Syria: Three Questions for Parliament

A strike against Syria seems increasingly likely, forces are being positioned and public statements made. Parliament has been recalled a few days early to debate the UK response but this seems like a formality as it would seem decisions have already been made without our representatives having a say.

Morality and sensible foreign policy in the national interest (the job of Government) are not happy bedfellows and should not be allowed to mix. This is not a question of conscience, it is about the national interest, killing people with British weapons and standing up to that reality.

There is nothing wrong with the principle of intervention but we must ask searching questions and think very hard before doing so, unfortunately, there seems little evidence of this happening.

Although the motion has yet to be tabled I thought I would suggest a handful of questions our MP’s might like to ask on Thursday.

ONE – Are we sure it was Assad?

Do we really absolutely positively 100% know that it was Assad’s forces that launched the recent chemical weapon attack?

A decade ago the House of Commons was asked to go to war on what at the time was claimed to be cast iron proof of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons when in fact the dodgy dossier was just that, dodgy, remember it?

If we have intelligence, are we sure that intelligence is from reputable sources and we are not being played by relying on second or third hand intelligence that has been altered, embellished and generally made to fit the prevailing narrative.

If we are certain they were government forces do we really absolutely positively 100% know that they were operating under a formal chain of command with orders from the top?  It might be a small distinction but it is an important one because what we have seen in Syria is the general breakdown of formal Army structures and the rise of informal local militias, strengthened with Iranian and Hezbollah personnel.

We should ask ourselves why would Assad deploy chemical weapons at this scale for no tactical or operational gain but with an obvious strategic risk, it is hard to understand the decision to deploy them now when the implications were obvious and benefits minimal.

I know the red line has been declared and walked over before so the theory that an emboldened Assad really did think he would get away with it might hold some water but even with this we should think very carefully about the distinction between what we know for certain and what we think we know.

TWO – What are we hoping to achieve?

What would military action hope to achieve?

It is fine saying that sending hundreds of cruise missiles is to protect civilians but do we honestly think that in attacking Assad’s forces and installations we are going to protect civilians?

Is it a punishment beating for deploying chemical weapons or an intervention on one side of a brutal sectarian conflict because the two might have different effects but whatever happens a strike against Assad would benefit who exactly, the anti-Assad forces, the very same people we really don’t want to get access to Assad’s chemical stockpile.

Do we think that punitive actions will have any real impact on Assad now we have given him ample time to disperse, prepare, surround himself with human shields and generally get ready?

If Assad has shown one quality it is resilience so even a large strike might not have as much material impacts as imagined. In fact, in threatening action against his chemical weapons facilities do we think he hasn’t already dispersed them anyway?

Both sides have shown a propensity for war crimes against civilians so kicking the arse of one side is unlikely to achieve much in the way of reducing civilian deaths.

There is no articulation of ‘ends’ , no definition of the national interest except some vague argument about allowing bad men to do bad things.

Syria has evolved into a straightforward sectarian Shia v Sunni conflict and the most worrying aspect of the UK’s strategy is the complete lack of it.

If the coming strikes have the limited objective of demonstrating to the worlds various unsavoury leaders that the use of chemical weapons against civilians shall not be tolerated, allowed to be normalised and will be punished, who exactly are we punishing?

The argument that if we walk on by when someone else decides to use chemical weapons we endangering our own security has some merit but that is forgetting we own even more destructive weapons as one Saddam Hussein was reminded about in 2003, which proved an effective deterrent to them being used against UK and US forces.

THREE – Are we prepared for what comes next?

What are we going to do when a surgical strike against government forces goes off course, suffers a malfunction or plain hits the wrong target? Our intelligence might be good but it is not infallible and equipment can fail. Are we really prepared for a cruise missile going off piste and into a hospital?

How do we plan on having any credibility at the United Nations when asking for support over Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands when action without the UN now seems inevitable?

Can we claim any sort of moral component as justification whilst we stand by and let North Korea kill its own people in industrial quantities, turn a blind eye to Bahrain’s dodgy human rights record and if you care to look there are numerous examples of not intervening to prevent innocents being killed by the tens of thousands?

What will Assad’s reaction be, what if he doubles down and starts launching against our allies in the region?

This might draw us into a wider conflict in a country that has precisely ZERO strategic interest for the UK.

