Martin Horwood digs himself deeper on Syria

Martin Horwood MP has released the following statement, explaining why he voted in favour of a Government motion designed to pave the way to quickfire US-UK bombing of Syria…

Horwood’s statement on the parliamentary vote on Syria, Thursday 29 August:

The evidence that the Syrian government was to blame for the chemical attack is overwhelming.

Unlike Iraq, we know the weapons exist because they have been used. No military expert has even suggested that the rebels have the capability to launch a simultaneous chemical attack on multiple neighbourhoods on a scale that hospitalised thousands and killed more than a thousand. We know the government has ample stocks of chemical weapons – they have boasted about this themselves – and that they have the capability of launching them. The launch areas were all in government-held areas. If it wasn’t done by the government, it must have been done with their active support. The target areas were all rebel-held or contested areas. There is clear intelligence that government troops were ordered to put on protective masks immediately before the attacks. And there were hundreds of independent accounts on social media within minutes identifying the targets and sources of the attacks and which Syrian armoured brigade was involved.

You don’t even have to believe the Americans this time. The evidence has been endorsed by our own Joint Intelligence Committee who found ‘no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.’ Shashank Joshi of the Royal united Services Institute, an eminent independent expert on Syria who has addressed my own LibDem parliamentary committee, said on the day: ‘The debate over Syria is now less over whether chemical weapons have been used – something that even pro-Assad states accept, and which looks likely to be confirmed by UN inspectors – but over the question of which level of the Syrian regime should be held culpable’.

We can’t guarantee that military action will help but logic suggests that a sufficiently serious strike against military or command capability will at least make him think twice before using chemical weapons a second time on this scale. Assad may be a psychopath but he’s not stupid – no military commander in the middle of a bitter civil war wants to risk important military assets if he doesn’t have to. And if the Americans can actually destroy or degrade the weapons stockpiles or launch capabilities themselves that would of course reduce the risk of them being used again.

These are some of the reasons I voted for the government motion. I’m bitterly disappointed that we bungled the vote (even though there was probably a parliamentary majority in favour of action with certain guarantees) and agreed to do nothing. That will please only Assad, Putin and any other brutal dictator who will today feel slightly more likely to get away with murder.

Martin Horwood MP

2 September 2013

Some immediate, and slightly desultory, thoughts on this…

1. The statement is dated 2 September, yet is being released today, i.e. some two weeks after it was (purportedly) drafted. Why is this? Could it possibly be that Martin realises he has made a monumental screw up by voting in favour of the motion, and is hoping that the release of such a statement the same day the UN releases its report might provide some kind of retrospective validation of his decision to vote in favour of bombing? If so, he should be aware that nobody’s fooled by such a crude propaganda ploy.

2. The first paragraph of the statement draws exclusively on information (or more accurately “speculation”) contained within the US intelligence assessment released on 30th August. Logically, therefore, none of this information could have influenced the way Martin voted on the 29th August. When he says, then, that “these are some of the reasons he voted for the government motion”, he is being at best slippery, and at worst deceitful. Again, nobody is fooled.

3. Of the various elements Martin has extracted from the 30th August US briefing, one jumps out more than most, namely his claim that “there is clear intelligence that government troops were ordered to put on protective masks immediately before the attacks”, which reads like a Government press release. The reality, of course, is that this is simply regurgitation of a US claim, which – naturally – is unsourced, and thus anything but “clear”.

4. Martin writes: “You don’t even have to believe the Americans this time. The evidence has been endorsed by our own Joint Intelligence Committee who found ‘no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.’” A couple of important points about this. First off, note the phraseology: the US intel “has been endorsed” by our own. This implies that the US intel came first, and the JIC assessment second. In fact, it was the other way around. Indeed, UK parliamentarians voted solely on the strength of a JIC assessment that Martin himself referred to pejoratively as “evidence” (his inverted commas) in his Echo “House Notes” of 02 September. Second, the JIC should be trusted approximately as far as it can be thrown. Let’s not forget that this is a committee that, we now know beyond doubt, exists to fix intelligence around policy. Remember those comedy claims of Iraqi WMD that could be deployed within 45 minutes? Well, they were incorporated into a document constructed and signed off by the JIC. The JIC, then, is not an entity deserving of trust; on the contrary, it is an entity deserving of a healthy level of mistrust.

5. “Assad may be a psychopath but he’s not stupid…”, Martin writes. Well, “stupid” enough, it would seem (by Martin’s reckoning at least) to unleash a chemical weapons attack that would provide the necessary pretext for US “intervention”, just when the UN inspectors are in town. Hmmmm.

6. “And if the Americans can actually destroy or degrade the weapons stockpiles or launch capabilities themselves that would of course reduce the risk of them being used again”, Martin writes. The sheer idiocy of this statement is gob-smacking. So let’s get this straight: the US is going to reduce the risk posed by chemical weapons by dropping bombs on them, quite possibly spreading the chemical weapons and creating a disaster? Well crank this little beauty up! Of course, unsaid (or possibly not undertood) by Martin is that any US bombing would most certainly degrade the Syrian Government’s ability to wage war against the opposition more generally, tipping the military balance in favour of the opposition (a-la Libya)… which of course is precisely the point.

To conclude…

The reality, much to Martin Horwood’s chagrin, is that the “no” vote in the UK parliament stalled the planned US-UK bombing and created the necessary time and space for a peaceful alternative to emerge, namely the Russian plan to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons via UN-mediated inspection. And while it’s true that such a plan isn’t likely to halt the bloodshed in Syria, UK citizens can take heart from the fact that their relentless lobbying has managed to stop the world’s principal rogue state – the US – from once more riding rough-shod over international law in pursuit of its (barely concealed) geostrategic interests.

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