This morning we woke up to the news that President Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian air base in retaliation for Syrian use of chemical weapons. One of the biggest areas of disagreement between libertarians is defence, and the CfL team is no different. Here chairman Emily Barley and Head of CfL Wales Nathan Friend go head-to-head. Vote in the poll at the bottom.
In favour of Trump’s missile strikes
The use of chemical weapons is against international law – and yet the Syrian regime led by Assad felt emboldened by Russia’s support, and inaction over previous chemical weapons attacks, and launched chemical attacks this week.
Last time this happened Obama was on the record as saying the use of chemical weapons was a ‘red line’, and many believed he would order air strikes against Syria after 1,400 people were killed by sarin gas on the orders of Assad.
It didn’t happen; Obama wavered; and the UK government wavered, with parliament voting against action. Instead, the international community launched a round of diplomatic talks which were hailed as resulting in the elimination and destruction of Syria’s remaining chemical weapons – overseen by Russia.
The pictures of children killed by Syrian chemical weapons this week say everything that is needed about the success of that agreement.
So for these reasons – international law, past chemical attacks, and the agreement to destroy chemical weapons – it is right to take action against the Syrian regime. Trump took enough time to ascertain this was indeed a chemical attack, trace its origin, and take advice from military experts; and then acted decisively. The response was limited: a single set of missile strikes against the air base the chemical attacks were launched from, destroying infrastructure and limiting casualties. It is not another Iraq War: there will be no invasion, and no sustained attacks.
Many people today are concerned about Russia’s reaction to this attack on their ally, but in my view worries about Russia’s sensitivities have governed international relations far too much in recent years. Russia agreed to oversee and be responsible for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, and if Russian aircraft and personnel were present at the air base chemical attacks were launched from, then they were complicit.
This morning there has been a lot of talking about the Cold War, when the world’s two super powers were at odds. The situation is different today: there is a single global super power, not two. America’s military massively outstrips Russia’s – spending 9 times as much on defence (USD$596bn versus USD$66.4bn) and its military capabilities and power match that difference.
Giving Russia more credit than it deserves is a dangerous game – and we have seen the consequences of allowing Russia to get away with actions that were previously considered red lines, for example ignoring the invasion of Georgia, emboldening Putin to annex Crimea.
This morning Putin is talking tough, but he knows the weakness of his position at home and abroad better than anybody else. These chemical attacks awoke a slumbering giant, and top of Putin’s wish-list will be for it to go back to sleep again.
Regardless of outside involvement in a conflict, the use of chemical weapons should always be a red line – and today I am pleased that red line has been restored. Thank you President Trump.
Against Trump’s missile strikes
“The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over,” Theresa May boldly stated in January, rejecting the neo-conservative doctrine of the past twenty years. Only then to announce her total support today for Donald Trump’s intervention in Syria. Just when I was starting to like her.
My single defence of Donald Trump was always that unlike the hawkish Clinton, he wouldn’t go to war. Today, after only three months in office, he has done both. Fifty-Nine Tomahawk missiles have been fired at a Syrian Air base, at which Russian Troops were present, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
Does this not sound eerily familiar? Have we forgotten, only a matter of months after the publication of the Chilcot Report on our actions in Iraq, that we have been here before? Switch out ‘chemical weapons’ for ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and suddenly we are transported back to a Hawkish Blair and Bush, foolishly attempting to drop democracy from forty-thousand feet. It cannot be launched from a boat in the Mediterranean either.
In Iraq between 2003 and 2013 it is believed that anywhere between 112,667–123,284 Iraqi civilians were killed; collateral damage from an American-led intervention that quickly became a quagmire. What will happen in Syria? Maddeningly, we are repeating the same actions over and over again expecting different results. The intervention in Iraq has not made it a safer or freer place. Rather, it has spurred on the rise of Daesh and left more questions than it ever answered about Iraq’s future as a sovereign state. For the results of forced regime change, look to the ruins of Libya. We continue to scratch our heads and ask ‘Why?’ when the Middle East continues its spiral of death-cults and terrorism, ignoring the fact that we have left most of its infrastructure levelled, bastardised their young men, and left our flags poking out from the smoking remains of their lives.
Tragically, it is those who suffer at the hands of Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use that will suffer at the hands of our intervention. If we wish to help those who are suffering at the hands of the Assad regime, intervention will not help. It will not help to bomb their homes and kill their families. It will not help to replace Assad with militant rebels of questionable allegiance and ideology. Taking refugees from the camps in the middle east and increasing our humanitarian aid in the areas effected is a much more intuitive and humane method of helping those affected.
It is fallacious and utterly nonsensical to bomb a country into peace and freedom. Regime change will lead only to further instability and abuses. We’ve seen it all before, and I fear we shall see it all again.
Emily is the Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow her on Twitter: @ThinkEmily
Nathan Friend is the Head of Conservatives for Liberty Wales. Follow him on Twitter: @Nathan_A_Friend
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty