people than no intervention at all.

      But the most plausible interpretation of American objectives seems to be that by demonstrating to Assad’s own supporters that he can’t win militarily they will force a ‘Yemen solution’ – an internal coup which will topple him in favour of a somewhat less criminal figure who can negotiate with at least the saner elements of the opposition and end the civil war.

      Which grubby and rather repulsive though that sounds might from a purely utilitarian point of view save tens of thousands of lives while preventing Syria from either disintegrating altogether and/or becoming a Jihadist threat to the whole region.

      By replacing a dictatorship based on the rule of one politico-religious faction with a regime that at least is based on multiple rival forces it would also leave a door open for a further transformation of the Syrian state.

      All of which will now happen (or not happen as we can only deal in probabilities and possibilities and miserable failure is always an option) anyway but without the UK having any part to play.

  • crosland

    Paddy pants down (the distinguished stateman) is now comparing Cameron with Churchill and inferring Ed is Chamberlain on the BBC ! What a complete plonker !

    • trotters1957

      Liberals defending murder on humanitarian grounds runs through our history.

    • During Blair’s 2003 Iraq disaster certain UK tabloids described Blair as Bush as being the 21st century’s Churchill and Roosevelt. The comparison hardly lasted longer than a Marks and Spencer sandwich.

    • Alec

      “Pants down”? When is this? 1992?

      Ashdown hardly can be said to be an eager supporter of recent foreign military engagements, and has displayed himself as a fine statesman in Bosnia. What has Miliband done?


    • leslie48

      I agree with Lord Ashdown ; our party went for blocking, delay and inferred appeasement. The other lot said ‘enough is enough’; you have just gassed innocent civilians & 426 children we step up to the UN laws to deal with his war crimes

  • Surely Anthony, if your argument is to be sound, as well as making the case for the cruise missile form of humanitarian intervention, you must also make the case against the ceasefire form of humanitarian intervention?

    • anthonypainter

      Yes. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In my piece (or in the comments) yesterday, I made the point that the solution was political. Assad will have to be weakened for that to be the case I fear.

      • So it comes down to a Cameron-like “judgement call”. That’s not good enough given that as yet no priority has been given to achieving a ceasefire.

        We’ve had the ‘let’s arm the rebels’ enthusiasts banging their drums. We’ve had the ‘let’s bomb Assad’ ensemble attempting to orchestrate their campaign. It should now be time for the ceasefire choir, with UN support, to contribute a new and previously unheard song.

        If Miliband took the lead on this he’d soon win status as Prime Minister in waiting.

        • anthonypainter

          Ah. So it’s about political advantage in your eyes. At least that’s clear.

          And yes, it does come down to a judgement call. Everything in these situations does: intervention or non-intervention.

          • rekrab

            O’ Blighty! are seriously stuck in the frame where you believe the only action you can take against an act of evil is more evil?

          • “political advantage”

            No, not for me. Over the years I’ve just happened to notice that politicians in democratic countries like to win elections. And as this is a Labour blog, and the Labour Party is often described as a machine for electing a Labour government, it seemed appropriate to mention it.

            Often, when a divergence between principle and action occurs the ‘ideological purity is no good if you can’t get elected’ charge is usually laid. So it’s nice when there’s no divergence.

            For myself, as a peace campaigner, the priority always is preserving life – one does the right thing even when the outcome looks much less than propitious.

  • Daniel Speight

    At the same time we were seeing the aftermath of strike on a school.
    Yes, a school. It was an indiscriminate attack with what appeared to be a
    ‘napalm-like’ substance and it was perpetrated by Bashar Al-Assad’s
    troops. If this was democracy at its best, I’d hate to see it at its

    Ah the Rob Marchant dead kids argument. It’s good but of course you would have to ignore it if possible allied cruise missiles hit innocent schoolkids wouldn’t you Anthony? I haven’t seen you or Rob arguing against the drone strikes that kill women and kids in Pakistan or Yemen. And jeez what would you say if an Israeli tank shell kills kids in their apartment in Gaza. It’s all a bit one-sided with these guys. By all means use the death of innocents but measure all with the same standard including those on ‘our’ side.

    So why is Anthony so upset today? It seems to be because our leaders aren’t getting on well with the government’s leaders. We should all be a bit more friendly, after the differences between us and the Tories are very slight aren’t they Anthony?

    • anthonypainter

      “dead kids argument.”

      It’s not an ‘argument’. It’s a horrible, gruesome reality.

      • rekrab

        Yes it’s a reality around the world when governments spend massive amounts on weaponry while children die from hunger and disease.

        Maybe it’s time to put the pen down Anthony and close the book.Bombs have only one outcome, more deaths. I have a dream that one day this world will be without weapons. Now that sounds like a good opening chapter.

        • leslie48

          The gas war crime is the issue debated in the commons; we supported no intervention.

          • rekrab

            K? and I’ll remind you Lord Robertson, a former labour defence minister said in the house of lords debate? For the last two years we’ve been seeking a regime change, of course we’ve chosen a side and it isn’t Assad’s.

      • Daniel Speight

        I see you were telling someone else to read what you wrote. Well maybe you should read what I wrote Anthony. If you want to follow in Marchant footsteps and use the death of innocents in your arguments to bash the left, then remember dead kids in Damascus are just as dead as the kids we bombed Baghdad, or kids killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, or kids killed by Israeli tank shells. Of course they are also just as dead as the Christian kids killed in Nigeria by weird Muslim sects, Jewish killed by terrorists in South of France and Muslim kids killed by Buddhist monks in Arakan.

        Best not to do it Anthony. You bring in the school playground to reinforce your argument for Labour to back action against Syria and to me it looks just as cynical as when Marchant does it to go after whichever far left sect he wants to bash.

        • David Battley

          I don’t really think that your argument holds water. Anthony Painter is referring to children that have been killed this week in a deliberate act by the very person we are wringing our hands about, and who we now know – with certainty – has no moral objection regarding making such orders. As such it will likely not be the last time he orders such a strike.

          You meanwhile are referring to hypothetical “whaddabout” children who may be killed if good people who do not wish to cause civilian harm make honest mistakes with terrible consequences in a theatre of conflict that has not been defined.

          Are the two truly equivalent in your mind?

          • robertcp

            Bombs kill people whoever drops them and there is no such thing as precision bombing. NATO bombed refugees, the Chinese embassy and the wrong country in 1999!

            I have an open mind about intervention but we need to understand that it will kill people. The judgement will be whether by killing hundreds we might save thousands.

          • David Battley

            I agree that is an absolutely key judgement, but remember this motion had nothing to do with undertaking action at this stage, without coming back to parliament, when the scale and scope of any operations, if deemed appropriate, could be assessed.

            On the wider point of whether we can ever expect a “clean” operation? Well, during the ten weeks of the Kosovo conflict, according to Wikipedia, NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions. That represented a failure rate of less than 0.02%. Although each failure had tragic consequences, statistically one could reasonably expect to make up to 1,000 sorties without being likely to experience a single failure.