Russia, relations with Russia are bad enough and at a strategic level, they have the potential to be a better ally and trading partner than any in the Middle East, our long term goal should be improving relations with Russia, not poking her in the eye. That is not to say we should bend over for Russia but we need to pick our fights carefully.

In a video statement a few days ago five commanders in the opposition Supreme Military Command confirmed they were disbanding the group and fighting alone or with anyone who would fight Assad, the statement was read in front of the black flag of the Jahbat Al Nusra, a group with ties to Al Qaida.

This means that the opposition is fragmenting and any hope of an emergent moderate being dominant is now shattered; it is Assad/Russia/Iran against Al Qaida/Qatar/Saudi Arabia.

In weakening Assad we are strengthening Al Qaida and avoiding the simple position of allowing a conflict to bleed Iran dry, thus diverting its attention from other more important areas.




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August 28, 2013 10:22 am


Joe Biden: “there is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons attack in Syria: the Syrian regime,”

Do we believe it? That’s a very categorical statement from a country which knows only too well how fragile its credibility is on this matter. Would the US be dumb enough to finally bury its authority on something so important if they weren’t certain which side launched those weapons?


Is it a punishment beating for deploying chemical weapons or an intervention on one side of a brutal sectarian conflict because the two might have different effects but whatever happens a strike against Assad would benefit who exactly,

Over a decade of western policy will benefit.


I get the distinct feeling it’s a case of “I hope this works”.

The case for strikes is going to be made on the basis of CW employment. Remove that casus belli and we have no real legal recourse to further strikes. The door is open for Assad to stop using them – he doesn’t even have to publicly climb down all he has to do is not use them again. He was in a position of relative strength prior to CW use and he’ll want to remain in that position. CW is undermining his position, not least because his top cover is proving ineffective.

Ray Mitchell
Ray Mitchell
August 28, 2013 10:22 am

I’m afraid that the hawks in America can’t wait to test their weapons against Russian made defences and perhaps give Putin a metaphorical punch in the eye. As usual we have to show we can punch above our weight again without any thought through strategy. Meet the new boss same as the old boss.

August 28, 2013 10:27 am

1) For those of us following the reporting; the evidence is apparently based on intercepted communications. The evidence in the dodgy dossier was flimsy for anyone with the faintest clue what they were talking about- this already looks pretty sturdy by comparison.

2) Make Assad play by our rules; you can have your civil war but keep your massacring to “conventional” weapons only

3) Nothing will come next, Assad has no realistic means of credible retaliation and won’t want to risk further provocation, Iran is all bluff and Russia does not care enough

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 28, 2013 11:05 am

Regards q2 the best strike I feel would be a warning shot, but one that proves that his defences won’t stop a strike.

I like the idea of a single massive ordnance penertrator dropped by a b2 on to a command bunker, preferably one where the risk of collateral damage is tiny, even if it all goes wrong.

August 28, 2013 11:25 am

Convince me 100% it was Assad’s forces.

UN CW inspectors in town and he uses chemical weapon, why?

UN report confirms rebels already have used them, where did they get them, home made? or is that a cover for the fact they have ex Libyan Russian made CW just like Assad’s, everyone knows due to our stupidity in Libya masses of weapons fell into undesirable hands.

Does anyone think the rebels are not prepared to sacrifice their own to make it look like an Assad attack, but even if it is proven the attack was with proper CW weapons (not home made jobs) how can you prove who fired them.

Alternatively could a straight forward rocket attack have hit a rebel store of CW (home made or otherwise), no doubt that they are store in urban areas not in the desert.

I am not defending Assad just want to be 110% sure it was his forces, even then it is a civil war they are dirty stay out.

I do believe it is in best for long term stability and our interests that he wins, if the whole middle east goes to the extremists the final conflict will be with Israel, then what?

August 28, 2013 11:29 am

Obama’s “red line” statement of a year ago is said to give him a credibility problem if not followed through (subject to it being established beyond reasonable doubt that it was in fact the regime); but Cameron made no such commitment. Cameron seems to be into Blair-esque posturing – talking loudly and carrying an ever smaller stick, as someone said elsewhere.
Does anyone know whether Assad authorised the strike or whether his brother went off-piste on his own but now has to be covered up for?

August 28, 2013 11:46 am

Does anyone know whether Assad authorised the strike or whether his brother went off-piste on his own but now has to be covered up for?

Completely irrelevant.

Big boys rules – if you have WMDs you are totally and utterly responsible for them.

if Assad didn’t order their use directly then he is responsible for delegating. If he didn’t delegate then he has lost control and must regain that control.

Losing control of your WMDs is definitely not a get-out-jail-free card and he is just as culpable. It is a very important principle that the nation state owning such weapons are responsible for them. Otherwise any nation could stick their hands in the air and say “but they were nicked, honest guv”.

No dice.

August 28, 2013 11:50 am

Does it matter whether it was Assad the suit wearer or Assad the uniform wearer? They are part of the same regime and the same command and control system. If the brother “went off-piste” it was still a regime attack.

Frankly, a few precision strikes against chemical and command and control sites seems like a risk free exercise. The burst of pacifism being driven on by shrill cries from deranged conspiracy theorists those believing in impending Armageddon are very disturbing indeed in-terms of the impotence which it transfers to the British government.

August 28, 2013 11:56 am

We do seem to have cocked this up to a truly staggering level – and yet it is hard to see how it could have played out any other way.

I share the concern, that by being so forthright on chemical weapons and drawing red lines in the sand, and then failing to act when that line is crossed, the West, and more importantly the UN, has been shown to be indecisive and weak. It sets a pretty poor example to the rest of the world. But the whole process has been stymied by Russian and Chinese obstinance – are they really that concerned about the removal of Assad? I find it hypocritical that they are still talking about diplomatic resolution with 100,000 dead, let alone the chemical attacks.

What is needed is a firm stance by the UN; the UN should be able to go in and seperate the factions, stop the fighting and set the conditions for reasoned discussion. I don’t believe military action at this stage is viable or even advisable. Without the unified front of the UN any action will be seen to be disproportionate.

August 28, 2013 12:00 pm

But the whole process has been stymied by Russian and Chinese obstinance – are they really that concerned about the removal of Assad? I find it hypocritical that they are still talking about diplomatic resolution with 100,000 dead, let alone the chemical attacks.

Russia’s beef is growing US influence in the Middle East and their propensity to immediately violate sovereignty whenever they feel their interests are at stake. Pretty much what Russia would do if it could. So Russia will always oppose such US action in the Middle East or at least make the case that force is not a useful tool. China I think simply fears instability, war and again the propensity of the US to cross borders. Methinks both oppose more on the general principle but Russia’s opposition has the harder edge since Syria is about its last ally in the region now.

August 28, 2013 12:03 pm

What is needed is a firm stance by the UN; the UN should be able to go in and seperate the factions, stop the fighting and set the conditions for reasoned discussion.

That’s never, ever going to happen even if somehow the UN was united on the matter. Nobody there is going to discuss anything. And frankly all that crap isn’t our problem – our problem is the use of CWs. It is a separate and clearly defined issue. And the west is very mindful in its rhetoric of the need for any attack to be proportional. We’re not going to see OIF or OEF happening. It will be a storm in a tea cup and a signal of intent.

August 28, 2013 12:04 pm

The Russians and the Chinese don’t believe a diplomatic solution is possible, in fact Russia is actively supporting a military solution in favour of Assad. The reason they keep mentioning it, and the UN, is that they know the BBC/Guardian/MSNBC/New York Times brigade of useful idiots will pick it up and run with it to make the West look bad. And it never fails.

Remember, China withholds the right to invade Taiwan and Russia did invade Georgia; their protestations of piece loving are not statements of belief but a wonderful example of trolling.

August 28, 2013 12:06 pm

Phil – my question was just an “incidentally”. I don’t disagree with your comment – they’re both regime. But the conclusion that the regime is responsible even if the WMD were “nicked” and released by an opposition group would arguably support a “bomb ’em anyway” line.

August 28, 2013 12:10 pm

Why does everyone keep bleating on about the UN as if its some sort of higher moral authority? It’s not, its a collection of self-interested nation states trying to get one up on each other- thinking otherwise is naive and stupid at best and deliberately deceitful at worst.

August 28, 2013 12:12 pm

TD – interesting link; a tale that went completely unreported in our media and about which our politicians were deafening by their silence.

It is the crux of the matter. Which of the two sides gassed civilians; the regime because opposition forces held that area (a tactical objective by use of unacceptable means) or the rebels because they want the world to see them as martyrs at the mercy of the regime’s violence (a propaganda objective by use of unacceptable means). Only when the ‘who’ is settled can we move on to our collective response and decide the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ that can be seen to a) hit back at the guilty, and b) remove WMD from their arsenal.

If we smack the wrong party we demonstrate the use of chemical weapons can achieve exactly the desired result at low risk – an outcome for which history would judge the western interfering powers at least partly to blame.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 28, 2013 12:24 pm

@ TD

We couldn’t hit the rebels as there is nothing to hit at, but we would have to stop supplying them in my opinion.

The elegant solution to the CW issue would have been simaltaneus raids on all of the CW sites in Syria by SF to recover the weapons for disposal in a safe manner, however this is impossible in Syria, might have worked in Libya where we could defeat the defences easily but not Syria.

August 28, 2013 12:27 pm


“We” are concerned about the use of chemical weapons full-stop. Why we are is a different question but the west has a long-standing policy position (back to GW1) that their use by anyone is unacceptable.

The reasons mostly relate to how indiscriminate they are and also to the fact that they are one of the few things that can seriously retard a western ground offensive. “We” maintain our own power preventing the proliferation and use of game changing weapons. Same applies to missiles and nukes.

Anyway, its time to bomb Syria.

Ace Rimmer
August 28, 2013 12:40 pm

Bob: “Frankly, a few precision strikes against chemical and command and control sites seems like a risk free exercise.” What about the poor bastards living in close proximity. If we distribute a large amount of chemical agents due to our bombing, does that makes us prima facie liable? What then about the resulting deaths and contamination?

“The burst of pacifism being driven on by shrill cries from deranged conspiracy theorists those believing in impending Armageddon are very disturbing indeed in-terms of the impotence which it transfers to the British government.” When does waiting for the results of the UN inspectors and requiring proof before action become pacifism? I’m guessing you’d prefer anyone suspected of crimes without requiring proof, or are you just proving that you’re a hawk?

August 28, 2013 12:42 pm

Oh no! Doubleyoo-Em-Dees!

A few hundred people have been killed by something that may have been a chemical weapon. What about the other ninety-nine-thousand? Do they not count because they were only crushed, shattered, ruptured and dismembered by kinetic impact?

I don’t see what is so particularly terrible about the use of Chemical Weapons. Halabja would have been no less terrible if it had been accomplished in any other way.

Lastly, just to further put it into perspective, the Union Carbide incident in Bhopal killed an order of magnitude more people.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 28, 2013 12:44 pm

Chemical weapons are irrelevant to what we are doing.

All the Arabs have chemical weapons. They’re a belligerent lot; without Scuds and chemical weapons in the middle east they would all be at each others throats a lot more often.

On the moral side of the argument, we routinely ignore terrible things that are carried out. Genocide in Darfur for example. To the extent of formally avoiding the term ‘genocide’ so we had no obligation to respond.

We have no national interest here, but we’ve already come down against Assad regardless. Israel has launched strikes in Syria during this war (and before) without taking steps that might influence the outcome and topple the regime; we though are clearly setting out to settle the course of the war.
Just like Libya, Cameron will not acknowledge that the head of state is being targeted for the purpose of getting rid of him, but will target him anyway under the excuse of hitting the command & control of chemical weapons.

Unlike Libya, this situation has the potential to quickly run out of control.
Gadaffi had distanced himself from Arab affairs in order to re-image himself as an African statesman. Libya’s neighbours to the east and west also had their own problems and remained neutral.
Action against Syria though could be launched from its immediate neighbours, with Syria having the ability to hit back against sites in Turkey, Jordan or Cyprus. Assad can also play the religious card in its hand, targeting Israel, trying to draw them in to influence Islamic opinion in other Arab states.
We could threaten the Libyan regime without the Colonel being able to do a great deal about it, other than to hide in a ditch. If Assad feels his position to be fatally doomed, he has the option to force a further escalation into a wider conflict in order to scare off the West who are wary of major military commitment after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ace Rimmer
August 28, 2013 12:45 pm

Bob: “The reasons mostly relate to how indiscriminate they are and also to the fact that they are one of the few things that can seriously retard a western ground offensive.”

I thought in GW1 coalition forces went over the border wearing full IPE? I don’t think that would’ve stopped the armoured thrust. They would’ve driven to a ‘clean zone’ and decontaminated, a modern armoured vehicle like Warrior and Chally 2 has protection against such weapons.

