Coffee House

The Thin Red Line

23 August 2013

The elasticity of President Obama’s ‘Red Line’ on Syria seems to be being stretched to breaking point following this week’s chemical weapons attack by Bashar Assad in a Damascus suburb, Ghouta, where up to 1,200 people, including many women and children may have died. What we all have seen on our screens is not an episode from ‘Wag the Dog’ as Assad and his chief cheer leader Putin would have us believe. In fact this is likely to have been the worst chemical attack on civilians since Saddam Hussein gassed up to 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabja 25 years ago.

Fortuitously the UN has a team of chemical weapons inspectors on the ground 15 minutes away from yesterday’s attack. So if President Assad has nothing to hide why are he and Putin thru the auspices of the UN Security Council blocking this team of experts from visiting the site? Time is critical as many nerve agents such as sarin only linger in the body for a relatively short period of time.


The question is what do we do now? Well I suspect President Obama didn’t take the same negotiation course as me at Harvard with the late Professor Roger Fisher. He would know in negotiation never to bluff or make idle threats. A Red Line should mean a Red Line. After 14 chemical attacks since the Red Line was drawn, Bashar Assad has realised that the threat from the President of the United States is in fact an idle threat which he can ignore with impunity. As Senator McCain tweeted: “No consequences for Assad using chemical weapons and crossing red line – we shouldn’t be surprised he’s using them again.”

The US working with their partners in the UK and France must put maximum pressure on Russia in order to get a mandate from the UN to immediately allow the UN inspectors in situ in Damascus into Ghouta to inspect the bodies and site themselves. There must also be a strong message to Lavrov that all options now are open for the West to prevent a humanitarian disaster on top of the 100,000 deaths Assad is already responsible for. This means both telling Assad that he personally will be brought before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in addition to letting him know the West will now consider the  potential use of force on Syria’s missile sites and airforce. A short sharp aerial campaign (which I fully appreciate is not currently supported by either the military or public at large) would quickly bring Assad to the negotiating table. At the end of the day there will have to be a negotiated settlement to end this civil war and we must pursue every means possible to bring all parties to the negotiating table. It’s time we used a little less carrot and a little more stick to end the tragedy that we continue to see unfolding in Syria.

Brooks Newmark is the Conservative MP for Braintree.

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  • paulus

    Who ever has done this must be absolutely in no doubt that their reward will be a rope. A rope they will dance from in their last seconds on this earth.

    It is just incredibe to see the bodies of those children and to think someone has gassed them, what went thru their minds as they prepared, ordered and fired that poison on women and children.

    As I looked on the pictures of these children, pictures on the internet, I turned around and watched my own children playing with a book and a felt tip pen, arguing over the mario kart. Are these children nothing ? their voices to be unheard? gassed and slaughtered by evil men because they live in a far off place. These same men think they can commit this act with impunity, the World will turn a blind eye as they follow their imbicilic cause.

    As human beings we have a responsibilty to nurture and look after every child irrigardless how far they are from us, irrigardless of their colour, or their faith. These monsters who choked them to death as they were playing games must be in no doubt they are not too far, they are not out of reach and a rope will await them for the crime they have done.

  • chan chan

    NY writer Daniel Greenfield has Barry’s red line nailed:

    “Obama claimed a human rights intervention in Libya, but as has been amply proven, he was not motivated by human rights, but by the certainty that the Islamist rebels were about to lose in Benghazi.In Syria, when the rebels began catastrophically losing, he made his most decisive moves toward war by supplying them with weapons. But now the situation is back to being a tossup, which is why Obama is ignoring his fake Red Line and Samantha “R2P” Power is dodging UN discussions.Obama isn’t going to intervene in Syria unless the rebels fall into catastrophic loss mode. That’s Obama’s real red line.”

    Everything else is white noise.

  • Augustus

    Why would Assad decide to use Sarin weapons just when UN inspectors are in the country to investigate allegations of the use of these weapons? It can only be an unscrupulous attempt by the rebels to get outside help in their fight against Assad whose army has been winning ground for several months. The White House says that the pressure is now on Assad to prove that no chemical weapons have been deployed. A limp attempt to beat around the bush, because the pressure is actually on Obama. And there’s plenty to be said for not intervening in the Syrian Hornet’s nest, considering the barbaric executions and torture on both sides. This hasn’t been a ‘good versus bad’ scenario for some time, so whom exactly do you help?

  • HurstLlama

    An astonishing article. Look at the author’s voting record, “I always voted at my party’s call and never thought of thinking for myself at all”, Gilbert could have written those lines with this man in mind. So he is happy for HM Forces capabilities to be slashed, but now he wants us to go to war again and, again, when the UK’s vital interests are in no way threatened.

    “A short sharp aerial campaign (which I fully appreciate is not currently supported by either the military or public at large)”

    I wonder who told him that a short sharp campaign, with a successful outcome is achievable, maybe he should think about why the military are so firmly against getting involved.

    An MP who wants to cut defence spending and at the same time get involved in another optional war, against the wishes of the UK public and the advice of the people who would have to fight it. Yet, he has a 16,000 majority – amazing.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …yes, this muppet is a prime problem, no doubt. This is the face of the domestic problem, right here. Read this post over carefully, and then study this guy. He is a specimen. It’d be worth it to understand what he is, and what he’s doing. It’s always helpful to do a case study, when analyzing a situation. This guy is the perfect case study.

  • NotYouNotSure

    How does this author know that Assad is responsible for this, this is as legitimate as Saddam being only few hours away from total destruction of the West. Who is falling for this nonsense, this is like last story where the attack was blamed on Assad, then it turned out to be according to the UN.

  • mac266

    It’s a shame we have no-one in power who can forcefully articulate that this is the very scenario that Liberal Interventionism was thought up for. It is our job, as a liberal democracy to help and support these innocent civilians. No-one is arguing that we should do anything like Iraq, or Afghanistan. But as Mr Newman points out, these parties need dragging to the negotiating table. And neither party will do this voluntarily. Assad is digging in for a long fight, that could potentially end in millions of deaths. Not only would that be a humanitarian disaster, it would be a geopolitical catastrophe. The region is on a tipping point, and there is a risk a conflict like this could become contagious (Jordan and Lebanon are not out of the woods yet).

    I don’t subscribe to the school of ‘I don’t know what to do, so I won’t do anything’. Similarly, when civillians are dying in their thousands, I do not believe that the argument of ‘I don’t like either side, so I won’t do anything’ stands up. Do we really want to be going to the cinema in 10 years time, to see the film ‘Hotel Damascus’ – showing thousands of civillians being gassed, while diplomats do nothing in New York and Brussels. I really, strongly believe, now is the time for action. And when I say now, I mean in the next 4 weeks.

    • Makroon

      Syria under the al Assads, has been a stable, known quantity.
      An unpleasant, corrupt, crypto-socialist regime which nevertheless, educated it’s population, gave women rights, and was fairly liberal in the important trivia of everyday life. Given the complex communal/religious/ethnic make-up of the country, this was a compromise that, up to a point, worked (think Tito’s Yugoslavia). Then the usual suspects, a vocal minority of students, liberals and intellectuals, heavily influenced by the west, decided to upturn the apple cart, and prepare the ground for a Salafist insurrection.
      With the vast quantities of money and manpower poured into the proliferating western “intelligence agencies”, it is astonishing that they are so totally inadequate in reading and understanding foreign situations.

    • NotYouNotSure

      “It is our job”, that is debatable. What happens if the rebels are the ones using the chemical weapons, what do you think should be done ?

      • mac266

        It is irrelevant if it is Assad or the rebels.

        What if the Tutsi’s were killing the Hutu’s in the hundreds of thousands. Would that have made a difference?