      • Mike Homfray

        Never noticed Rob being at all concerned about dead Palestinian kids, though… least not enough to suggest an invasion of Israel

        • $6215628

          The Israellis are killing Palestinian kids in Israel,?what are Palestinian kids doing in Israel,

  • Mandy Hall

    Totally disagree with the logic of going to war or *punishing* Syria. You are really asking us to get involved in a war with AlQ and Iran on side and the Regime + Russia on the other hand? Really? (plus all the underlying clan and Islamic splits that are happening in amongst this as well).

    We are not the world’s policeman and neither is America.

    To be honest I think Britain’s stance has just become all the stronger. We’ve actually made an independent decision for once.

    Yes, the use of napalm and sarin are horrible, horrible crimes but surely its time we asked the Arab / Islamic world to step up to the mark, step in themselves and sort this out – this is their backyard after all.

    But really the past decade or two has really been a series of proxy wars involving three countries, but one of them has been clever enough until now not to give an excuse to the other two to attack it. Time we in the UK publicly recognised that and stepped out of the way.

  • NT86

    Yeah, such a nadir to respect the majority view of the British public. Opposition to intervention came from the left AND right (UKIP being notable here, as well as journalists like Peter Hitchens and Max Hastings). Funny that those in favour ignore the inconvenient truth that Sunni extremists make up a large part of the Syrian opposition. Aided and abetted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. What could possibly go wrong with that lot on side?

    • leslie48

      You ignore two other considerations; it was illegal by the UN laws for a State to gas women and children as they slept. Further I take Paddy Ashdown’s point we diminished the UK in playing to the isolationist far right UKIP crowd mentality ; leaders ‘morally lead’ not sink to the lowest common denominator or your quickly find we are back to birching, hanging, leaving the rest of Europe and sending home foreigners.

      • NT86

        Why not? International law is invoked highly selectively and for political reasons. In all your posts on here defending intervention, you ignore the one inconvenient truth: The Syrian opposition is filled with Islamic extremists who would turn the country into a death trap for minorities while being propped up by the Saudi’s. One of these lovely people devoured on an opponent’s heart a couple of months ago (reported by our media at the time). There is no opposition worthy of support in Syria because they are not democratic nor secular. That vacuum was filled by jihadists a long time ago.

        But continue to turn a blind eye to that.

        • leslie48

          I’m with the FT this morning claiming that Milliband has diminished himself as a potential PM because he’s now trying to unpick the knotted problems left since Thursday’s tactical victory/errors whereby he’s left as ‘a no where man’. I am not however with the D/Mail in its quite shocking polemic of Milliband as ignoring little dead shrouds( Milliband’s office should have the gumption to deny such lies as were two years yet from an election).

          Respectfully unlike our French friends on the Left you keep ignoring , dictator Assad and the serious ‘war crimes’ committed last week and as American intelligence now shows from thousands of sources ; I said our leadership was being naive to assume there was no ‘compelling evidence’ given allies in Syria, Arabs, Turkey, Israeli ( I would guess) and US sources and electronic data. It does not matter about the past wars, imperialism , about Islamists, about Blair& Iraq , the anti-American rubbish- what matters is the actual war crime : the death by gassing of 1,400 civilians ( not armed rebels) including 426 children. That’s it. The war crime has to be dealt with. Period.

          • Mike Homfray

            But not by us. I’ve had enough of pointless grandstanding to enable the Americans to get rid of people who they don’t like. So have the public

  • RogerMcC

    While it is true that the Syrian people are paying the real price at some point the utter selfishness and narcissism of modern Britain would finally have to be acknowledged.

    We are now finally admitting that we are just a poorer, uglier and stupider Belgium or Denmark.

    For those of us brought up on debates over Suez and unilateral nuclear disarmament and even Iraq where right or wrong what we did still had some global significance this is a painful transition to make.

    But we no longer have the physical or to be honest moral resources to perform on the world stage and all this vote does is finally bring our foreign policy in line with a global reality where declining nations like ours matter little.

    • Chilbaldi

      This just isn’t true.

      6th largest economy in the world

      4th biggest military expenditure in the world

      UN veto

      Around the 20th biggest population in the world – i.e. not small and projected to grow yet further.

      Cultural influence and capital that extends far beyond all this and will continue to do so. The line you take with the post above has been peddled for nigh on 60 years and has consistently been shown to be false. We don’t rule the world any more but we aren’t some little irrelevant country that sits back and enjoys the quiet life while the big boys work hard and reap the rewards.

      • RogerMcC

        The UN veto we got by winning World War 2

        What we spend on the military seems to give us remarkably few bangs for our bucks compared to what the French get for considerably less expenditure (i.e. a larger army and a navy that actually has a real aircraft carrier) and makes you wonder who really benefits from it all.

        And of course the last thing any socialist wants is to relive imperial glories – if we are a dysfunctional and declining island off the coast of Europe (and if you project forward GDP growth rates we really are not going to be #6 or even in the top 10 for ever) then maybe we should indeed start behaving that way.

        For as start If we can’t bomb even a Syria we really don’t need 800-odd aircraft and a navy which is now preposterously designed to deliver amphibious assault forces that are now really far too small to be of that much use anywhere in the world.

  • McCurry

    “Britain was a nation that stood up to bullies. Today, it’s a nation that turns it back on children burning with chemical agent.”
    And I agree.

    • Danny

      Dan McCurry agrees. If anyone was suffering under the illusion that Painter’s position had any credibility, this interjection shatters that premise.

  • Amber_Star

    Anthony, how would you feel about the Syrian government being allowed to restore order & security within its own borders? How would you feel about the Syrian government being assisted to bring to an end the humanitarian crisis which this civil war has created? Because people who would not support that option are interested in regime change not humanitarian intervention.

    Perhaps that is why the UK government’s motion could not pass. It was not ‘honest’ about the objectives – the public & parliament saw through it.

    Anthony, I await further information because here is what the interventionists should do: Tell us about the ‘good’ government which would replace Assad’s ‘bad’ one. Tell us how this ‘good’ regime will improve the safety & security of the Syrian people. Tell us why we can believe this ‘good’ regime will secure & dispose of the chemical weapons. Tell us about how the ‘good’ replacement will contribute to stability in the region & improve international relations. I am ready & willing to be persuaded. But until I hear of these things, I do not think that throwing another hand-grenade on the fire is helpful.

    • anthonypainter

      You are asking me to make the case for regime change. I haven’t argued in favour of that as an objective of action anywhere. I wish to weaken Assad so (i) He will be deterred (ii) He will be weakened. As a consequence of (i) and (ii) he may be more willing to enter meaningful political negotiations facilitated by the UN.

      • Brumanuensis

        But by supporting military action against the Assad regime, you are by definition taking sides in the Syrian civil war. Linguistic niceties won’t mean anything on the ground. This will be interpreted as an attempt at regime change and Assad will act accordingly. Cornered animals are the most dangerous variety, as the saying goes.