August 28, 2013 12:47 pm

The only thing we can be successful is to put Islamists to power in a country of over and destabilize the entire region. And that will say the Russians and the Chinese. I’m worried.

August 28, 2013 12:52 pm

Chemical weapons have an awful lot to do with what is happening here. It is not going to run out of control.


Saddam didn’t use chemical weapons in 2003 because a) he didn’t have any, and b) because even if he did he probably lacked rigidity and loyalty in his chain of command to actually execute an attack.

He didn’t use them 1991 because of the implicit threat that if he did the gloves were off. Assad was given a less dire warning but a warning all the same, use chemical weapons and we will bomb you- his regime has used chemical weapons now it has to be bombed.

Whether you think”our” violent distaste for chemical weapons is rational, logical or otherwise is largely irrelevant; this is the ideological cul-de-sac we are now in. The key point is to avoid getting caught up in the hyperbole and conspiratorial rants being spewed from certain media outlets and some commenters here. There is actually very little risk involved in this for “us”.

August 28, 2013 12:52 pm

Bob, sure, bomb them. Then what? That won’t ensure the destruction of CW, all the talk of stockpiles and factories aside, any decent industrial base has the ability to cook up huge amounts of chemicals. Hell, even just redirecting monthly production of bleach into chlorine gas is a fearsome amount.

Sorry, but from your replies, I don’t think you have thought beyond the immediate knee jerk response yet. Assad the President ordering the attacks vs Assad the Brother ordering the attacks is a huge difference, and sure, you bomb them, but what about the followup? Can you secure the stockpiles without a huge intrusion force? Or blast enough of Assad’s infrastructure that he is troubled enough not to use CWs any more, yet not piss him off enough that he would just make more and use it even more widely, this time on NATO targets as well? Can the US and UK afford to be in Afghanistan, Iraq AND Syria all at the same time, especially in a time of defence cuts?

As for the UN, well, you just have to know how to play the system. You can get the results you want sometimes, just that the UK doesn’t really bring important matters to that particular playground, so it does feel that the G5 countries sometimes neglect that arena to the point of being a bit unskilled.

August 28, 2013 12:53 pm

I thought in GW1 coalition forces went over the border wearing full IPE? I don’t think that would’ve stopped the armoured thrust.

Would probably have slowed things down a bit at the dockside, though. And things like repair, maintenance, resupply are all much slower in IPE.

August 28, 2013 12:54 pm

Ace Rimmer,

I said retard, not stop.

August 28, 2013 1:00 pm

I don’t see what is so particularly terrible about the use of Chemical Weapons. Halabja would have been no less terrible if it had been accomplished in any other way.

Chemical weapons are a game changer because of their nature. They are relatively cheap area weapons that can literally clear areas in minutes if the agent is non-persistent and the victims are unprotected civilians. They are weapons of MASS destruction and force multipliers. They are also very unpleasant but the issue with them is that they create mass destruction for little investment. Humans have always, throughout nearly all war limited the nature of the combat in some ways. Even as Hitler used gas to murder millions and America dropped the bomb on Japan (with great opposition I add) poisoned gas was not used. You can declare in abstract terms that they are no more gruesome than other forms of death but that (a) goes against millenia and beyond of human behaviour and (b) belies the truth that the fear these weapons hold is in their efficient causation of mass death.

August 28, 2013 1:05 pm

Assad the President ordering the attacks vs Assad the Brother ordering the attacks is a huge difference,

It is no difference. You own WMDs YOU and YOU ALONE are responsible for them. If his brother had a crack without him knowing tough shit. If we sit this out then his brother will do it again, and again, and it will become harder and harder to justify intervening after we let all the previous attacks go. And because of the nature of CWs the death rate will rise exponentially.

I can’t believe I am agreeing with Bob here but I think it is the people who oppose action who have not looked far enough into the future on this one. There are already people arguing we shouldn’t do anything because we didn’t when Saddam used them thirty years ago.

I don’t think attempting to destroy CW stockpiles is an option. Using CWs represents a risk for Assad as he is unlikely to lose this war. By putting our foot down we change the risk dynamic, it becomes more dangerous to use them than not. We have then achieved our aim.

August 28, 2013 1:19 pm

Phil, there is a difference. Assad the Brother can be “tossed in jail for a spell” or in extreme case shot as a scapegoat and we can’t push it any further. Assad the President is not likely to be tossed in jail by his own government nor is he likely to order himself shot, and if by some weird happenstance he did, it is near the endgame of the Civil War mess.

