The Syria debate


            I am glad the Prime Minister listened to Parliament when we said we wanted a debate and vote before any change of policy towards Syria. As I expected he has kept his promise.

             It is now Parliament’s task to rise to the occasion.  Parliament needs to bring its experience and knowledge to bear on the difficult moral, political and military issues before us.

              It seems the debate and the possible change of policy has emerged from the President’s difficulty  over his red lines statement. Mr Obama promised or threatened action if Assad started to use chemical weapons against his people. Earlier uses of chemical weapons were ignored. The latest, owing to its scale and media prominence, has become the possible cause of a  missile attack on Syria. The President’s threat did not work, so now he has to decide what to do about it. Is there any reason to suppose a limited missile strike will mend the ways of the Syrian government?

               The debate is framed in narrow terms by the western governments. In their terms we still need to satisfy ourselves that this latest chemical weapon atrocity occurred at the hands of the regime and not someone else. We need to satisfy ourselves that it would be legal under international law to unleash conventional weapons in retaliation for chemical weapon use. We need to ensure that if our cruise missiles are used against the stocks of chemical weapons or the production facilities that the Assad regime has, their deployment will not trigger the release of large quantities of dangerous chemicals. We need to ask how much damage has to be done to the Assad regime to ensure he does not use chemical weapons again. We also would be wise to ask if all this can be done without harming Syrians who are not part of the regime and its military capabilities. We need to think about the reasons for Chinese and Russian opposition to any such action, and to consider what they might do if the west ignores their advice not to intervene.

            I think we should also ask wider questions. I find the continued use of bombs and shells from military planes, tanks and artillery pieces against a civilian population and urban settlements shocking and morally repugnant,  as I find the use of chemical weapons morally repugnant. Can we really say it is just the use of chemical weapons that needs special responses?  Why do we ignore the one, and  act against the other?  Will our intervention make some difference to the longevity of the Syrian regime or  can we agree with the government briefing that the intention is not to affect the balance between the Syrian government and the rebels?  Why is regime change ruled out as an aim, when western governments have such a poor view of the Syrian regime? Why has  the UK government changed its mind from its previous suggestions that arming the rebels was necessary to speed the end of the regime?  

             Many of us are appalled by the violence and chaos in Syria. We would dearly love to see peace restored. We do not see an easy way for the west to bring this about. We do see how partial military interventions might make things worse. In the end these civil wars have to be resolved by the participants agreeeing to sort out their differences by negotiation rather than by fighting.



  1. matthu
    August 29, 2013

    Thank you, John, for continuing to oppose this madness.

    1. Cliff. Wokingham.
      August 29, 2013

      Yes, thank you from me too.

      I feel that if we do get involved in yet another bout of military action that can give us nothing other than grief, especially given that the majority of British people are opposed to getting involved in such wars, I would question even more than I do now, whether getting involved in our political process through the electoral system, is worth anything at all. All of the recent military actions, as far as I can see, have not enjoyed the support of the majority of the population which, in a democracy must be wrong.

      I feel that if our leader does take us into a military conflict with Syria, then I suspect I would withdraw completely from our so called democratic process and not bother to vote again; this is completely alien to me, because I am of the generation who feel we have a duty to vote in elections.

      I also fear “mission creep” in relation to any military action our government decides to take; we have already seen it in other recent conflicts.
      Mr Cameron’s biggest problem at the moment is that no body, including many Conservative supporters like myself, believe a word he says.

    2. Hope
      August 29, 2013

      Hague and Cameron have completely failed to make any case what military action will achieve and why support one side against the other. What about decapitation and eating livers and hearts of victims, why support people who do this? The Russians and Chinese have already experienced his treacherous act in Libya and, quite rightly, will be cautious to accept his word on this occasion- who could blame them. Where was the rule of law for the assignation of Gaddafi? What part did British troops have in finding him and thereby assisting regime change? This war has nothing to do with the UK. Blair and his likes should be confined to the past and his actions never repeated.

    3. lifelogic
      August 29, 2013


      Can JR please tell Cameron that telling MPs to look at the horrific videos of these deaths has nothing whatever to do with the logic (or otherwise) of taking military action. In wars we need clear, hard, rational logic. I can imagine all to well the abject horror but it changes, not one iota, the case for intervention.

      Cameron seems, as always, to be the PR & irrational emotion man to his very finger tips. He sounds just like Bliar.

      The idea that “a shot across the bows” will achieve anything positive is idiotic, lunacy.

  2. Nina Andreeva
    August 29, 2013

    Here is a test of the chickenhawks “morality”. North Korea routinely kills off its population, either intentionally through its GULAG or unintentionally through a famine (during the 1990s between 240,000 and 3,500,000 are estimated to have died, source-wikipedia). However do we not make threats of armed force against the Kim crime family, as we do the Assad one? No we do not and I wonder if it has something to do with DPRK having the bomb and an ability to fight back?

    JR you need to remind Dave of Bismarck’s saying that “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” I would also put a quote in from Gen George S Patten about politicians, but most likely you would edit out of existence.

    If anything I thought Dave would think their would be more electoral appeal in having endless staged photo opps of him and his wife feeding the children in the refugee camps.

    1. Bazman
      August 30, 2013

      Good points and you have to ask why their are no drone strikes in Mexico when many of the drug cartels are a bigger threat to democracy and freedom than terrorism. Interesting to see what the US would do if they used chemical weapons. They have the money to buy anything. It is also strange that when a country armed to the teeth went into panic mode when one of the Boston bombers was running amok. You would have thought they would have relished the challenge. What does this tell us about the USA?

  3. colliemum
    August 29, 2013

    Thank you for this wise assessment of what needs to be asked before the government can be allowed to press on with what is nothing but another military adventure.
    I think there are some more questions which need to be asked – such as how much influence behind the scenes has been exerted by Arab countries who have instigated this civil war for economic reasons (e.g. the building of a gas pipeline by Qatar), and who have supported the rebels with weapons.
    We should ask why we need to intervene at all when a certain Arab kingdom has apparently told the Russian PM, Putin, that they can ‘turn off’ certain jihadi groups now fighting in Syria.
    And we should take a long hard look at how our previous interventions and support for the Arab Spring has played out in various countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia.
    If, as Mr Hague and Mr Cameron and a whole handful of commentators in the MSM have been talking about this last week, it is about moral obligations and humanitarian values, the we need to ask why these are so important now, in Syria, when they have been studiously overlooked for years in countries in Africa.
    Finally, I would like this question to be asked in the House today: why should we in the UK support rebel groups affiliated with al qaeda in Syria, after we’ve fought these groups in Afghanistan, and after home-grown terrorists here in the UK have committed atrocities here in our country.