        • anthonypainter

          There is a great deal of certainty there.

          • Brumanuensis

            A delightfully gnomic response. Care to elaborate?

    • Jonathan Roberts

      you read this article and THAT is all you have to say? The comments you leave on this site are typical of many on the smug left who pretend they care about defending those who can’t defend themselves, but resolutely refuse to do anything about it – other than play cheap, nasty politics.

      • anthonypainter

        Well said.

        • trotters1957

          You’re on the side of someone who calls starting a war “progressive interventionism” .
          Liberals defending murder, again.

        • TomFairfax

          A bit of realism is missing from the pro-intervention crowd.

          It’s in the interests of the opposition to fake a ‘government’ attack to get a knee jerk Western reaction, hence a degree of sceptism needs to be retained until such time as the evidence of regime authorisation of the use of chemical weapons is needed.

          Then what exactly counts as intervention that would dissuade the Assad regime but not hand a more than generous helping hand to the Jihadists?

          It has to be something that doesn’t materially hand victory to any group of extremists, whilst hurting the Assad regime in such a way as to know that if they used chemical weapons again it would lead to their downfall.

          The devil really is in the detail. it’s lazy thinking to just to go along with ‘doing something’ without regard to the likely effects of any specific action.

          Whilst Russia is actively supporting the regime, and would no doubt make good any losses in materiel, then the options really are quite limited. This isn’t Gaddafi or Saddam, these people aren’t terminally stupid.

          Conventional weapons aren’t any more people friendly if you’re on the recieving end.

          So it seems to me that the West has a choice of all out support for one side, i.e. fighting a war in alliance with one side, or staying out. And if you want to support the side most likely to keep a lid on the Jihadists, then I’m afraid the logical choice is extremely unpalatable.

          Hardly surprising that people are deeply sceptical.

      • Daniel Speight

        You of course Jonathan do care enough that you are going to volunteer for the forces of whoever wants to attack Syria, or maybe for an NGO bringing relief inside or outside Syria. You are going to something about it aren’t you Jonathan?

        • Jonathan Roberts

          Having failed my entry medical to the Forces for reasons I won’t go into, I at least tried. As it happens, I’ve raised a significant amount of money for various charities operating in the Middle East but we’re not going into the detail of that either. But as you know full well, my point is that there are plenty of people who pretend they care, but argue against any actual action. Perhaps we should just ask Assad nicely to stop napalming children? Or wouldn’t you even go that far?

          Do you think it’s decent to be making attacks against Dan Hodges’ resignation underneath an article about dead children? What with you all being so caring and all.

          • Daniel Speight

            Ha thanks Jonathan. If you care to read the comments a few threads above you will see my views on the Marchant style dead kids argument. I consider it cynical to the extreme.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            It’s not an ‘argument’. It’s a fact that there are many people, including children, dying horribly. You reply to by saying ‘ha’. Showing your caring side again.

          • rekrab

            Now, Now Jonathan, that’s just isn’t true, read what Daniel wrote about children dying in Nigeria and so on. I suggest you remove your comment.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            As far as I can see, he was making the argument that because we can’t help everyone, we should help noone. Which is utterly abhorrent. If I had my way we’d help every kid and grown up alike from mass murder at the hands of terrorists but that isn’t realistic. Would you guys help anyone? Or would you just write letters asking dictators to stop being so mean?

          • Daniel Speight

            This may be the one and only time I ever quote Peter Hitchens. Talking about the pro-bombing lobby response to the parliamentary vote he says that “Selective outrage isn’t really outrage at all.”

            There are a few posters here whose outrage I strongly suspect, not least yours Jonathan.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I’m intensely relaxed about your suspicions. As I assume, you are of my suspicions that you don’t care one jot about defending those who can’t defend themselves.

          • Mike Homfray

            We could try getting the Russians to broker a ceasefire deal which is the only realistic option other than the failed options of regime change and nation building by the Americans

      • rekrab

        And exactly where on the axis do you place your humanity?

        How many Tomahawks would would suggest at 1 million a missile?

        Wouldn’t that money be better spent on humanitarian aid.

      • “the smug left”

        Give over, Jonathan. You’re having a laugh.

        As for the rest of your comment – it’s unpleasantly inaccurate and unreasonable in tone. Perhaps this may help:

    • Daniel Speight

      Well that is good news. I wonder if he will follow his mate Bozier into the Tories. He’s been pretty well pushing the Tory line ever since Ed Miliband beat his brother in the leadership election. It will be interesting to see if any of the other Blairites follow him. I guess not bombing Syria is their breaking point because it again brings into the spotlight Blair’s bombing of Iraq.

    • Mike Homfray

      Even better! Though quite what some of these people were doing in the Labour party in the first place is anyone’s guess. They all seem to be drifting away, which has to be a welcome development

    • leslie48

      I am afraid this is the beginning as we allowed the silly Left to get too far ahead in their denial of the importance of war crimes to many members and I fear real solid voters ( not participants in snap shot polls)

      • Mike Homfray

        Given that very clearly a sizeable majority of the population doesn’t agree, its hardly down to the left

        • leslie48

          The actual voters in 2015 will decide on the outcomes of many things; a majority want to send immigrants home or whatever. Politicians need to lead morally not follow the UKIP road.

          • Mike Homfray

            Nonsense. The people have had enough of liberal interventionism – it doesn’t work. You will have to recognise that the |Blair days are over and Labour will not be returning to them. If you don;t like it leave the party – I had to when Blair decided to bomb Iraq.

  • trotters1957

    I want to know who we are supposed to be helping by dropping bombs on Syria. Who are the good guys on the ground?
    There are too many unanswered questions.

    • David Battley

      Rather than continuing to disagree with the motion you clearly wanted Cameron to have asked for, can I suggest you look at the wording that he actually did motion for?

      In cash you can’t be bothered to read Hansard, it was (abridged by me for brevity):
      That this House:
      Deplores the use of chemical weapons…[by Assad];
      Agrees that… military action [on humanitarian grounds may be necessary provided that it]… is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
      Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council… to take united action…[on this over 2 years];
      Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
      …and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
      Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

      • trotters1957

        Are those weasel words supposed to convince me ? Agrees that military action is legal? How is this going to save lives, where and who are they going to bomb? Where is the evidence that it was Assad?
        It’s a blank cheque to bomb anything that moves in the name of “humanity”.
        Even Douglas Hurd “Lord Hurd, former Conservative Home Secretary, said: “We should surely have cleared ourselves by now of that fearful habit of going into military action with our eyes wide shut, of going into military action without thinking through the consequences.”

        • David Battley

          They aren’t “weasel words”, and I can see you stopped reading before you got to the section that “notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place”.

          Now that you have hopefully taken that in, perhaps you can explain what it is that makes you think that this motion clears us to bomb anyone?

          • trotters1957

            Are you serious? What do you think we are going to do, throw guava fruit at them?