Plausible deniability and degree of punishment.

August 28, 2013 1:21 pm


Diplomacy has already irrevocably failed, the moment never even existed let alone passed. There is no diplomacy or peace keeping force to be had. Uncle Vlad said no.

Despite the best efforts of the ill-informed and over-dramatic (observer) this is actually very simple. We told Assad that he and his boys couldn’t use chemical weapons and if they did there would be consequences; now he and his boys have used them so there has to be consequences with the aim being that he does not use them again.

What has been lost in all this is that after a brief surge in early summer Assad is now back on the defensive with the rebel’s once again taking ground. Assad has proven unable to hold ground and is rapidly burning through his cash reserves, aircraft and armour. Whether he or his brother ordered this attack it was likely driven by desperation.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 28, 2013 1:22 pm

Maybe the brother has just become the better target, if he was ordered to by his brother it sends a strong warning, and if he was rogue we would be punishing the right side still. Also if we target him we aren’t forcing a regime change.

August 28, 2013 1:23 pm

Assad and his Brother are the same entity, same family, same government, same committees etc; they are both the Syrian regime.

August 28, 2013 1:26 pm

TD I will never say no to jaw jaw. If this all brings about an impetus to peace there then I think that is a good thing.

But sometimes you’ve got to let the other side know you mean business and this is why I support a proportional strike against a limited target set for the limited aims of (a) deterring and signalling intent to underpin any jaw jaw and (b) underlining the fact we do not consider WMDs a legitimate weapon of war.

Any action we take will also strengthen Assads hand in removing those responsible if they took action without his authorisation since he will be able to demonstrate how these actions were harmful to the Syrian effort and did not benefit it.

August 28, 2013 1:37 pm

Well, I did mention fragmented command and control earlier. Too many factions and players in the game. What a mess.

If Assad did it, I think Phil’s solution might be the best one, with Syria’s airforce being a good target. Since the rebels don’t have much aircraft, trashing Assad’s Flankers would be a nice symbolic gesture without undermining the basic balance of power. Most of the air attacks against the rebels were by helicopters, not FJs.

And if Assad has lost control of his military? Well, then we are screwed anyway, but at least it looks like something was done.

August 28, 2013 1:38 pm

I think I’ve addressed the fact that Assad may not be as in control as we think. But we need to be looking well beyond Syria and the principle that you are held accountable for your WMDs and their use. I really don’t think this is just about Syria – in fact I think Syria is a very small part of the far wider and bigger concerns about WMD legitimacy and use in general.

If all else goes to hell down there and Assad isn’t in control and it’s all going south then at the very least we have made a resonating statement of intent about WMDs that ties in with a decade of policy and regime changes and which should echo for a few years down the line.

August 28, 2013 1:39 pm


It’s not too simplistic. Assad has certainly created a myriad of local militias over which he has very limited control- and they do plenty of unpleasant things- as do the rebels, but he has not lost control of his key strategic assets. The air force, the key armoured units and the chemical weapons are all still very much under his command.

August 28, 2013 1:42 pm

Phil is right. Chemical weapons are a very easy way of changing the course of a civil war (ask Saddam and the Kurds) and also represent a deterrent to Western intervention, it is thus western policy to deter their use. If we back away from that policy now we are giving a free-pass to every dictator fighting to save his skin to gas his way back to security.

August 28, 2013 1:43 pm

:) Phil, I hear an echo.

“The air force, the key armoured units and the chemical weapons are all still very much under his command.”

How would you know? For all we know, all the tanks could have been under the command of his harem. Unless you have penetration into his command structure, it would be wise not to make sweeping statements that cannot be backed up.

August 28, 2013 1:44 pm


The reason it won’t be remembered for that is because of the simplistic, hyperbolic and childish news reporting main stream media outlets and shrill repetition of that by uninformed loud-mouths.

August 28, 2013 1:53 pm


Simple-minded is descriptive, and in your case it seems entirely appropriate.


Indeed, and that is surely the hardest part of government, being right and having to execute on that despite the ill-informed rantings of the majority.

August 28, 2013 2:03 pm

But it wont be remembered for that Phil

I believe it will be, by state actors. We’re overstepping ourselves if we think we can influence the extremists I grant you – but seeing as nation states are the only ones with a prayer of developing a wide area CW capability then I think it is still a job well done if state-actors absorb the underlying message that CW use is not acceptable, especially against civilians.