  4. MickC
    August 29, 2013

    A stunning victory for Ed Milliband, exposing Camerons lack of substance and judgment.

    That Cameron ever believed the impoverished UK should become involved in this chaos, demonstrates how disconnected he is from the views of ordinary people.

    Milliband can probably build on this result to considerable effect.

    It seems we may have the beginnings of what a Parliamentary democracy always needs-an effective Opposition.

    Reply Mr Miliband switched sides during yesterday. Whilst that was welcome it was hardly statesmanlike.

    1. Mike Wilson
      August 29, 2013

      @MickC – Why do you have to view this in terms of which British politician had a ‘stunning victory’ or which had a ‘lack of substance’.

      Aren’t the lives of the people in Syria just a wee bit more important than political point scoring?

      1. MickC
        August 29, 2013

        Because I am British and therefore British politics is extremely important to me-and British people generally.

        It was a stunning result for Miliband-he has completely wrongfooted Cameron, who is trying to rush the UK into an act of war. An act which the majority of the electorate disagree with.

        I have always believed Cameron to be of little substance-and his electoral performance and subsequent actions have only re-inforced my view. Why should that not be said?

        I further believe that Miliband and his advisers are much under-rated by the Conservative Party. Again this event proves it to me.

        Indeed I do consider the lives of the Syrian peoples to be important-which is why I cannot agree that bombing some of them will help them in any way.

        I do not know what would help them (just like everyone else, in fact)-but I do know bombing them won’t.

        And it most certainly will not help the UK, which would have committed an act of war justifying retaliation by Syria. And desperate people do desperate things.

        Our interference in the Middle East has been too costly to us-and far too costly to the peoples of the Middle East.

        Let us save our blood and treasure-we need them.

    2. MickC
      August 29, 2013

      We pay our politicians to look after the interests of the UK, not to be “statesmen” looking after the interests of others.

      Prancing about on the “world stage” is used as a distraction from failures in domestic policy-of which there are many.

    3. JimF
      August 29, 2013

      And you call Mr Cameron s change of mind statesmanlike?
      Your unstinting support for your party s so called leadership marrs an otherwise excellent post.

      1. Hope
        August 29, 2013

        Absolutely, and which country could trust Cameron after Libya? The UK public find themselves in the same position. Buried in this fiasco is the news about more senior officers being made redundant. Is this why Cameron is becoming so reliant on France or is he conditioning us to the EU defence force? He really is unfit to hold the office of PM.

      2. lifelogic
        August 29, 2013

        Perhaps now we might get Cameron to change his mind over the EU, the quack green energy nonsense, HS2, electric cars, the ever larger state, every higher tax rates and all the other things he is completely wrong on?

    4. Credible
      August 29, 2013

      I didn’t know a definition of ‘statesmanlike’ was never changing your mind.

    5. Jonathan Tee
      August 29, 2013

      @ JR’s reply. Whilst I agree with you, and whilst I much prefer conviction politicians (it is why I read your blog, and why I would rather you were in Cabinet), I prefer Miliband doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, than doing the wrong thing whilst trying to do good.
      Before Parliament agrees on behalf of the British to go out and kill people (of whom many will no doubt be entirely unconnected to this latest atrocity), we should at least discuss why we must visit horror and death upon them and their families.

  5. Bazman
    August 29, 2013

    The problem with making threats is that you have to be willing to carry them out
    as MLK would have probably said. “A cap in that Assad’s boy ass the only thing he understands”
    and air strikes will have to be carried out against the Assad regime.

    1. Anonymous
      August 29, 2013

      Why do leftists resort to war so readily ?

      In fact why are they so violent when it comes to political protest too ?

      1. Bazman
        August 29, 2013

        What makes you think I am left wing? Because I believe in social justice and look how far your right wing fantasies have got us financially and militarily with George Bush and his communism for the rich. Maybe the left as you believe are more violent in their political protests because they have exhausted all other options when faced with the often fat bloated rich right who have been bleeding the system for their own socialism excluding everyone else.

        1. Anonymous
          August 30, 2013

          Violence is so often the first resort of the Left in my bitter experience – or pretty darn close to the first resort.

          1. Bazman
            August 30, 2013

            Right Wing Chuntering RWC like lifloc specialises in. You offer no evidence basis or facts and are unable to form any reply, but still having belief in. Prattling in other words.

      2. lifelogic
        August 29, 2013

        Perhaps lefties lack the intellectual capacity to see the world as it really is. In common with most religions, and belief systems, they think they are always right, question little and think they are working for a better world so all is justified.

        The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

        1. Bazman
          August 29, 2013

          Indeed! Is they a summery of your own views? Take a look at your own lack of intellectual ability on this site.

  6. zorro
    August 29, 2013

    John, your comments about intensive bombing of any kind against civilian populations are very relevant. Syria is in a civil war with a rebel side fighting against the recognised government. There will always be civilian casualties in these circumstances. We should not be adding to it. I do not recall the UK or USA being attacked by a foreign power recently but it has engaged in multiple bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, using white phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions which have caused (harm to ed) innocent members of the civilian populations. Let us also not or get the countless ‘smart’ drone attacks which have caused multiple civilian casualties. None of these countries threatened the security of the UK or the USA.

    Both the latter countriestries need to look at themselves when they talk about ‘moral imperatives’……


    Reply I made my view clear. However, under international law, phosphorus can be used in weapon production and for defined uses. Incendiary devices are not banned in the way nerve gas is.

    1. zorro
      August 29, 2013

      Excuse my spelling, it should read ‘not forget the countless’….

    2. zorro
      August 29, 2013

      John, what’s wrong with this, it’s in the news now…..depleted uranium.


  7. Gary
    August 29, 2013

    Gen Wesley Clarke in 2002 let the cat out of the bag when he listed the 7 middle east countries that the west had plans to invade. Syria was one of them.