          • David Battley

            Which part of “before… action a further vote… will take place” isn’t clear for you?

      • anthonypainter

        A consistent theme of a lot of the comments on here is that they are aimed at an imaginary foe with an imaginary argument. A very welcome comment re-grounding of the argument in reality.

        • trotters1957

          We are going to bomb an imaginary foe? The Americans are primed to bomb them this weekend and we would have been involved except Parliament realised that only 10% of the population were with this.

    • leslie48

      The Allies are not dropping bombs on Syria they will try to intelligently, technically , strategically remove the gassing facilities which were used last week – such action required by international law. So not another 1,500 + civilians are gassed to death. Civilians remember, war crimes OK ; thats why Parliament was recalled – respectfully how simple do you want it. Try reading a quality paper to get a grasp of the international situation current in Syria today and as seen by France, USA and UK. Also see David Battley below.

      • Mike Homfray

        You seriously don’t believe this? Give me one example of carpet bombing achieving these ends? We don’t know where they are or who did the deed – given that there is only the US-gathered intelligence produced by those hostile to the regime. Not to be trusted.
        Parliament has spoken and so has the Labour party. We don’t want any more interventionism without both firm evidence and a clear outcome

        • leslie48

          There was no carpet bombing in Libya which was a much larger event by the allies. Of course we know where things are and who did what – do you really believe the Allies, Israelis and Arabs have so little intelligence. Never forget Iran is quite close to Syria- I wonder sometimes at the ignorance of some people.

          Be careful as some of us will leave this party on the answer to this Q: So are you actually saying Labour and Milliband voted against *stopping* the Assad regime from gassing civilians; not my understanding of the purpose of the motion where Ed said he was waiting for evidence. Unfortunately you are right that is the way the world is * interpreting* Thursday’s event and so by doing so the UK Labour party unlike many other European Labour parties has become seen as appeasers and isolationists hence why some of us are questioning our membership and why if Syria does more massacres of its people, Ed’s position will become very
          difficult. Who stopped the West? Why, it was the UK Labour Party who was indifferent to the massacre of 1,500 citizens by gassing and some clever so and so thought he could stop the UK PM in his condemnation of the war crime. Not funny.

          • Mike Homfray

            You have totally missed the point,
            First, no-one with an iota of sense trusts anything the rogue state of Israel claims. America’s ‘evidence’ will all be from known hostile sources.
            The party voted against British participation in a pointless and potentially disastrous attack on Syria until there was clear evidence available and until all UN based initiatives had been exhausted. Events since mean that there is now no possibility of participation in a military exercise and this has been confirmed by both Ed Miliband and the PM.
            I don’t believe in ‘liberal interventionism and left the party in 2004 because of that view, so if those who do believe in it choose to leave now – that’s up to them.

  • Ian Young

    Even among the most Blimpish Tory MPs there was a desire to raise intelligent and thoughful questions about the nature and consequences of this latest piece of US adventurism. What would have been parliament’s nadir is for Cameron to be allowed to frame this debate which was much about facile domestic name-calling to portray Miliband as weak than the wisdom of this excercise.

    Also worth remembering that for Britain to stay out the US’s more dubious foreign policy adventures was not unusual in the post Suez years, even with the Cold War raging. This vote hopefully marks a return to that more considered period of British foreign policy which has been superseded in the past three decades by Thatcher’s revival of Churchillian fantasies about British power wich sustained it self through the Blairs years albeit with a liberal interventionist/Neo Con facelift.

  • KonradBaxter

    “For Britain, it sets us on a pathway to irrelevance….”

    Utter, total nonsense. Rubbish of the highest order. As it seems only the USA and France want to take action does that mean every other nation is now irrelevant? Of course not.

    Lose your delusions man and let Labour not be the War Party anymore.

    Parliament’s reputation was enhanced by last nights vote, not damaged.

  • Brumanuensis

    There are a lot of points I could make in response to this unfortunately-phrased piece, but I’ll restrict myself to three.

    First, it is just a bit rich of Anthony Painter to complain that “The language that is strewn around is despicable” when he pens a piece that effectively casts opponents of military action as Quisling-style isolationists who don’t care about dead children.

    Second, why is Painter so agitated about the fact that “The leadership of the two main parties failed to work together at a critical national and international moment”? It’s not Ed Miliband’s responsibility to go along with whatever hare-brained scheme the Prime Minister concocts. He’s under no obligation to support the government, at any point. His job is to scrutinise and oppose. It’s almost as if Painter is suggesting that Labour ought to emulate the German Social Democrats in 1914 and back some sort of ‘burgfrieden’. And we all know how well that arrangement worked out for Germany and the Social Democrats.

    Third, throughout this piece and somewhat undermining the pro forma acknowledgements that the case for war is not overwhelming, is a rather sanctimonious tone that suggests that launching military strikes is self-evidently the right thing to do. This is not established at all. As someone who supported the initial intervention in Libya – and then soured on it when the coalition exceeded their UN mandate – I refer everyone to the analyst Moses Brown’s piece from May 2012, which remains relevant today ( ). Incidentally, the crass violation of the Libya UN mandate by the coalition, goes a long way to explaining the reluctance of Russia and China to back action against Syria.

    The proponents of military intervention have not explained how it would work. They appear to regard military intervention as a good in itself. A bad man is doing bad things so – to paraphrase Tom Lehrer – “send in the marines”! In reality, military intervention is only a means and a means that is dependent upon the circumstances of a case. None of the proponents of military intervention of have given any ideas as to the duration, the strategy and the targeting behind a military attack. For better analysis, I refer everyone to Sarah Wollaston, Jack Straw and Fraser Nelson’s pieces below:

    Yesterday, Parliament enjoyed one its finest moments. It halted a precipitate rush to war and extinguished the executive’s royal prerogative power to launch wars without Parliament’s consent. If avoiding rushing recklessly into military conflict is making Britain ‘irrelevant’, then three cheers for irrelevancy!

    • anthonypainter

      Point 1 is clearly rubbish given para 2 in the piece.
      Point 2 realtes to the fact that there was almost *no* difference between the two resolutions *and* neither set of leaders wanted the outcome it got!
      Point 3 Worth reading my piece yesterday which this is a follow up to.

      • Brumanuensis

        1. Your second paragraph feels like a pro-forma acknowledgement of the arguments against, rather than a genuine consideration of opposing opinions. The tenor of the rest of your piece makes clear your actual opinion about opponents of military action.

        2. That’s just your opinion. Andrew Sparrow, the Guardian’s political analyst, expressed the view that the two leaders’ positions were distinct and different. Certainly the Labour amendment was more reticent and cautious about the process via which military action would be authorised.

        3. It’s not my job to read your entire oeuvre. I can only go on what’s before me.

  • anthonypainter

    The US Intelligence Estimate has just been published. Hope you all get the chance to read. I think the word is ‘compelling’ but we’ll wait for UN reports.