August 28, 2013 2:28 pm

Please, please, boys – this is getting too ad hominem.

I mentioned earlier that the “red line” was Obama’s – unilaterally. It’s not Putin’s either, nor likely to be – remember the Moscow Theatre Siege in 2002?

August 28, 2013 2:45 pm

Well, in Obama’s defence, it sounded nice a year ago. :) Bet he didn’t expect anyone to take up on it.

A flaw in the US taking over all the jobs as the World Police is that the rest of the world got too used to not taking up the job. China and Russia deep inside their hearts don’t want WMDs to proliferate, especially China, their infantry heavy army would suffer the worst out of all the powers if CW was used, but they have never been called to step up to the plate, and more often than not take up the position as shills lambasting the US for sovereignty violations. Now that the US is overstretched, there is no one to take up the slack because everyone has left the job to the US before.

This may end up trading a problem for a greater evil, but what if the UN requests China to take up the mantle? They most definitely will get the job done, even if Syria ends up as a Chinese protectorate, but letting China become a global judicial power? That sits really badly with me, but it is a possible solution. The Chinese would also see it as part of their rise to superpower status, so will probably happily accept it if it was a UN mandate. God knows what will happen in the South China Seas then, but at least Syria can be solved.

August 28, 2013 2:57 pm

Lets play nice chaps eh

Or TDs going to the UN!

August 28, 2013 2:59 pm

So many people glibly saying Assad has used CW, where is your proof!.

Rebels have according to UN report.

Now IF it is proven the latest attack was by Assad’s men (proven not on balance etc) then whatever we chose to do MUST also apply to the rebels.

Cameron came out with the usual guff “to protect civilians” we said that in Libya but when the “rebel civilians” became armed and attack Gadaffi unarmed civilians we did nothing, in other words we discriminated against civilians according to which side they supported because the aim was regime change, the same appears to be happening here.

Problem in Syria is if all the countries fall to the extremist there will be an unholy war with Israel , then what do we do.

Best solution stay out, if we have to meddle then in the interest of long term stability support Assad.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 28, 2013 3:08 pm

One thing we have to be careful of is that Israel isn’t involved in any action we do take. ie doesn’t involve them/their airspace/their bases or that they don’t take advantage of the situation to gain in anyway.

August 28, 2013 3:34 pm

All this has come about because we have been backed into a corner by a leader of a western country glibly drawing lines in the sand.

August 28, 2013 3:43 pm


“Wonder if we will be attacking the rebel forces that have used chemical weapons, if we don’t, we look even more morally bankrupt”

Good question and the answer has to be yes, if it isn’t then this isn’t about punishing WMD use but regime change, but haven’t we already turned a blind eye.

I wrote on the other thread I am opposed to intervention, however If Chemical Weapon use is confirmed, I would support limited action aimed at either NBC units and or upper echelons (on the grounds that General D is unlikely to employ NBC weapons if Generals A B and C each received a TLAM for doing so) to prevent discourage future use.
I remain absolutely opposed to any scenario that calls for foreign troops on Syrian soil, with the possible exception both sides agree a ceasefire and the UN puts in a monitor force, but in my opinion even this must use Arab or African troops.


Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 28, 2013 3:45 pm

He may have made it an ironclad line, but it already exsisted, ie chemical weapons are a no no, if you use them the world will get involved.

August 28, 2013 3:47 pm

nospin, agreed on the evidence part. Unfortunately, due to someone’s big mouth, I don’t think the rest of the world can afford to stay out. :( (to clarify, not the international stance but the possibility of sweeping the matter under the rug. I suspect some of the mass youtubing is a result of his comments.)

David, but the lines looked so pweety!!!

Can we just offer Assad and his family amnesty, a one way ticket to somewhere like Philippines or Macau (was about to say Australia, but the Aussies will harass him), his country’s treasury and a new identity for control over new elections and an end to the war? You get regime change, control over who gets the country, and the old regime will be seen as exiled in punishment for use of CW.

Nah, life is never that good…

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 28, 2013 5:10 pm

@ Ace Rimmer

“I thought in GW1 coalition forces went over the border wearing full IPE? I don’t think that would’ve stopped the armoured thrust. They would’ve driven to a ‘clean zone’ and decontaminated, a modern armoured vehicle like Warrior and Chally 2 has protection against such weapons.”