    They are so desperate for war that they are all over the place with their so called reasons. The only thing we know for sure from Iraq is that the govt lies and they fit the “intelligence” to their agenda. Shame on anyone who swallows this nonesense.

    Reply I cannot believe western governments want to invade so many countries. This current row is underpinned by constant briefing that neither the US nor the UK wish to put any troops on the ground.

    1. Hope
      August 29, 2013

      They do not have to invade to arrange regime change and what have they achieved by disposing of so many leaders they do not like? Chaos appears in the wake of west meddling. Perhaps this is about the aims of the Bilderberg group of a one world government those who are not compliant got rid of.

    2. zorro
      August 29, 2013

      John, you don’t have to believe. Look at what has happened.


      1. zorro
        August 29, 2013

        There is profit in war and military spending for some……good to see Willie Hague rowing back his boat…..Let me see, a couple of days ago he had incontrovertible proof that the Assad regime had launched a chemical attack, and now he’s waiting for the results of the UN report…… What an …..silly politician. Apparently we have the right to attack under ‘humanitarian doctrine’……. Give me strength……


  8. margaret brandreth-j
    August 29, 2013

    I agree with all you say. We need to know more about the Chinese and Russian stance and understand their perspective. We have witnessed Obama’s view, presumably the UN have found a stockpile of chemical weapons, the regime cannot be turned around with a blitz of bombs, international security agreement must be apparent.
    The deaths of the children and other civilians is not the fault of the UK , the moral difficulties lie within Syria itself. We cannot act without more information .Do we think that chemical weapons would be used again in the light of the recent exposure? If the act of aggression proposed by the west is reciprocal then it is wrong, if the proposed act of aggression is preventative then it should be considered.

  9. Lifelogic
    August 29, 2013

    Well three cheers for Cameron perhaps for backing down, but it seems that the praise is mainly due to Miliband and Labour. Cameron only ever seems to do the right thing when forced too.

    A shot across the bow (as Obama euphemistically calls it) would, in practice, achieve nothing but more dead civilians. You cannot fight wars with silly gestures with a few bombs.

    1. zorro
      August 29, 2013

      Cameron sent lacking with his tail between his legs. Very bad example of ‘statesmanship’……


  10. matthu
    August 29, 2013

    A government source tells the Times: “No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. ”

    (link: )

    Makes one dread to think what Cameron and Hague say in private about John Redwood and his 80 or so back-benchers.

  11. Gary
    August 29, 2013

    “According to the testimonies we
    have gathered, the rebels have
    used chemical weapons, making
    use of sarin gas,” (Carla) del Ponte, a (UN rights investigator and)
    former war crimes prosecutor, said
    in an interview with Swiss radio late
    on Sunday. – Telegraph

    That was back in May. Where was Cameron and Hague then ? Hague is now saying that the latest chemical attack is the first attack of the 21st century ?!

    1. Brian Tomkinson
      August 29, 2013

      That was ok because Hague supports the rebels whoever they may be and whatever they do.

      1. zorro
        August 29, 2013

        Believe it or not but on all the MSN outlets they refer to this occurrence as the responsibility of Assad and do not mention Del Ponti’s comments. They must be under pressure from their masters……


  12. Mike Stallard
    August 29, 2013

    “Syria – how can those of us who give a damn make a difference?”

    Headline on Labour List.

    1. Bazman
      August 30, 2013

      Here is the story and your point is?
      Just a right wing feeling?

  13. Richard1
    August 29, 2013

    More sensible would be to charge Assad and his henchmen with crimes against humanity. When and how they are brought to justice is another question. After all Nazis are still being charged 70 years after their crimes. Obama needs a serious discussion with Putin, not the petulant cancellation of their meeting over the trivial issue of Mr Snowdon, which should be handled by diplomats. There is plenty of pressure he could exert in Russia – boycott of the absurd winter Olympics waste, travel restrictions on key figures, investigations into their shady finances with public exposure, a huge push in shale gas (which the Russians are vehemently opposed to). Obama is the least effective US president since Carter and the world is a more dangerous place as a result.

  14. Roy Grainger
    August 29, 2013

    You ask many questions but I expect your actual position on this (and more or less everything else) is exactly the same as Nigel Farage’s who explained it rather concisely on the BBC yesterday. Why Cameron would wish to rush to support Obama on this is inexplicable.

    1. Cliff. Wokingham.
      August 29, 2013

      You asked;
      “””Why Cameron would wish to rush to support Obama on this is inexplicable.”””

      Sadly, I fear Messers Hollande and Cameron have merely entered into an Obama butt sucking competion; I can see no other legitimate reason for their crazy rhetoric.

  15. Alan
    August 29, 2013

    I don’t think that the military operations against the Syrian government will produce the desired result of deterring the use of chemical weapons unless they are sufficiently severe to destroy, or enable the rebels to destroy, the Assad regime. It doesn’t seem that the USA is about to deliver that level of attack, and I therefore expect them to be ineffective.

    The consequence could be that the USA will ensure that the Assad regime remains its committed enemy, which will do its best to damage US interests in the future. Even small groups and nations can deploy serious destructive power nowadays.

    This situation is reminding me of the situation at the end of the first Iraq war. It was assumed then that Saddam Hussein’s regime had been so damaged that it would be overthrown. That was untrue: the regime was able to suppress those inside Iraq who attempted to overthrow the regime. The regime gained prestige in the region from having successfully survived against the US attacks, and became more dangerous to US interests. The consequence was the second Iraq war, which was a more damaging conflict. In my view it is not wise to create enemies unless you destroy them.

    The UK’s possible role in all this is to give support to the USA. The consequence for us is to affect the confidence that the USA feels in us as an ally. It is the USA’s decision whether to take action or not, and we will not affect that. They can act without us, but we cannot act without them. We need to balance whether giving the USA additional confidence that we will always support them is worth being a confirmed enemy of the Assad regime. We must remember that our whole defence is dependent on the USA, but we can also bear in mind that the USA is likely to act in our defence however we act on relatively minor matters like the use of chemical weapons in Syria. I don’t think the USA sees this as an important matter that demands that their allies show support. I think we should do the very minimum, perhaps just making a statement of support that we agree that the USA is doing the right thing.

