Coffee House

No partnership with Assad (and no scrutiny till summer’s up)

22 August 2014

Philip Hammond this afternoon ruled out Britain working with President Assad in the fight against Isis, arguing that simply being aligned against a common enemy ‘doesn’t make us friends with someone’. It is nearly a year since the Commons rejected intervention in Syria against the Assad regime, and now figures such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Dannatt are arguing that there may need to be some kind of alliance against the Syrian leader in order to defeat Isis. But the Foreign Secretary said:

‘We may very well find that we are aligned against a common enemy, but that doesn’t make us friends with someone It doesn’t make us able to trust them, it doesn’t enable us to work with them. It would poison what we are trying to achieve in separating moderate Sunni opinion from the poisonous ideology of IS if we were to align ourselves with President Assad.

‘We may very well find that we’re fighting on some occasions the same people that he is, but that doesn’t make us his ally. We’ve just heard at least two very good reasons why it wouldn’t be practical, sensible or helpful to even think about going down that route.’

Hammond also insisted that the reason Britain wasn’t putting ‘boots on the ground’ was not just because the British public were opposed to it, but because ‘that would only serve to reinforce the narrative that IS is using to attract Sunni supporters. This needs to be a fight that is death with by Iraqis on the ground.’ It is quite welcome that the Foreign Secretary has said this, as so far ministers have seemed anxious to reassure voters about the absence of boots, rather than talk about whether boots might be a good thing or not for the conflict.

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But what is not welcome is that all these clarifications about Assad and about boots are still taking place over the airwaves rather than in the House of Commons. Perhaps this is because, as I say in this week’s magazine, David Cameron is still trying to work out what his strategy for tackling Isis should be. But some of the questions that the legislature should be getting the opportunity to ask the executive are being answered by ministers without that scrutiny at all.

Another matter that will certainly require scrutiny is whether this government is doing enough to stem the flow of Britons joining Isis, and whether its strategy to tackle radicalisation is sufficient. As Douglas explains in this week’s magazine, the number of British jihadists could outweigh the number of Muslims joining the military (something the Times appears to have followed up today). There is also renewed interest in whether the government’s counter-extremism strategy either exists or is being implemented. Coffee House first reported this back in July, but when MPs do return in September, they won’t just want to probe what the government does want to do in Iraq: they’ll need to probe what ministers are doing in this country, too.

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  • R Fairless

    We couldn’t have got it more wrong. President Assad was no enemy of Britain but for some unaccountable reason we made him one. Perhaps he was friendly with the wrong people for our taste, e.g. Russia, Iran. A propaganda war against Assad by the UK has painted him as a monster, we made him a hate figure and denigrated him for not being democratic. He was faced with a civil war and our nin com poops in the FO and government decided in their infinite incompetence to support the insurrectionists. They should have known that these people are so brutally extreme that they make Hitler look like an upright Christian gentleman. We supplied them with arms and Materiel and Soldiers to train them (still denied) as a result prolonging the civil war and in the process destroying a country and killing many thousands. Make no mistake about it; the UK is responsible for that! We should have the courage to admit that we were wrong, unequivocally support President Assad and help to defeat the extreme Islamic terrorists surging through Iraq and Syria. The alternative is the certain defeat of Iraq, Syria and Jordan and the establishment of a very nasty extreme Islamic State.

    • Augustus

      Assad has had his hands full destroying the various rebel movements and terrorist groups, including IS, and thanks to the barely existing border between the two countries IS was able to move it’s fighters back to Iraq where, in the years before the civil war in Syria, it fought against the Americans. Eliminating the Islamic State would actually do more than just ward off the threat to other countries, it would give the world an example of success to hold on to in our continuing battle to safeguard our right to raise our children in freedom and peace.

  • swatnan

    Hammond will be back tracking on that statement within 6 months, causing him and the Govt more embarassment. Its a regional problem and if ISIS is going to be smashed and its soldiers of Allah eliminated, then the whole world is going to have to come together and focus on that problem.