        • the viceroy’s gin


    • the viceroy’s gin

      Sounds like you’re clear on everything. Good. You need to hop on a plane and get yourself over there, and start right in. There’s no time to waste for you.

      • mac266

        I am clear that the to stand back and watch the Syrians, rebels or Assad, using chemical weapons to kill civillians in their thousands is to be complicit.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          No, it isn’t.

          But as you feel it is, as I say, you must get yourself over there immediately. There isn’t a moment to spare.

          Unless you’re just a muppet and don’t really believe what you’re saying, that is.

        • Tom M

          As I see it you have two choices if you wish to be proactive here. As suggested, go and do something yourself or take yourself off to the UN (where these problems are supposed to be sorted out) and lobby someone.

          But what I suggest you do not contemplate is sending British armed forces (such that remain) to do it for you. And I’m clear about that too.

      • Tom M

        Reminds me of the “human shield” lot that went to Iraq to prevent an attack. Very voluble they were about what they intended to do right up till Sadaam Hussein wanted to put them in the firing line. They came home.

  • Chris lancashire

    This piece is so full of holes it could be a colander. To tell Assad that he will be brought to the ICC (whether he should or not) is absolutely guaranteed to make him dig in and refuse any negotiation. And a limited air strike will merely cement him in place and inflame further Muslim versus the West tensions.
    As for any further armed intervention – have you learned nothing? Look at the mess that is Iraq after Bush and Blair’s war. Look at the mess in Libya after British and French intervention and the even larger mess that is Afghanistan as the Allies prepare to cut and run.
    I have no idea what the solution to these unhappy areas is but on the evidence before us, armed intervention isn’t it.

    • Makroon

      Well said.
      Obama may be a mediocre US president, but his reluctance to intervene every time the crazies see a “cause”, is entirely welcome.
      The Neocon rump (both in the States and here), and their large cluster of clients, just won’t learn and won’t shut up !

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Obama was the crazy who dumped Khadaffi and put islamofascists in the driver’s seat, and that couldn’t have happened if he hadn’t unilaterally decided to do it.

  • zanzamander

    this week’s chemical weapons attack by Bashar Assad in a Damascus suburb,

    Who told you it was him?

    Honestly, you guys never learn and are itching for fight in another Muslim country!

    First, there is no strategic advantage for Assad in using chemical weapons in his own backyard. The only people who’d gain any capital out of this massacre are the Jihadis who have shown in the past to have absolutely no compunction in mass murdering civilians, including Muslims, for the “greater good”.

    Secondly, the question of UN inspectors. Many Western powers are just itching to invade Syria and UN is totally in their and Saudi’s pockets. So if I were in Assad’s shoes wary of a stitch up job, I also would not want them anywhere near my country, at least he’s allowed them in Syria.

    Thirdly, the delivery. The entire region is awash with chemical weapons and the Jihadis fighting Assad are sponsored by some of the most powerful state players. Any one (or two) of them could have sent their own team of secret army to go carry out the attack. Probably not even the Jihadis on the ground, fighting Assad, would have known about it.

    In a good ol’ whodunit, it is the person who has to gain the most is often the culprit. Here all the figures are pointing at Assad’s opponents.

    And if we have any senses left. we’d let the Arab/Muslim world deal their own mess. The only thing we’ll get out of intervention is full coffins and empty coffers.

    It’s time we used a little less carrot and a little more stick

    Aah, such brave words from…thousands of miles away sitting comfortably in the leafy suburbs of London sipping gin and tonic…or is it Pimms, dear boy?

    You go fight if you have to, but our soldiers are not for cannon fodder.

    • chan chan

      The UN is not in the west’s pocket. It’s in the pocket of the OIC. The OIC want the UN to intervene on behalf of the jihadists. The OIC’s mission is to revive the caliphate, and that means taking over Syria, among other countries. Only the western military is powerful enough to tip the balance against Assad, so they want them to do the dirty work for them. Then they will implement another sharia state. And don’t think Egypt is over. Not by a long shot.