  16. John Eustace
    August 29, 2013

    In addition we need to think about the possible consequences for us of attacking Syria. What is our national interest here? The Government denials that their proposed action would help Al Qaida affiliated groups are not credible. They propose to make an enemy of the Syrian regime and to help those who are already our enemies.

    You are absolutely right that this is time for Parliament to do it’s job. I applaud your stand and pray that you carry the day.

  17. S MacDonald
    August 29, 2013

    I really do not believe this is just about the use of chemical weapons, by whichever side in this dreadful war – it involves far bigger issues, such as Russian and Chinese imperial-style influence, and the labrynthine structure of the Arab League, and murderous internecine Islamic religious differences.

    I am saddened that both the PM and the Foreign Secretary seem to want to be ‘in with the big boys’, in this case the US, particularly when the US President seems unable to present either a capable and plausible diplomatic or military strategy.

    If the UK is to play any part in this dreadful scenario, it should be one that helps to prevent the spread of this contagion.

  18. alan jutson
    August 29, 2013


    You ask many sensible questions, but your last paragraph sums up the situation.

    Can we really make a difference by killing more people ?

    From what little I have seen of news reports and interviews, it would seem to me that Obama now really seems to be having second thoughts and may want to back away from air strikes, but Cameron and Hague seem to be more bullish, which is a worry.

    The problem for Obama is now self made, having initially threatened, he will look weak at home and abroad if he backs down without some sort of action.
    The same could now be said of Cameron.

    Wise men use threats as a last resort.

    Do we have wise men?

    Could we sustain another War?

    If we did get involved, do we end up fighting all sides?

    My View.
    Keep out unless we are part of a complete UN force, under UN control.

    1. a-tracy
      August 29, 2013

      I agree with you Alan.

      As it was Obama’s threat, Obama must negotiate with the UN to agree a course of action. As with children if you threaten a punishment then it must be made on the understanding that you will follow through, so only threaten something you are willing and able to conclude.

      I thought one of the benefits of being in the EU is that big issues like this would be dealt with by the European Union jointly with all of the European members using the full weight of numbers its time that the EU stepped up and made the big decisions instead of just deciding how to make us as uncompetitive as them.

      1. rose
        August 30, 2013

        “its time that the EU stepped up and made the big decisions instead of just deciding how to make us as uncompetitive as them”

        Are you talking here about Mrs Peter Kellner? As opposed to Mr Herman Van Rumpuy? (Sorry, he is so commanding a figure that I am not even sure how to spell his name.)

    2. peter davies
      August 29, 2013

      I agree with this sentiment.

      There’s a couple of things I don’t understand;

      1. Why would Assad’s forces be stupid enough to risk using chem wpns when they were making progress? Could this be the work of Jihadists hoping blame gets pinned on Assad to bring the West in? Just hope the UN Inspectors do a good job here.

      2. I know it contravenes International Law, but surely so does killing unarmed civilians etc. Why is the use of chem weapons treated any different to bullets and bombs? At the end of the day killing is killing – should be treated the same.

  19. JimS
    August 29, 2013

    Let Obama, (no friend of Britain), draw his own red lines.

    (sentence removed ed)

  20. Michael James
    August 29, 2013

    It’s nonsense to claim, as the government does, that Britain could launch a punitive strike against Assad without becoming involved in the Syrian civil war itself. Such a strike would automatically assist the rebels. And if Assad continued to use chemical weapons, regime change would be the only way to stop him. Remember Libya? The initial supposedly neutral no-fly zone to protect civilians very soon evolved (without explanation) into an air force siding with the rebels.

  21. Bob
    August 29, 2013

    “Is there any reason to suppose a limited missile strike will mend the ways of the Syrian government?”

    Are you sure that the Syrian government have deployed chemical weapons?
    Pravda seem to think otherwise. Unless you know something that we don’t, or have seen a secret dossier, why not reserve judgement?

    There is nothing to be gained by a trigger happy knee jerk response.
    Allow the UN weapons inspectors to do their job first.

    1. Bazman
      August 29, 2013

      Pravda seem to think otherwise. LOL! I bet you never thought you would write that Bob? Gangsters have little interest in civil and human rights. Maybe you should ask the Mafia on their views on extortion?

  22. Brian Tomkinson
    August 29, 2013

    Why did Cameron have to bring back Parliament today when it is back anyway next Monday? Why the rush? There is no doubt that Cameron and Hague want to intervene in Syria. I hope that Conservatives are not going to rally around these two on this issue for party political reasons. As you write: “In the end these civil wars have to be resolved by the participants agreeeing to sort out their differences by negotiation rather than by fighting.” Cameron and Hague seem to have given up on that, if they ever believed it. Parliament can show that it is capable of controlling the government executive if it does not weaken on party political lines. There should be no military intervention in Syria by the UK or support for US action.

  23. Gary
    August 29, 2013

    Well done to you and other MPs for having moral fibre and contributing to ,,so far, foiling the push to bombing.

  24. Martin
    August 29, 2013

    There will be no element of surprise in any attack from the West.

    The baddies (do we know who they are?) will therefore be in bunkers and may have all the usual practices set up (orphanages next to the secret police HQ etc) so that anything off target is a propaganda disaster.

  25. Iain Gill
    August 29, 2013

    “Team America” becomes more a documentary rather than a comedy every day.

  26. A.Sedgwick
    August 29, 2013

    The UN inspectors’ report has to be presented to the Security Council and if the case against the Assad Government is proved then realistically it is down to Russia and China agreeing to some military action. Anything else is clearly unlawful to the non lawyer, like me. After blasting off 100 Cruise missiles what next? Sit back and let the civil war continue? Strategy has never been Cameron’s strong point and his approach over the last few days is seriously worrying. It is time that he ignored Blair, for example, and erred on the side of caution and listened to calmer counsel.

    1. zorro
      August 29, 2013

      Indeed, as we have continually counselled.


    2. peter davies
      August 29, 2013

      If he is taking his lead from the “Middle East Peace Envoy”, then we should be worried

  27. Anonymous
    August 29, 2013

    We have to ask (now matter how unpalatable the regime):

    – who has been keeping the electricity on and the water flowing and who will continue to do so if this regime is destabilised ?

    Assuming the worst and that Assad has WMDs

    – isn’t it better to keep Assad seated on those WMDs rather than risking that they become available for Al Qaeda to use against us ? How do we stop this from happening without committing boots to ground in a protracted occupation yet again ?

    Finally I’d like to address two points about such an engagement’s impact on politics in Britain:

    David Cameron is displaying all of the traits of the discredited Tony Blair. He is clearly out of touch with his people and is being influenced by the BBC agenda-setting news reels. We are weary of foreign interventionism by such over-privileged glory boys with no clear goals other than ‘something MUST be done’ and with no skin of their own in the game.

    We are yet to see a PM’s son or daughter serving in the armed forces.

    Why do those of a leftist bent (as Mr Cameron surely has) resort to war so much ?

    1. rose
      August 29, 2013

      “Why do those of a leftist bent (as Mr Cameron surely has) resort to war so much ?”

      For the same reasons they love being generous with other people’s money: it makes them feel all-powerful and good, and it doesn’t cost them anything.

  28. Acorn
    August 29, 2013

    10 out of 10 JR. Hope you catch the Speaker’s eye.

    BTW. The British Prime Minister has more executive powers than the President of the United States. Not a lot of people know that. Without a written Constitution in the UK, the law is whatever the government of the day says it is. Thankfully, we the people, are fortunate to have the protection of European Union institutions, plus ECHR; ECJ etc etc., to protect us from El Presidente Cameron; Genghis Gove and Atilla the Osborne. (That will get them going, I bet 😉 😉 😉 )

    From the Commons Library. Under Standing Orders, the Speaker of the House of Commons determines whether the House is to be recalled on the basis of representations made by Ministers. Under the previous Labour Government, Members argued that they, rather than the Government, should be able to make representations to the Speaker to recall Parliament. The Labour Government announced proposals to effect this change but the proposals were never implemented. (Executive 1 Parliament 0)

    However, it remains the case that Parliament has no legally established role in approving participation in military action and any formal Parliamentary involvement continues to be determined by the Government. The commitment of British forces in Afghanistan, for example, has never been subject to a vote on a Government-tabled motion; whereas retrospective approval for the deployment of forces to Libya was sought on 21 March 2011, three days after the announcement of British participation. The deployment of British military assets in Mali has been neither the subject of a debate, or a vote in Parliament.

    Time to get the Executive out of Parliament I say.

  29. Gary
    August 29, 2013

    The UN chemical weapons team are NOT allowed to say who may have used the weapons! ?

    And our leaders are hell bent on bombing based exactly on what, then ? How do we know Assad did this ?

    By bitter experience, that means our leaders are going to give us another dodgy dossier that they themselves will cook up.

  30. Richard Cox
    August 29, 2013

    As to be expected from John Redwood, a good analysis of the numerous problems associated with the proposed action.

    More generally, I fail to see why the UK attempts to act as the world’s policeman / guardian of morals. The United Nations may be flawed but it is the best authority that we have – remember the rush into Iraq without waiting for the UN?

  31. Andyvan
    August 29, 2013

    Since when has our Parliament, based as it is on theft and force like all governments, been in any way qualified to make any judgment on morality or ethics? If it has an opinion on military matters it’s probably best unheard.
    In fact both it and the executive are completely unfit to make decisions for this country or any person in it and should simply reject out of hand any violence towards any country unless it is actively involved in attacking us- the same principle of self defence that ordinary mortals have to abide by or go to prison should apply to politicians.

  32. GrahamC
    August 29, 2013

    I think that you give Cameron (and parliament) too much credit – there was no real listening involved just the realisation that some real facts were needed before we interfered yet again in another sovereign state.

    As to the HoC using its ‘experience’ – perhaps you could enlarge on that since from where I stand there is little real world experience to offer on anything.

  33. Leslie Singleton
    August 29, 2013

    It’s the bit about no regime change that I struggle with, for can it possibly be that Assad (not that we know that it was Assad, not personally anyway) is to be able to expiate his sins (which are of the worst kind) by suffering a few incoming cruise missiles and then carrying on as before, with his debt to society paid? Would not surprise me to hear that if there are missile strikes they will cause more damage and suffering than the chemical weapons, not to mention how much each missile costs. Miliband trying to make political play out of all this is disgusting.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      August 29, 2013

      Postscript–Having followed much of the debates, and just watched the votes being declared, I have to say that, although as ever he carried himself well and in an admittedly difficult situation, Cameron has weighed up the issues involved and as so often managed to get them totally wrong.

    2. Leslie Singleton
      August 30, 2013

      PPS–Miliband has performed a miracle and inculcated at least a degree of sympathy in me for Cameron. After a cup of cocoa it seems to me that, although I have often called Cameron a snake-oil salesman, Miliband, with his prevarication is just snake (like ed). (Except that snakes don’t walk) to prevaricate means in the original Latin, if memory serves, to walk a crooked path.

  34. oldtimer
    August 29, 2013

    Both Mr Cameron and Mr Hague have come across to me as far too trigger happy.

    The talk of surgical, precise strikes is wholly misleading. However precise and controlled a strike may be, the fallout that would follow is totally unknown and entirely uncontrollable. Mr Liam Fox, writing in CityAM, has some sensible things to say and questions to ask about military action. It is clear that the UK government does not have the answers.

    Even if a legal case for foreign military intervention in Syria is or can be made, that is not a reason for UK intervention. The UK lacks the standing, the clout or the means to be effective in any kind of military action in such a brutal civil conflict with its wider Shia-Sunni undertones.

    As Clausewitz once pointed out “War is politics by other means”. Sooner or later there will have to be a political settlement. The only question is whether it will come from the barrel of a gun, with one side or another totally destroyed and submitting to unconditional surrender, or by dialogue between the parties before that outcome occurs. It would not surprise me if this civil war did not run for years and years and spill out into neighbouring countries. Some would argue it already has.

  35. Bill
    August 29, 2013

    One must wonder what kinds of conversations went on between Cameron and Obama at the time when Cameron wanted to commit the UK to the use of force. What did Cameron want in return for supporting Obama?