  • Roy

    How inconvenient for the establishment to find they are on the same side as President Assad. How unfortunate and touching they find themselves backing the wrong horse! How lucky indeed they didn’t find themselves on the same side as the terrorist group ISIS; which, if they’d had their way at the time, wanting to jump into the fray, they would have been! As far as the rush of British jihadists goes, to join the ISIS conquerors, the British authorities should show some strength of purpose for once, and tell them if they go they don’t come back. Or better still reject them at the border on their return. Also give notice to their parents; they have lost and forgone their British passports! This would give the politicians fearful political career a boost they would never have thought possible.

    • Airey Belvoir

      Some of the young ‘British’ men heading off to the decapitatory excitements of ISIS land might be given pause if they knew that their own families risked loss of benefits and housing as a a result of their actions.

  • The Masked Marvel

    If these Islamo-nutters do end up creating some sort of Islamic State over there, how many Muslims in Britain and Europe who always vote in polls for Sharia Law will emigrate to the new country they claim to want? How many of the usual suspects the BBC always seem to have on speed dial will be rushing to get their new passports?

    Answers on a post card, no graven images please.

  • alabenn

    But what is not welcome is that all these clarifications about Assad and about boots are still taking place over the airwaves rather than in the House of Commons.

    This is the most welcome thing, when do nothing is patently the best strategy, why allow politicians with elections to win, the chance to pimp their failed previous policies one more time.
    The current set of politicians are basically stained by their mind set, none dare speak the truth on this, this savagery was released on the Western world by their efforts to turn medieval cultures into modern states overnight, they then compounded their folly by flooding the West with the most backward of these savages, they did this for political advantage, votes by socialist parties and wanting to be nice by others.
    No the best thing to do is wait till this plays itself out, then this disaster can be properly addressed in this country, while these savages are hacking each other to pieces it will give the voters time to reflect on their folly in electing these witless fools..

  • Lidlscanner

    If we don’t know or cannot admit who the enemy is how can we possibly fight them? It is as if during the 1930s we threw in our lot with one faction of Nazis while steadfastly believing they had nothing to do with Nazism. These people, Obama, Cameron, Hammond pauperize belief.

    • Roger Hudson

      You mean when we gave a guarantee to Poland, an anti-semitic military dictatorship , against Germany, another anti-semitic militarized dictatorship.

      Our guarantee led Poland to call off an agreement it was about to make with Germany.

  • Innit Bruv

    Didn’t little Willy Hague tell us that Gaddafi had fled Libya and was on a flight
    to Venezuela at the beginning of the uprising? Me thinks he may have been a little out of his depth as Foreign Secretary.

  • Bonkim

    You don’t team up with a war-criminal that has killed tens of thousands of his own people and made millions homeless refugees..

    • Sean Lamb

      That would rule out helping the FSA also, as they have killed tens of thousands of their own people.
      Actually, killing your own nationality is pretty much the definition of civil war.
      The new Iraqi premier is going to end up killing at least thousands of his own people and probably tens of thousands.
      All thanks to ham-fisted, vicious attempts to stoke up civil wars in the region by players including the UK.

      • Bonkim

        Tribal warfare and blood feuds were/are the norms in the region but your numbers are inflated – Assad’s deeds don’t strictly fall into this category – more a state organised effort and as such much more heinous. Regardless of the general situation ISIS poses a very serious and dangerous situation for us and needs to be dealt with – by any means. Bacteria needs to be eradicated before they spread

        • Sean Lamb

          My numbers are inflated!!! I didn’t provide any!
          And the closest you have got to the Middle East is Dubei Duty Free.

          • Bonkim

            Never been to Dubai – and don’t like Arab society that much to tempt me to travel there.

        • Sean Lamb

          Poroshenko is also killing his own people – but that seems to be OK.

          • Bonkim

            Why should that be O.K?

            • Roger Hudson

              Irony, don’t you understand irony.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Oh, Christ. Which way is the wind blowing now?

  • Roger Hudson

    “alliance against the Syrian leader”, surely a typo, they suggest a possible alliance with Assad. Edit that article.
    Remember Churchill had to ally Britain with Stalin to help the defeat of Hitler. Cameron should close his nostrils and open a dialogue.

    • Wessex Man

      That’s stretching it a bit, Hitler and Stalin were best mates in the carve up of Poland, when Hitler chose to invade Russia, Churchill saw an opportunity to drain the German capacity he took it pinching his nose. We all know what happened at the end of the war millions upon milions of Eastern europeans came under the rule of Stalin instead of Hitler.