    • Brumanuensis

      The crude question to put in response is, “what difference does it make”?

      Jeremy Bowen, on BBC news yesterday, made the point that it is debatable whether the chemical attack really changes anything about the Western response to the crisis. The simple fact is, there isn’t really a major difference between someone who dies from conventional weaponry and someone who dies in a gas attack. You ended your article by invoking the victims of a conventional weapons attack. Is dying from Sarin really worse than dying from a bullet, a shell or a missile? Why does the use of chemical weaponry demand a military response, when the deaths of those from other causes is not a trigger for military action?

      We have to get past knee-jerk emotional reactions and consider, soberly and objectively, whether military action is the best means of preventing future atrocities, with a minimum of further civilian deaths. That question isn’t affected by whether or not the regime used chemical weapons.

      • anthonypainter

        Actually it is affected by that. The use of chemical weapons on a mass basis says something about what that regime is prepared to do. That fundamentally shifts calculations as well as entering sacrosanct areas of international law.

        As for an ‘objective’ assessment, we do know that action targeted strategically can be a deterrent and debilitate murderous regimes – Kosovo, Iraq late-1990s. It would also be an enormous existential risk for Assad to seek to widen or intensify what he is doing. In this context, with what is being faced, a targeted military intervention by a multinational force is worth considering. It’s not certain. I wish I shared your certainty but, frankly, I can’t see into the future.

        • Brumanuensis

          “Actually it is affected by that. The use of chemical weapons on a mass basis says something about what that regime is prepared to do. That fundamentally shifts calculations as well as entering sacrosanct areas of international law”

          That’s an assertion, not an explanation. I still don’t understand the difference between killing someone with shells or missiles, and killing someone with poison gas. Is there really a hierarchy of horribleness that decrees that one is worse than the other? Of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, around 2.5 million were murdered in gas chambers of various descriptions. Were their deaths worse than the 1 – 2 million shot by Einsatzgruppen, or the hundreds of thousands that died from typhus or deliberate starvation? You actually made this point in your own article. Yesterday, by all accounts, a school was bombed with incendiary weapons similar to those used by many western militaries. Was that somehow less significant than the alleged chemical weapons attack last week?

          “As for an ‘objective’ assessment, we do know that action targeted strategically can be a deterrent and debilitate murderous regimes – Kosovo, Iraq late-1990s. It would also be an enormous existential risk for Assad to seek to widen or intensify what he is doing. In this context, with what is being faced, a targeted military intervention by a multinational force is worth considering. It’s not certain. I wish I shared your certainty but, frankly, I can’t see into the future”

          It’s a bit strange to be accused of ‘certainty’ from someone who is advocating western military intervention in a volatile civil war, without many clear military fronts or boundaries. Syria is not late-1990s Iraq, nor is it Kosovo, nor is it Libya. It’s Syria and has its own particular features that determine what the best response is. You talk about ‘action targeted strategically’, but don’t explain what that actually entails.

          It’s rather telling that most of the enthusiasts for action are civilian amateurs and the actual military professionals are more uneasy about the implications of military intervention ( ). That suggests that ‘targeted military intervention’ is not the relatively straight-forward option you seem to be implying it is.

          • anthonypainter

            Let’s turn this round. Can you outline what you would consider to be an intervention you would support and on what basis? How would you be certain of the outcomes? (Hopefully you’d do more than read an article in the Washington Post and then generalise about the ‘military view’ on the basis of that).

            You are right that Syria is not Kosovo is not Iraq. But that is a slightly banal point to say the least. Neither you nor I have any clue what the war game is. The point I was naking is that strikes on military targets have been effective. It’s only a broad objectives/strategy conversation we can have.

            As for the Holocaust analogies, let’s just leave that shall we….

          • rekrab

            If it is proven beyond doubt that the chemical attack was sanctioned by Assad, then is it fair to generalise and ask why? like, is Assad saying to the security council that you can only impose a meaningful resolution if He invades another state and if Syria is bombed, is Assad saying look I have these weapons and the capability to deliver them, if you attack me I’ll use them in a wider sense?

            I think you have to go back to 1982 to confirm when Britain last had a secure security resolution.

            Did the lack of condemnation in Egypt’s coup allow (if proven) for Assad to play a dangerous game?

          • Brumanuensis

            “Let’s turn this round. Can you outline what you would consider to be an intervention you would support and on what basis?”

            No, because the onus is on you to prove your case, not on me to make an alternative case. It’s almost as if you’re trying to shift the goal posts, because you’ve realised you can’t defend your position.

            If your car breaks down and you start smashing up the engine with a hammer as part of your proposed ‘solution’ to the problem, am I required to propose an alternative method in order to have the right to suggest that smashing up the engine is not a good strategy?

            “Neither you nor I have any clue what the war game is. The point I was naking is that strikes on military targets have been effective”

            Well that doesn’t tell us anything. You can’t just say ‘well military strikes might work’, because the circumstances in which they worked previously aren’t necessarily applicable. Military intervention has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. I’ve already noted, using Moses Brown’s article, that parallels with Libya are fundamentally flawed. If you’re advocating military action, you need to be able to explain what the strategy behind that action would be, because at the moment it seems to amount to ‘fire a few cruise missiles and hope for the best’, which isn’t exactly much of strategy. God help us if we are planning to go to war on the basis of a vague aspiration to ‘do something’. David Lammy skewered this sort of naivety in his speech during the debate ( )

            “This government seeks out a blank cheque to use the British armed forces in Syria without convincingly and coherently answering the most crucial questions:

            What constitutes “success” in the context of a military intervention?

            If a negotiated settlement is the goal, then will military intervention make that more or less likely?

            Are we comfortable that our intervention is limited to punishing the use of chemical weapons rather than explicitly to protect the lives of the Syrian people? Is it fair for the Prime Minister to imply that this is a humanitarian intervention when his only ambition is for Britain to be the dispassionate referee of a brutal civil war?

            If a “short and limited” military intervention does not lead to the cessation of the use of chemical weapons and instead leads to an escalation of hostilities or even retaliation, do we escalate our involvement further or back away entirely?

            If we escalate, are we comfortable with the slow creep that will place the lives of more war-weary members of our armed services soldiers at risk?

            If we back away, will we accept that our brief intervention only led to an intensification of an already gruesome conflict at a potentially astronomical cost to British life, exchequer and security?

            We need to know the scale of our intervention, the limit of our commitment and the nature our involvement before we can be asked to affirm it.

            Parliament cannot be expected to vote on pure sentiment; it needs to vote on specifics”

            That last sentence is particularly apt.

            And as for the Washington Post’s article, at least I’ve done some research on this topic, whereas you appear to have no idea what your preferred solution is supposed to achieve, nor how it will do so.

          • anthonypainter

            “”Let’s turn this round. Can you outline what you would consider to be an intervention you would support and on what basis?”

            No, because the onus is on you to prove your case, not on me to make an alternative case.”