No we didn’t (or at least, not my Regiment). Slightly surprised, but the relaxation order was given about 12 hours before.

A chemical attack – particularly P Nerve – would have stopped the armoured thrust, right there in its tracks. To a very limited extent (see next paragraph) armoured vehicles can fight closed down, but not at nearly the rate of advance as you can when opened up. And:

1. Neither CVR(T), nor Challenger, nor Warrior can maintain overpressure, despite the useless statements that you can. You just can’t: too many gaps and ill-fighting hinges on the spectacularly poorly built CVR(T) series, Challenger 1 had nearly as many gaps (the most overpressure I ever saw was for 20 minutes), and Warriors, forget it if you want to let the boys out of the back.

2. The logistics tail had no chance of keeping up, all in soft vehicles with lovely moisture absorbing canvas roofs.

3. It would have taken several million gallons of water to decontaminate (several thousand truck loads), all 200 miles from the nearest source of water (the sea).

4. Minimum 24 hour stop for decontamination.

5. We’d have had to drive 20-30 kms from the breach crossing site to find an unoccupied clean area (it was pretty chocka around Valley Forge itself), which would have spread the contamination over a very wide area. I think there were 4 divisions in total within the breach area at one point in time.

….all of which is why any Iraqi delivery system within about 100 km was completely twatted for about 7 nights pre-breach crossing itself. Give the buggers not a ghost of a chance of letting any nasty shells or rockets fly.

(plus I suspect why Saddam was reportedly also threatened with being nuked).

August 28, 2013 7:35 pm

Just as an aside, I wonder what proportion of Syria’s CW capability (research, design, development, manufacture, filling warheads, storage, training etc) was devised indigenously and what proportion was supplied by another nation? Because any supplier hardly has clean hands either.

August 28, 2013 7:40 pm


Interesting stuff.

I know some units went over in NBC kit. I have an old softback photojournalist essay, I think it was the Royal Scots (have I made that regiment up?!) but anyway they were in dress state 3 in the photos as they assaulted an Iraqi position (noddy suit on, boots on, gloves and rezzie carried).

August 28, 2013 8:41 pm

In the mighty maintenance machine that was 7 Bde’s Armoured Workshop (armoured in the sense it had a number of ARVs, but not a lot else) several hours after RT I suspect, we crossed in Dress State 3 something. Carrying respirators not wearing them. Phil Collins on the tape machine as i recall. Someone at the front had a TRIMBLE GPS the size of a suitcase so we knew when we were in Iraq,

August 29, 2013 5:04 pm

I have no answer for question one. Both sides are likely responsible for such attacks.

Question two would be the destruction of chemical weapon stores and by this way the elimination of their use. Hidden underneath noble claims, it’s an equalizer between gouvernment and rebel forces. There will likely be collateral damage that affects the gouvernment forces plus a moral boost for the rebels.

Question three is the easy one. Syria is a modern 20th century creation. Historically, it was always divided. Two competing historic centers were Damascus and Aleppo. Like Yugoslavia, it will be possible to divide this country again into Lebanon sized chunks with a different religious and ethnic mixture for each.

Tartus, Latakia, Hama und Homs are regions likely to remain a rump state of the current system with a strong Alavite population.
Idlib, Aleppo, Al-Raqqah, Deir ez-Zor and Al Hassakah are the current northern rebel and Kurdish contra-rebel-lands that will be arranged into a country in a peace arrangement. This new country is likely to be under strong Saudi and Turkish influence.
Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Daraa and al Suwayda have a strong Christian and Druze population. They will be under Israeli influence, already conducting air strikes in the region. Creating this region will be the most difficult part of the current military situation.
Quneitra are the Golan heights, an important land for Israeli settlement that will be legally annexed after the partition of Syria.

@ace rimmer
Chemical weapons can grind down advance speed to WWI speeds? It will be hard to ban this stuff forever, at least the nonlethals among them.

August 29, 2013 6:03 pm


Said Obama to Assad.


Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
August 29, 2013 6:18 pm

Anyone watching the debate?

a) I have noticed that they follow the same lines as on the site, either deeply opposed to action or saying it should be considered but no one is radically for.

b) The opposed keep saying that the UN will tell us who is to blame, the UN inspectors will not apportion blame.

c) Also the two options on the table are so similar why isn’t there a third option, no idea what it would be though.