    • Ron Todd

      The Russians would gain. Either Obama backs down and looks weak or he gets caught up in a war that will not have a good outcome for anybody or he will give expensive arms to people who will likely turn them on the west.

  • Austin Barry

    And no doubt Iran will ignore Obama’s red line on a Sunni nuclear bomb.

    Obama makes the Grand Old Duke of York seem a model of robust decision making.

    A weak man.

    • Keith D

      He’s also at best an Islamophile.He wants the jihadis to succeed.

  • david trant

    Hmmm Arabs killing each other, ‘cos they want to go to paradise obviously, why are we complaining they’ll be happier there.

    • Alexsandr

      they may run out of virgins in paradise?

      • JabbaTheCat

        Nah, they’re all ‘brothers’, so they’ll share the 72 between themselves…

  • Martin Adamson

    And will you, as Winston Churchill did in World War I, be giving up your place in the House of Commons to go and fight in Syria? Or will you be expecting the British armed forces – you know, the ones you and the rest of the political class have deprived of hospitals, dedicated medical support and any protection against domestic jihadist fanatics – to do the job for you? Will you and your party be closing down terrorist support networks – finance, arms purchase, intelligence, recruitment, training – operating more or less openly here in Britain? Will you and your party be reinstating border controls of a sufficient strength to prevent jihadist fanatics coming to Britain to live? Will you and your party be expelling known jihad ideologists from Britain?


    Well, why the XXXX do you expect anyone else to lift a finger, then?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, Churchill going to the theater was my first thought, as well.

      I wouldn’t look for this lump to do anything like that.

    • roger

      At least Churchill had the decency , after conspiring with Grey to drag us into a war we could have avoided, to go to the war and try to make the best of it.

  • swatnan

    About time that Egypt Lybia and Israel started taking these poor displaced Refugees in. And Britain and America too. This is the consequence of supporting disastrous policies in the Middle East.

    • Alexsandr

      This is an arab problem. let Saudi, iran etc sort it. It is nothing to do with the US or UK or EU.

    • Martin Adamson

      Israel was the country that pioneered taking in refugees from the Middle East. It is a predictable turn of Fortune’s wheel that many of those who were the most eager to rid their own homelands of Jews are now refugees themselves.

      • swatnan

        Its a funny old world, when the once persecuted become the persecutors.The Middle East is a powder keg, and the 2 rotten apples in the barrel are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Address those, and you go a long way to getting some lasting resolution and peace in the area. Its a Regional problem, and my view has always been that Regional problems are better sorted out by the Region and not by outsiders.

        • Keith D

          The problem is,and will always be,Islam.

          And its not just confined to the Middle East is it ?. Even the Buddhist monks are having to get postal on the Islamists in their countries.Its a worldwide problem,and its 1400 years old.
          There will be no solution,ever.

          • swatnan

            I agree, militant Islam is a problem, but militant Islam only arose as a reaction to a beligerant and fundamentalist Israel.
            The 2 together are now the problem.
            I don’t know about you, but I’m getting fed up to the back teeth when every single news item these days has a Jewish-Islam slant to it. We’ve got to stop this nonsense otherwise it’ll end in apocalypse now.

            • Keith D

              “militant Islam only arose as a reaction to a beligerant and fundamentalist Israel.” ThIs is true to an extent but while I’m not condoning Israeli actions I do understand that surrounded by a huge population of people in countries avowed to destroy them they need to defend themselves.
              IMHO the main reason for Islamist resurgence is a perceived weakness in our Western secularism.When we had strong leadership in the White House and Europe,not a peep from them.A violent cult attractive to inadequates only understands one thing.Power.

            • Hexhamgeezer

              ‘militant Islam only arose as a reaction to a beligerant and fundamentalist Israel’

              I so hope you aren’t old enough to vote or donate to !$lamic ‘charities’.

              It’s ‘belligerent’ btw.

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