            After that, I’m afraid the rest of what you say is just commentary/narrative (with a whole series of the typical straw men – which I think you are better than as you’ve clearly done a lot of serious thinking). You either have an argument for how you wish to see a response to a grave humanitarian situation and, what seems pretty clear, an affront to international laws and norms or you don’t. If you don’t, fine, let’s leave it. If you do, let’s discuss it.

          • Brumanuensis

            I almost expected you to start accusing me of “giving succor” to Assad, a la Philip Hammond.

            “You either have an argument for how you wish to see a response to a grave humanitarian situation and, what seems pretty clear, an affront to international laws and norms or you don’t”

            God spare us from the cult of ‘something is happening, we must do something!’ Simon Jenkins ridiculed this attitude very effectively in the Guardian ( ). I do have a number of thoughts on what the UK could do, as an alternative to military intervention, but I’m not going to list them because my views are not the topic of discussion; yours are. If you don’t like that, don’t submit articles to a website with a comments thread.

            “with a whole series of the typical straw men – which I think you are better than as you’ve clearly done a lot of serious thinking”

            Keep being patronising. You won’t win any arguments.

      • leslie48

        Another one here unfamiliar with the UN war crimes which were passed following WW1, Italy’s use of gas, Nazi Germany etc., Its illegal to gas and members of the UN are obligated to respond.

        • Mike Homfray

          Then I suggest you wait for the UN to do so. We as an individual country will do no such thing unless we deem it to be the correct response.
          Clearly Parliament , the people and the Labour party think one thing. You disagree.

        • rekrab

          Well. you’d better hope the Brum doesn’t give you a legal lesson.

        • Brumanuensis

          leslie, if you’re going to accuse me of not being familiar with international law, it would help if you bothered to read what I wrote, rather than constantly ranting away from your own perceived moral high ground.

          My point is that if the intervention is for humanitarian reasons, that can have nothing to do with whether chemical weapons were used or not. There isn’t any significant difference between the illegal use of conventional weapons and the illegal use of un-conventional weapons. The school atrocity that Anthony Painter referred to in his article, was an atrocity committed with conventional weaponry. Yet all the attention has focused on the alleged use of chemical weapons and it has constituted the justification for military intervention. Proponents of military intervention need to figure out which argument they are relying upon, because the legal and strategic ramifications are quite different. Until they do so and until they stop confusing the issues, then it’s hard to understand what they are advocating.

          • leslie48

            All atrocities are awful but where has the ‘softly , softly’ clone Labour shadow secretary Douglas Alexander and others been for the last two years as Syria’s dead has piled up particularly women and children; I have consistently said we were wrong to ignore the fact that in this civil war Assad was using jet fighters to fire on his own citizens; the war crime of gassing citizens marked the point where the UN could legally apply force and UN members could do something and that’s where we were last Thursday until our party decided to block that possibility. In the end you and the clone ( because he never shows moral anger or moral leadership but answers in a political monotone jargon which makes you want to switch off) can now sit this one out and hope it does not diminish your chances of looking like a govt. in waiting. Personally I follow yesterday’s FT which claims it will damage Ed’s prospects of being elected our future PM; Why? because we have belittled ourselves for short term political and tactical ends.

          • Brumanuensis

            To paraphrase the famous line from Macbeth, your comment is “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. It’s not enough to note that the Assad regime is committing atrocities; you need to demonstrate that military intervention is the best means of preventing them, without intensifying the civil war or inflicting even more civilian casualties.

            It is, incidentally, ironic that you attack Douglas Alexander when reports from within the Shadow Cabinet suggest he was one of the most outspoken supporters of military intervention in Syria.

          • David Battley

            That level of burden of proof is far too high: there can never be such certainties in life, let alone in matters of conflict, and on that basis parliament would never be able agree to use force again, no matter how dire the situation.

            Secondly, do you accept the argument that, if chemical attacks are demonstrated on the world stage to be acceptable (or at least by precedent can be expected to go unpunished) that it undermines the “strength” of the UN charter on such things? Could you accept an argument that such an outcome will inflict far greater civilian casualties, as well as untold suffering, in the future if permitted to transpire?

          • Brumanuensis

            I don’t think requiring someone to demonstrate that their course of action won’t make matters worse, or alternatively that it bears a high likelihood of success, is a high standard to meet. War is too serious an issue to be left to the mere balance of probabilities; the case for action needs to meet the criminal standard of proof.

            I don’t think I ever wrote that the use of chemical weapons was acceptable; I was merely pointing out that military action wasn’t the best course of action to take. If you want to sanction Assad’s regime, by all means do so, but that’s a different nature of response from firing cruise missiles. After all, do our leaders even know what they’re aiming at?

          • David Battley

            This is a late response to an issue that has probably had too many words wasted on it already, but the argument for specific military action and any consequent outcomes in Syria was never the point being discussed in parliament: that was not the debate, and so arguing that it was not settled as a reason to deny the motion that was under discussion seems odd.

            However, to your more general point of never going in to a war unless you know the outcome, I would simply ask you whether you believe we would have been able to make decisions to go to war in any of our 20th century engagements on the basis of your burden of proof. I believe not, suggesting to me that, should similar circumstances repeat themselves in Europe or the Falklands, we might make different, and I consider wrong, choices compared with those of our forefathers. It is on that basis that I suggest the burden you propose is too high.

          • Brumanuensis

            “the argument for specific military action and any consequent outcomes in Syria was never the point being discussed in parliament”

            It should have been though. Otherwise what was the point of the debate? “We’re going to indulge in a pointless symbolic gesture that we don’t even know will work”?

            “However, to your more general point of never going in to a war unless you know the outcome”

            No, that’s not what I argued. My point was that you should have a clear idea of what you plan to achieve and how you plan to achieve it, prior to taking action. You should also be highly confident that your planned course of action is the best means of achieving your objective.

            “I would simply ask you whether you believe we would have been able to make decisions to go to war in any of our 20th century engagements on the basis of your burden of proof”

            Yes. I do believe my criteria would have been met.

            “I believe not, suggesting to me that, should similar circumstances repeat themselves in Europe or the Falklands, we might make different, and I consider wrong, choices compared with those of our forefathers”

            The Falklands War meets my criteria. Let’s consider it:

            Objective – to liberate the Falklands from Argentine control

            Legality – self-defence is protected under the UN Charter as grounds for war

            Ethics – self-defence / response to the occupation of British territory by a dictatorial military regime

            Means – as the Argentine Junta were uninterested in peace negotiations – and ceasefire offers were made by the Thatcher government up to the end of the war – the use of military force was an appropriate means of resolving the problem, particularly as geopolitically the Falklands was a fairly straight-forward affair – none of the other Great Powers had much interest in the outcome, except perhaps the Americans.

            The same applies to the Second World War and Korea, as well as the 1991 Gulf War. If arguably applies to Kosovo – although I’m sceptical – and Sierra Leone, as well as the initial intervention in Libya – which I supported – and the Ivory Coast and Mali interventions. So I don’t think it’s particularly restrictive, all things considered.