    1. Monty
      August 29, 2013

      Maybe the pressure isn’t actually coming from Obama in the first place. Maybe it’s coming from the Saudis. They appear to have the greatest interest in seeing Syria turn into a sunni islamist republic.

  36. forthurst
    August 29, 2013

    “We need to ask how much damage has to be done to the Assad regime to ensure he does not use chemical weapons again.”

    That is begging the question. First of all let’s remind ourselves of what Obama said at a news conference at the White House on Aug. 20, 2012.

    “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

    He was telling Assad not to use chemical weapons as his strategy for recovering his country from the armed (opposition ed) (supported ed) by (some ed) western governments. For several months, Assad has clearly been winning back his country with the use of conventional weapons; he has been helped by the return to his side of elements of his army which had defected, but having seen the (nature of the opposition ed), have decided that the Assad regime is preferable. Why then at this stage would Assad use chemical weapons against unarmed civilians, when he wanted to retain and win back the support of all his people? On the other hand, why would (some in the opposition ed) not wish to attempt to frame Assad by deliberately murdering civilians with chemical attacks?

    (Further allegations removed ed)

  37. Vanessa
    August 29, 2013

    Why send in UN weapons inspectors and not let them do their job? This is Iraq all over again ! We have no proof that it was the Asad regime which did this. If we do send in missiles how will that help? Do we want regime change? And if we do who will we put in government? If we find out that it was the rebels who used these chemical weapons then what?

    The politicians who are gagging for war need to look seriously at their own reasons for doing this. Is it to prop up their weak egos and make them look like HE-MEN? Russia (thank God) has pointed out that there is no proof that Asad used these weapons and why would he use them? for what purpose? Just to kill a few people – it is much more likely that the rebels used them to make them look as if they are on the stronger side.

  38. terry
    August 29, 2013

    Has Cameron learned nothing from the debacle that was the Iraq war? We entered the war with no plans for exit under the guise of Bliar’s lies -’45 minutes to launch WMDs’. And all because he promised his help to George W. Blair sacrificed the lives of hundreds of British troops to save face with Bush and savour favour with the American people (to secure his future as a after dinner speaker and consultant).

    Now Cameron puts himself in exactly the same position over similarly dubious assertions.

    This is very deja vu and our PM, supposedly well educated man, is blindly running down the same “No Entry” street.
    If he continues, he will ultimately collide with the 42 tons juggernaut coming right at him and more British blood will be spilled on an egotistical, face saving exercise.

    When will our leaders stop playing God and save British lives? Leave it to the UN. That is what they are there for.

  39. Wokingham Mum
    August 29, 2013

    Cameron has never been, in our opinion, an effective leader and had at one stage lost our vote for the Conservatives, but in the last few months he had started to redeem himself and possibly secured our vote, probably more due to the other party leaders ineptness.

    However Syria? His willingness to commit us to military action. The ex Conservative leaders he surrounds himself with, war rhetoric, his inability to listen to his own party, promote and establish the talented, bright and promising, listen to opposing opinions, speaking before thinking and his blind devotion to the US. If sense prevails and his MP’s vote according to their constituents views against military action, where does Cameron stand? If it is established the rebels used chemical weapons, where does Cameron stand?

    Sadly, we are back, again not convinced to put that cross in the Conservative box. We are shocked and surprised that it was Miliband who adopted the appropriate stance, and are now re-evaluating. We hope to trust the Conservative party and pray they will not support this action, but Cameron, if he had a majority would this vote have taken place? Would he have just joined the US regardless of his party and public opinion?

  40. Lindsay McDougall
    August 29, 2013

    The only type of strike that would act as a deterrent would be against Assad and members of his government PERSONALLY. We would aim cruise missiles at their residences. The West would need to assess the effects (a) of killing Assad (b) of killing members of his family and (c) the likely extent of collateral damage from a near miss. Then it would need to assess the likely reactions of Russia and China, and the extent to which the UK would be exposed to counter terror.

    Do we know for sure that it was Assad who used chemical weapons?
    (1) For: The Syrian government has a stockpile and a means of delivery
    (2) For: Why did the Syrian government delay UN inspection by 5 days?
    (3) Against: Why do it when you are winning the war anyway?
    (4) Against: Why gas the wives and children of your conscript soldiers?

    I’m glad that it’s not my decision.

  41. Vanessa
    August 29, 2013

    Sorry, another point – when will we know when to stop missile attacks? Is there a result we are seeking and if so what is it?

  42. Dan H.
    August 29, 2013

    Sir, One thing to be very aware of here is the type of chemical weapons used. The references cited in the comments above casually throw out the name “Sarin” with no thought as to what this actually means. Sarin is a volatile organophosphorus nerve agent, which acts on the acetylcholinesterase system, and acts to permanently switch on muscles. Victims are characteristically frozen into contorted positions, suffering muscle spasm before death; this also occurs with non-lethal doses. This agent is somewhat persistent; it lingers on victims’ clothing and bodies and on the ground where used, and can be absorbed through skin contact. These characteristics are common to all nerve agents.

    This being the case, the footage of the aftermath of Syrian chemical attacks is most informative. Look at the hospital staff, and indeed the random civilians seen in the hospitals. None of them, not a single one, is wearing a protective respirator or protective clothing. Random civilians are permitted to wander about as they please; the makeshift mortuary also has people wandering about completely unprotected, and the corpses in this mortuary look suspiciously clean and tidy; they do not look like they died in convulsions as a nerve agent took over their muscular control (and this muscular tetany only fades when normal rigor mortis fades).

    The only conclusion is that the Syrian chemical attacks were not nerve agents. We’d be hearing many anguished reports of hospitals being lethally contaminated, and we’d certainly not see medics treating casualties in their shirtsleeves. These attacks were also suspiciously non-lethal; neurotoxic agents normally kill 95% of people exposed to them; we’re seeing perhaps 10% lethality here at most. Nerve and blister agents tend to disfigure bodies; these are not so disfigured.

    No, this was not a nerve gas attack. The most likely explanation is that someone let off a number of military-grade tear gas dispensers; these are used as riot dispersants and are not classed as lethal chemical agents at all, but as non-lethal crowd control agents. These are permitted under international law.