      We should have no pacts with people like Assad.

      • Roger Hudson

        With hindsight we now know that the sensible course in 1941 would have to allow the Nazis and Soviets to bleed each other to destruction but I think that Israel could keep Assad in check so the current situation is not equivalent.

  • Peter Stroud

    Hague was no great shakes as foreign secretary, But Hammond is already making him look really good. Common sense suggests that, at some time, the west will have to tackle IS in Syria. Just how can this happen without the coordination of Assad led, and Western forces?

  • Augustus

    The fact is that the Islamic State can only be defeated within a limited time zone, and then only when that part of their organization in Syria is defeated. That’s all been confirmed by General Martin Dempsey, America’s most senior general. The problem with the Syrian president, of course, is that he refused to resign, which ultimately led to the civil war. But Hammond seems to like to obfuscate. He’s too obsessed with the problem of ‘the enemy of my enemy isn’t now my friend’, and is using it to the point of making him look foolish. Meanwhile, the Syrian military put up a good fight against ISIL at Tabqa Airbase today, killing quite a few of them.

    • Wessex Man

      Perhaps he id worried that our already depleted worn out armed forces will be dragged into another long term Iraqi war. Are you going to volunteer to go and fight?

      • Augustus

        Western Europeans have become so averse to violence that even the question of whether parents should give their child a slap has led to fierce arguments. That’s why Putin’s Russians think of Westerners as wimps. Great thinkers have argued that wars bring out the best in people, and they were probably right. “War is life itself” wrote Emile Zola. “War is necessary for the progress of humanity” opined Igor Stravinsky. I am quite prepared to believe that Islamic terrorism will have ceased by 2100. But that could be because we will have long been dominated by Muslims. Not a very pleasant future prospect!

  • Blindsideflanker

    Trying to stem the flow or Muslims joining IS , presumably by removing their passports, fails to deal with the core of the problem, which is Islam along with the decadent British establishment. For when you haver Islamo fachists

    • excel

      You are so right, and especially about the Eton/Oxford machine – there was a time when perhaps just one of those sausages could deal with a problem like ISIS. Sounds incredible I know, but Google ‘Aubrey Herbert’ and you’ll read about one such.

    • Roger Hudson

      PPE , crap narrow politics, rubbish old philosophy and economics without enough maths, simply not fit for purpose.

      • Lidlscanner

        Throw in a few PIEs as well.

      • fazerman

        PPE…Media Studies for posh boys.

  • excel

    ISIS are setting the pace, not Hammond. He needs to catch up with events on the ground.

    • Roger Hudson

      Today Monday we see Boko Haram (west Africa) might become an ISIS ally, we only need Libya next to have them really open a Southern front against Europe.

  • Barakzai

    Cameron and Hammond should just admit they have no strategy until Washington tells them what it is.

    • HookesLaw

      And does influence come into this? This fighting is taking place in Iraq. We can help the Iraqis if they ask for it but our abilities are minute compared to America. Are we the only country that has some special role or the expectation of one. We can and have always acted as part of a coalition. In the case of Afghanistan it was NATO and the UN.

      Ms Hardman’s rabbiting about ‘scrutiny’ is pathetic. The govt are entitled to act with humanitarian aid. The govr does not shut down over summer. There is no scrutiny required. The govt have not declared war on anybody.

      Her words are fatuous pious and hypocritical.

      • Roger Hudson

        Thinking ISIS is ‘over there’ is the governments problem, let’s be charitable , charity begins at home.

    • Curnonsky

      Washington has a strategy? Do you mean “leading from behind”?

      • Barakzai

        “What I could not support was “a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics”.” Guess who, moralising in ‘Audacity of Hope’.

        The Pentagon’s heavyweights have now made it clear that a strategy is needed to counter IS, and fast. Can Obama remain supine until his departure January 2016? Hmmm, quite possibly.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          The Pentagon’s heavyweights have also made it clear that everybody in the world is to be spied upon. It won’t take much to overcome those muppets, in the court of public opinion.

          • Wessex Man

            I never thought that I would read you quoting Harriett Harpersons infamous words.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …not following you here .

    • Tom M

      ….and the EU.

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