          • David Battley

            Perhaps I misunderstood you position, or perhaps it has shifted, but I did not understand your criteria to consider whether it was a morally “appropriate” position, merely whether “it wouldn’t make matters worse, or alternatively that it bears a high likelihood of success”.

            If the latter, you will need to explain how decision makers looking to undertake a pretty challenging looking war against Germany in 1939, with a high likelihood for drawing in most other major players on the international stage, would have met those criteria?

          • Brumanuensis

            My point about the tests for military action was taken from post from 9 days ago, where I noted:

            “1. Is it legally justifiable?

            2. Is it ethically justifiable?

            3. Is it the best means of achieving the objective of the party launching military action?”

            “If the latter, you will need to explain how decision makers looking to undertake a pretty challenging looking war against Germany in 1939”

            That’s not remotely analogous to the situation in Syria. Wars between nations and wars within nations have very different dynamics. In the case of World War 2, it was apparent from the Spring of 1939 that the diplomatic route to blocking Hitler’s ambitions – which were extra-territorial, another major distinction between then and now – was no longer viable. The only question was when war would come and what the trigger would be. As such, Britain had no choice but to declare war, if it wished to meet its revised objective, which was to limit German expansion – appeasement having demonstrably failed in its goal of avoiding another European war.

            In short, legality was not in question – which it is in relation to Syria – there was an ethical justification – which also exists for Syria – and finally the war was the only realistic means of achieving the British strategic objective – which was the curtailment of German territorial ambition, or subsequently the defeat of Germany.

            But ultimately this is a meaningless exercise, because the Syrian Civil War and World War 2 are not analogous. Most civil wars, by their very nature, are sui generis.

          • David Battley

            Nice straw man: I have not remotely suggested that WW2 and Syria are analogous in this debate, and indeed you have tacitly accepted this when applying your restrictive casus foederis to the Falklands War earlier.

            Interesting that you have added “strategic objective” to the list.

          • Brumanuensis

            “I have not remotely suggested that WW2 and Syria are analogous in this debate”

            Then why did you mention it if you agree it’s irrelevant?

            “and indeed you have tacitly accepted this when applying your restrictive casus foederis to the Falklands War earlier”

            Sorry, what have I accepted? I don’t claim to have accepted anything.

            “Interesting that you have added “strategic objective” to the list”

            What other kind of objective is there?

            Ultimately, what is missing here is an explanation from you as to what you think military intervention in Syria is supposed to achieve, how it will achieve it, why it will work and why it is preferable to all other options. I don’t think those are difficult hurdles to clear.

          • David Battley

            Debating with you is as ridiculous as it is pointless. Re-read my posts for my position, and stop arguing with what you think my position is.

          • Brumanuensis

            You know, David, I could say exactly the same about you. Quit whinging, it’s most unedifying in an adult.

          • David Battley

            Fine: I’ll bite.

            “Then why did you mention it if you agree it’s irrelevant?”

            It’s far from irrelevant. You have suggested a means of deciding whether wars are fought based on a degree of certainty that is never going to be possible. Recognising that some wars (and yes, that does mean action other than Syria, as you realised when you wrote it) would not have met such a criteria, it is ludicrous to suggest it as the basis for making decisions.

            “Sorry, what have I accepted? I don’t claim to have accepted anything.”

            No you haven’t, and yet you wrote about a different conflict to Syria, suggesting that you had in mind applying it to other conflicts. A position from which you appear to have retreated. I notice you are not above the whole “you agree” method of debate. Glass houses and stones.

            “What other kind of objective is there?”

            What started this little side debate was your assertion that “you need to demonstrate that military intervention is the best means of preventing them, without intensifying the civil war or inflicting even more civilian casualties.” Nothing about a broader global objective as a reasonable reason for war. I disagreed, and that was what framed this debate. Based on your “new” assertion that strategic objectives are a reasonable basis for war (incidentally, doesn’t Iraq now fit into this revised criteria you have set?), it appears you disagree with that position too.

            “Ultimately, what is missing here is an explanation from you as to what you think military intervention in Syria is supposed to achieve, how it will achieve it, why it will work and why it is preferable to all other options. I don’t think those are difficult hurdles to clear.”

            No, really it isn’t. I have at no point in this debate said we should go to war. Ironically I believe we have, as a country, arrived at the right position, but going about it completely the wrong way. You are therefore ascribing views to me that I do not have, and changing the context of the debate into one you wish to have, not the one you are having. That is one logical fallacy too many to make this a reasonable debate. If you wish to defend you original assertion then please feel free, but stop changing the context with every post to try and “re-frame” this.

          • Brumanuensis

            Intervention in Syria on the other hand, is legally dubious, its proponents haven’t given a clear account of their objectives and their strategy, and militarily the complexity of the ground war in Syria means that military means are inappropriate, compared with Libya ( ).

          • David Battley

            You are still making the, IMO, dodgy argument that the motion (which basically said that Gas attacks are a legal reason for going to war against Assad, but we won’t go to war yet) required that parliamentarians needed a clear campaign of action before they could choose whether to rap Assad on the wrists for launching chemical weapons. I don’t follow, I’m afraid,

          • Brumanuensis

            The motion was in effect – as David Blunkett and Alan Duncan were noting on “Any Questions” on Friday – a tacit invitation to endorse bombing by the weekend. Otherwise why the haste to recall Parliament? It may be that the text in itself did not demand the authorship of a strategy, but when planning a military intervention, not having a strategy is a cardinal sin and at no point did the government give any indication that they knew what their objective was and how they intended to achieve it.

            To put it bluntly, if Parliament was being asked to sign up to endorsing military intervention in principle, without understanding how military intervention would work in practice, then Parliament was right to reject the motion.

          • David Battley

            I would rather my parliamentarians vote on the law laid in front of them than what they think, hope, or claim the motion is.

          • Brumanuensis

            The letter of the law is rarely a sufficient guide in these matters. Parliament can’t be blind to potential consequences, after all.

          • David Battley

            See below

    • Mike Homfray

      Compelling in what sense? The point is no matter what anyone has done, dropping missiles doesn’t make sense.

      Trying to get the Russians to broker a ceasefire does, but you can wave that one goodbye if the Americans start their usual macho antics

  • John Smith

    I wouldn’t say Cameron has been “arrogant”. He clearly said that it was not the case that he had some “smoking gun” evidence that convinced him he was right, and everyone else was wrong. He has published evidence from the (independent!) JIC for all to look at. The House of Commons library has also published other information. He acknowledges that we cannot have “certainty”, and asked MPs and the nation to make a judgement.

  • Chilbaldi

    Anthony – I agree with every word.

    This is a sad day. Parliament was shown to be small minded and more interested in playing politics than in grasping the nettle and doing good.

    Our own side haven’t come out well from this, and when Britain eventually does go in to Syria (no doubt after several thousand more have been gassed, burned alive and/or murdered by Assad) this will be even more the case.

