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Lord Empey`s speech in the House of Lords about possible military intervention in Syria

29th August 2013 - Lord Empey:

"My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that we assemble here today. As a result of the welter of political posturing during the past 24 hours, I believe that the UK’s international credibility has been badly damaged. We are seen to be blowing hot and cold over Syria and proposing military actions that are supposed to be surgical and non-invasive, yet we say that Assad must be punished. We are very late in the day to start to punish him after 100,000 people have been killed. 

"Our credibility in the Arab world is at an all-time low. As the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, we do not do the Middle East very well. Our reactions to events in Egypt last month, where, whatever way you want to describe it, a military coup took place and more than 900 people were killed, are seen as hypocritical on the Arab street. Having failed to act 18 months ago in Syria when we could have influenced events, we now have a full-blown crisis with Russia, Iran and their satellites pouring money and weaponry, as well as manpower and technical assistance, into the mix.

"All this reminds me of the sad story of the Marsh Arabs, whom western Governments encouraged to rebel against Saddam. When push came to shove, we scarpered into the distance and we left the Marsh Arabs to take Saddam’s punishment. When our rhetoric does not match our capability, are we not sucking these people into something that we cannot deliver?

"We recognised rebel groups 18 months ago as the legitimate Government of Syria, but we have not followed that through and given them assistance. Now assistance has come from outside. The Russians thought that Assad was finished and were repositioning themselves more than a year ago, but, with Iranian and Hezbollah support, Assad’s position has been strengthened. In no way is Putin going to back off; he has us now precisely where he wants us.We are moving to a point where the humanitarian crisis in Syria may no longer be the dominant factor in determining how the UK and the West in general react, but the credibility of western leaders and Governments could be a growing consideration. I regret President Obama’s red line, because it said that up to that point Assad could do everything he liked with impunity, and he did. That was a mistake that President Obama will regret.

"When I hear phrases such as “no boots on the ground” or “limited response” being used by Governments, it reminds me of the language that was used at the outbreak of the First World War: “The boys will be home by Christmas”. How many times have we heard that? When troops were deployed in Northern Ireland, they were there for 40 years in the longest operation that the Army ever had.

"We cannot tell what will happen if we are convinced to act militarily and it is futile to say that we can use only limited force. What does that mean? No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. We have no idea what will happen. If the military is deployed to attack Assad, the aim must be to overcome him and win; you cannot go in for a draw. By saying that we will confront him with one hand tied behind our backs is counter- productive. I do not envy the Prime Minister the decisions that he must take in the coming days given that ignoring a chemical attack poses great risks for the future, but if we are going into a mission only half-heartedly, there can be no successful outcome.

"The trumpet has sounded an uncertain note and military action against that background is dangerous. The advocates must be convinced and convincing in proposing such measures. It is clear that we will return to these matters shortly, perhaps for a definitive decision. At that stage, all of us will have to declare a final verdict based on the case then presented, but in the mean time can the Minister tell the House whether measures have been put in place to protect our bases in Cyprus from missile and air attack? Can he also tell us whether the right mix of vessels is deployed in the Mediterranean to ensure the maximum protection for Navy personnel and assets?"

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