    I would therefore ask, Mr Redwood, that you do your best to stall Cameron and his merry glory-hounds until evidence of what chemical was actually used comes in. We’re going to look a bunch of complete idiots if we believe the overblown reports from the Syrians (all sides of which have reason to massively exaggerate the chemical weapons) and jump the gun here.

  43. Neil Craig
    August 29, 2013

    I assume the reason “regime change” is ruled out as a war aim is because this is ine of the “red lines” that would signal it as a war crime.

    Thus “regime change” was specifically ruled out as an objective when we attacked Libya – the legal justification being, right up to the end, that we were simply defending the peaceloving democrats of Benghazi from an allegedly intended massacre.

    In the same way, even after the end of the fighting, the occupation agreement with Yugoslavia confirmed that our purpose was to disarm the KLA, run a non-racist regime and respect Yugoslavia’s sovereignty under international law (which we had already guaranteed for the whole country anyway), rather than carrying out (atrocities which I have not researched ed) that John will not allow it to be mentioned.

    Presumably the rest of the world has noticed what value attaches to our word.

  44. MajorFrustration
    August 29, 2013

    Why not leave the Arab/Muslim world to their own devices – once the West gets involved they have a common enemy. Do we have the money to mount some sort of interdiction, surely our troops have done enough towards world peace – its time for other countries to take the strain – lets sit this one out. But will Westminster listen we have had enough political ego trips over the last twelve years.

  45. Mike
    August 29, 2013

    Whilst I expect the government’s propaganda machine to ramp the case for intervention we must resist it.

    Western firepower will only result in more dead Syrians, of whatever hue.

    This is an especially dangerous step for the UK and it’s armed forces. We have one of the few modern armies which pays more than lip service to the need for chemical weapons protection for it’s troops. As such I find it implausible that we would not eventually be asked to commit troops on the ground.

  46. lojolondon
    August 29, 2013

    At 5 o’Clock, Cameron said the attacks were on. An hour and a half later, he said there would be another debate and a vote. This is due to all the Conservative ministers and Labour clearly needing to be convinced before supporting attacks with no evidence.

    Again, what is the logic of one side of a conflict (which he is winning!) using gas on CIVILIANS (not military targets!) when he knows that will give the US the opening they have been waiting for to engage??

    In April there was a gas attack in Syria that proved to be from the rebels, pretending that Assad had attacked civilians – as the UN found.

    Now we have the White house saying they doubt anyone except Assad is responsible, they and Cameron want to attack before evidence is procured.

    What is delaying the evidence? Well, rebel armies are sniping on UN investigators, what does that tell you??

    Of course, the biggest instigators of war over the last few days have been Blair, Mandelson, the BBC etc. which tells you all you need to know!

    1. lojolondon
      August 29, 2013

      From the BBC :

      Wonder why then that Obama didn’t attack the rebels, or is it only one side that runs any risk from gassing people??

      Also wonder why now the Mainstream Media (including the BBC) is so quiet about this previous attack – surely it is pertinent that the last known gas attack in Syria came from the FSA??

      Reply I think there is difficulty in proving the provenance of any of these attacks. Mr Cameron did say yesterday that he would want to take action against the rebels if it was proved they used these weapons. However, that is now mercifully no longer relevant.

  47. English Pensioner
    August 29, 2013

    Why do only the US, France and ourselves consider action is necessary? Are we being told that other countries in the world have no morals as we are being told this is a “moral issue”? I’m strongly opposed to us taking any action in Syria, not only because it is still uncertain as to whether Assad was responsible for the poison gas attack, but because of the possible longer term consequences for this country. Apart from the fact that we would upset all those Arab countries supporting Assad, and also get involved in a proxy war with Russia, we must consider the consequent radicalisation of even more Muslims in this country, and possible attempts at retaliation by Syria within this country. How difficult would it be for some Syrian suicide bombers to attack this country with Sarin or other lethal gas? A few terrorists did this on the Tokyo underground and I wouldn’t put it beyond Syria’s capability to do something similar here. We should let the Arabs sort this matter out themselves and keep well clear of Syria, it is not our concern.
    I have met no-one who supports action against Syria and one wonders if Cameron and Hague ever consider what the electors are thinking. Let’s hope the rest of the MPs do listen to their constituents.

  48. Glenn Vaughan
    August 29, 2013

    President Obama’s entire time in office has been characterised by dithering and confusion, reminiscent of the appalling President Carter during the 1970s.

  49. Pleb
    August 29, 2013

    Iran is sworn to protect Syria. If we move onto Syria then it may start WW3. .(John can you ask that the annoying “Privacy settings ” box be removed from the foot of your page.)

  50. formula57
    August 29, 2013

    Cameron jeopardizing his own and his country’s well-being to rescue the flawed foreign policy of a less than adroit US president who has seemingly manoeuvred himself into his own Syrian bind (allowing that it is not some sophisticated play against Iran) appears foolish. But if he insists he is not doing it right. Just where are variously the tendentious, dubious intelligence material, condensed into a dodgy dossier, the self-righteous protestations of making a difference albeit whilst expending British lives and resources, the shifting ground of justifications being for then against regime change, allowing retrenchment and assurances from the enemy then denying them, the ignored UN inspectors, the partial legal advice, the protestations of limited commitment including as to time, the robustness of the post-intervention plans to make all well again?

    Of course, Cameron might ask instead “what profit a man that he gains the whole world but loses his soul” – and all for American foolery? Still there is the compensatory dust of a bauble from the US government and personal wealth from speaking tours there and consultancy offered by Wall Street etc..

  51. Gordon451
    August 29, 2013

    The most valuable action by Cameron now would be to persuade Obama to delay action by one or two weeks while we try to understand what happened, who did it, and why was it done. If Assad’s government ordered the poison gas strike, their reasons for having done it will dictate the correct responses.

    I agree very much with the questions raised in your penultimate paragraph on ‘wider responses’. I’ve been surprised that there has not been sufficient common ground between the major countries on the UN Security Council to begin steering Syria towards some sort of peace. I guess partially hidden agendas are obstacles.

  52. Credible
    August 29, 2013

    Tend to agree with you. It would be great if we could make everything alright in Syria, but I can’t think of any (plausible) intervention that would make the situation better.

    Maybe we should think for seriously about arms sales from this country though. Granted Syria gets most of its from Russia, but other very unpleasant regimes have used (and do use) weapons made by us. We sell to countries that are on our own official list for human rights abuses.

  53. Mark
    August 29, 2013

    During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Henry Kissinger famously remarked “It’s a pity they can’t both lose”. US and Soviet policy encouraged the war to continue, until the bankroll from GCC countries ran into problems because of the collapse of oil prices, and the Soviet Union itself could no longer afford supplying Iraq on credit.

    In Syria, the position has parallels: there is no obvious side to back. Throw out Assad, and the Nusra Front will likely turn the country into another radical Islamic state. I find much to agree with in this opinion from a former US diplomat and banker:

    (unchecked site deleted ed)
    He sketches out a good logic for tying in the Russians and taking advantage of the more moderate and freshly elected president of Iran to make the world a safer place than it otherwise would be. He understands that the real threat to the West and Russia alike is radical Islamic extremism. Perhaps Cameron and Hague need a Damascene conversion to gaining a little more insight themselves.

  54. M Davis
    August 29, 2013

    Thank you JR for your very sensible stance on this matter and many others.

    The West will be pouring oil onto fire if they intervene in the Syrian civil war. Britain should leave well alone, we have no business whatsoever interfering in another Country’s war.

    If David Cameron and William Hague want to go to war, let them have a verbal war with the EU!

  55. Gary
    August 29, 2013

    In the commons. Cameron basically said we have not got definitive evidence that Assad used chemical weapons, but we want to attack them anyway.

    He wants to risk a thermonuclear war that could be the end of life , on some spurious, non definitive evidence? Cameron is insane. Someone stop him.

  56. Atlas
    August 29, 2013

    Little to add to your clear analysis. It’s all a big problem.

  57. rose
    August 29, 2013

    There is much talk of Iraq. But it is Kosovo we need to learn from: there, we were drawn into bombing the Serbs by allowing ourselves to be duped and manipulated by the KLA. We actually caused a humanitarian disaster – 100,000 displaced Europeans – which Alistair Campbell then briefed to the media was the reason we needed to go on with the bombing. The truth has still not been told. Because people will only talk about Iraq.

  58. lojolondon
    August 29, 2013

    John, I just read this –

    9% of Americans support action in Syria.
    47 percent supported US intervention in Libya in 2011
    76 percent of American supported the Iraq War
    90 percent supported Afghanistan in 2001
    46 percent supported NATO military action in Kosovo in 1999

    Doesn’t this make it likely if the UK attacks Syria, we will stand alone ??

  59. margaret brandreth-j
    August 29, 2013

    An American representative on C4 has just said if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck . My take is when you have been quacked by a look alike then you are more careful . Who could have supplied Chemical weapons to the rebels? We cannot assert by process of unsatisfactory elimination, that the rebels had not had the opportunity to acquire chemical weapons so therefore it must be Assads regime as Mr Hammonds concluded.

  60. Chris S
    August 29, 2013

    While I don’t think it’s up to the Brits to join the US as the World’s policeman on every occasion, especially this time, I have very serious concerns at the precedent set today in Westminster.

    It is the PM’s and the Government’s decision and responsibility when to deploy military forces, not that of Parliament.

    Today, Cameron appears to have conceded the decision on whether to attack Syria to a vote in the house. If true, this is an unwelcome and very dangerous precedent for a British Prime Minister to take.

    Why has Miliband backed away from the position he demanded the PM agreed to less than 24 hours ago ? Presumably he has now discovered that he doesn’t have the support of his own backbenchers.

    Reply As I explained to the House, no PM should try to take the country to war if he does not command a majority in parliament to do so. At any time he could lose a vote over it.

  61. cosmic
    August 29, 2013


    If you look at some of your own past posts, e.g.

    it is quite obvious that Cameron and Hague have been spoiling to ‘have a go’ at Syria for ages and have been canvassing support. The nerve gas attack is the very excuse they need, hence the haste. I certainly don’t believe their moral outrage is genuine.

    I have no idea what their motives are apart from looking big on the world stage; vanity. They haven’t come up with any convincing reasons.

    It’s a frightening state of affairs when we again have people in charge, of the nature of Blair, quite determined to commit us to another costly military intervention, with all sorts of unwelcome possible consequences, for what appear to be the shallowest of reasons.

  62. They Work For Us
    August 29, 2013

    Events have shown that the removal of unsavoury dictators in the Middle East leads to an explosion of internal warfare and terrorism when disparate and opposing factions (previously held in check by the dictator) are let loose on each other when he is removed.

    Instead of invading Iraq to remove Saddam, we should have encouraged him to keep a large number of troops near his border with Iran. Iran would have had to deploy large resources to counter this and would have got up to less mischief elsewhere.

  63. Robbo
    August 30, 2013

    Good post, John, and from what I saw of it, a good speech in the House too, but why did you not vote against military intervention ?

    Reply The vote against military action was to be held next week – though before last night’s vote the government told me there would be no such vote as they knew we had the numbers to defeat any such plan.

  64. matthu
    August 30, 2013

    I am not entirely sure why John Redwood should have censored my post drawing attention to government sources’ copper-bottomed references to Ed Miliband.

    Yes, the language (disguised by asterisks) was shocking.

    But the same quote was used by The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian and ITV News and goes a long way to illustrating the contempt that certain sections of the government apparently have for principled beliefs widely held by the electorate and for those MPs who espouse them. Gove’s outburst in parliament was pretty much in the same vein although using more temperate language.

    Are those who stick firmly to widely-held principled beliefs now commonly regarded as a disgrace by the government?

  65. APL
    August 30, 2013

    Arming the ‘rebels’ == arming Al Qaeda

    1. APL
      August 31, 2013

      Since we do not know with any certainty who* deployed those chemical weapons ( in this instance ) hitting the Assad regime might put us in the position of actually rewarding the use of such weapons.

      It’s not impossible that a faction within the rebels used them to provoke a Western response against the Assad regieme.

      Best to stay out of the whole cesspit.

      1. R .T .G.
        August 31, 2013

        And this level of journalism (27/5/2012), whether c/up or conspiracy, doesn’t assist certainty:

      2. APL
        September 1, 2013

        R.T.G: “And this level of journalism ”

        Yes, the BBC cannot even produce news accurately anymore.

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