    • Mike Homfray

      Britain will not go into Syria. The public have had enough of so-called liberal interventionism, as it usually doesn’t work.

      We should neither wish to be world policeman or the poodle of the Americans. Its why I left Labour in 2004

      At last we seem to be moving away from unquestioning Atlanticism

      • leslie48

        Sorry folks I have tried to get this guy to understand war crimes and the UN conventions on gassing your own people and how to respond but he goes off and talks about the history of America or Tony B or other things. I will refrain from further comments as he just does not understand what the purpose of Cameron’s motion was.

        • Mike Homfray

          That’s because I don’t agree with you. Nor do the British people or the Labour party.

          Ed Miliband did the right thing, and Labour should continue to move away from the Blairite interventionist creed. I hope that those who support it in the party do leave, as I was forced to in 2004. It will make the party infinitely better

          • leslie48

            That’s a shame – the party will lose our donations and subs and help and for what? So you can sit on your hands ever more.

          • $6215628

            Who forced you to leave?,why was you leaving the party in 2004 a case of making it better, surely anyone who leaves by their own choice, which I think you’re referring to ,will only lose us votes,may I remind you that bothe the Iraq wars at their respective times had public support, all be it the second one didnt last long.i assume your defenition of infinitely better, means less sucsess full,

          • i_bid

            Fleeting public support built on a foundation of lies.

      • Chilbaldi

        You sound like a leftie academic, which of course you are, rather than someone who distinguishes between the practical reality of lives being lost or saved. Horrific.

  • Brumanuensis

    The three questions to be asked before military intervention:

    1. Is it legally justifiable?

    2. Is it ethically justifiable?

    3. Is it the best means of achieving the objective of the party launching military action?

    Now presumably 3 is to prevent further atrocities against Syrian civilians by the Assad regime – or by the rebels, amongst whom are Al-Qaeda affiliates ( ). So let’s use that as a reference point.

    Of the three, 2 is almost certainly met, given the evidence available. 1 is more debatable and given that the government has only published a brief summary of its legal advice, I’m inclined to follow Philippe Sands QC’s view ( ).

    So that leaves 3 to consider. In that sense, the case for military intervention is not about principle, but about practice. I am utterly pragmatic about military intervention. For it to be worthwhile, it should be possible to demonstrate that it is the only, or otherwise best option for achieving the objective of the initiating party and for that to be the case, the initiating party must be able to set out clearly what they intend to achieve and how. The British government has failed to meet either standard. That, ultimately, is why military intervention is not justified, on the facts.

  • Mike Homfray

    Liberal interventionism has largely been a failure, particularly when it has involved ‘nation-building’ as an aim

    • leslie48

      it’s not liberal – ask the guys who went to D-Day to remove the Nazis from Europe. I do not believe Churchill or Atlee were liberal. Liberals did not save the survivors of Auschwitz.

  • leslie48

    Sorry – only just seen this ; brilliant piece of analysis ; lets hope more of us in our party will have the guts to say why we diminished ourselves by appearing to allow Assad to carry on with his war crimes. Moreover I think this gassing affair may worsen – as if 100, 000s war dead already was not enough- and the media will show a less courageous Labour leader and less moral leader. I am sorry but we took the wrong side – the Pro-Assad side almost..although I appreciate we took a tactical judgement but the world and our media will come to see it differently if the gassing goes on- for example Mr Miliband why were you so easy on the Assad regime back in 2013 and defeat the PMs motion to punish the use of chemical gases against his citizens.

  • leslie48

    We are powerful members of the UN; Assad is a war criminal. Perhaps the French socialists and Arab league will do the tough task for us and you can hope that there is no more State gassing of the innocent citizens.

  • leslie48

    A member of a Labour or Socialist party wrote this ; surely an intruder. And people supporting this inhumanity on this site.

    • How about we start rebuilding our humanity?

      I note that in a few days time Russian arms manufacturer RosoboroneExport will be attending the worlds biggest arms fair at the ExCel centre in London.

      Rosoborone are the biggest supplier of arms to Assad*. They also have at least one contract with the U.S. Department of Defense** worth many millions of dollars.

      So get this, the US government puts millions of tax-payers dollars into the coffers of the company supplying Assad with the weapons that may be used against US tax-payers (who happen to be combatants).

      And the company is heading to London hoping to rustle up more business.

      It’s just like Chalmers Johnson said: “When war’s this profitable there’s bound to be a lot more of it.”

      There’s some people who just don’t want humanity to get in the way of making money. No surprise that arms corporations often lobby for military intervention.



      • leslie48

        We can agree all with that but respectfully you still have the war crime of 1,400 gassed civilians to deal with.

        • That’s why I support he call for a ceasefire and agree with Sarah Wollaston that humanitarian intervention should not take the form of cruise missiles costing nearly £1million each – though not doubt armament manufacturers will be praying for war.

          I thought Dan Hodges rather let the cat out the bag when he moaned that Thursday’s vote against UK involvement meant that it would now be much more difficult for the UK to attack Iran. And just think of how many expensive cruise missiles would be fired in an attack on Iran – and at what cost in human life?

          Funny how there’s always money for bombs but never enough money to feed the millions of children who die of starvation every year (estimated at 15 million)

          Just think of how many meals could be bought for the price of one cruise missile. It may not seem very macho and may not make many politicians feel like they’re being tough but feeding the starving should be a priority.

          That’s why a ceasefire should also be a priority – fewer dead people and, if we want to sort it, better lives for the living.

          • Mike Homfray

            And the way to get a ceasefire is to work closely with the Russians, as they are the ones who can get it.

            Thing is, the reality is that those advocating intervention really want regime change so this wouldn’t be enough

          • leslie48

            Yes and Chamberlain saw Hitler at Munich; not that I am saying there’s any equivalence as without the losses of the Red Army and the courage of the Red Army we would not have conquered the fascist Hitler. I’ll stop now think I am getting lost somewhat…

          • Mike Homfray

            Russia can certainly make the Assad regime sit up and listen. The problem is that there have been murmurings of regime change and its that which has to cease. There is no obvious better or alternative government in waiting. Its a civil war!

        • Mike Homfray

          Which will not be helped by dropping missiles on a target who we don’t even know are responsible. The aim should be for a ceasefire. Means talking to the Russians. Urgently

  • leslie48

    Again does not deal with the said war crime last week: gassing of 1500 civilians including 421 kids. . Listen to Obama he gives an intelligent oratory for not ignoring 21st century dictators like Assad. All your other stuff does not relate to the war crime and how we have to deal with it as leading UN players.

  • Paul Trembath

    Would intervention improve the situation for Syrians? Probably not. And do we trust Cameron and Obama to deliver that outcome? Of course not. Everything else is waffle.

  • Affront

    Just revisiting this piece. Anyone know where Blair, Mr Painter and the Blairites stand on bombing Syria given recent developments?


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