2007 - 2022

To Bomb or not to Bomb Assad

Bill Ramsay, Convener SNP CND, writes on the awful prospects of war.

Assad’s use of chlorine based chemical weapons to kill 60 odd civilians appears to be an extraordinarily counterproductive gambit in , what I assume, is his central civil war aim, the continuation of his own brutal regime.

The, as yet, undefined military action by the United States, France and The United Kingdom as punishment for the killing of 60 odd civilians with, as yet, no defined end point is equally puzzling.

On the other hand the discourse around whether to bomb, or not to bomb, does have political utility for some, and none of it is about the humanitarian dimension of the death of 60 Syrian civilians. The supposed humanitarian dimension is in truth, for the cheer leaders for bombing utterly irrelevant.

If it were relevant, that is underpinned by principles pertaining to egregious civilian death, then the political community, here and abroad would be talking about the Saudi led, and U.S./U.K backed war in Yemen.

If it really were about such humanitarian principles then the proponents to bomb in this case, would have been talking about the Yemen case. They would have been talking about it not only yesterday, the would have been talking about it in the days weeks and months before yesterday. Moreover they would be talking about it now until the genocide going on Yemen ends.

Clausewitz concluded that the purpose of war was to achieve certain aims, war aims. That is changes in the political behaviour of others so that they would at worst fall into line up to and at best display political subservience.

Quite what the war aims of those who propose to bomb the Assad regime are not at all clear. Is it to change the regime? To remove Assad and replace him? And to replace him with what?
If it is not that then what?

Is it rather all a political performance? A manifestation of political theatre if you will? Political theatre of a televisual nature. A performance with certain deadly consequences for some to be sure. However if it were that then that would be bad enough. However it is important to understand that the stakes are potentially much greater, particularly if the “choreographers” of this “production” slip up.

Its worth looking at the requirements that need to be put in place to ensure that only those “on stage” might be killed and not members of the “audience” for who’s edification the production is being staged in the first place.

The two key performers who absolutely must get there moves right are the USA and Russia. The actions of both have the potential, if not carefully managed, to kill members of the audience too.

For the political elites, in the upper balcony, the danger is slight, but by no means non existent.

The arms manufacturers, on both sides, have already gobbled up the tickets for the boxes, to hand out to potential customers who require ring side seats better to asses who missiles and air defence systems to buy.

The production is an expensive one. But please do not misunderstand me, I’m not referring to civilian casualties. As the war in Iraq drags on, with demonstrably no serious attempt to find a resolution the lives of civilian Iraqis is demonstrably cheap, though no where near as cheap as Yemeni’s.

The real expense will be in Tomahawk missiles, fired off in numbers by the US Navy and of course to a much lesser extent, by the Royal Navy, if they can get a one of the Astute Class boats in theatre in time before President Trump tweets the opening of the performance.

Also expensive will be the Russian countermeasures that, so the Russians claim, will be deployed to shoot down the tomahawks. Like the tomahawks these air defence systems are expensive, particularly for the Russians who’s military expenditure is not what it was during the glory days of the Soviet Union. The Russian bear’s vocal chords are still in good order but the claws are not quite what they used to be. After all contemporary Russia ranks only number ten in the military expenditure arms league table.

It one thing for Russia to use “bin end” decades old ordnance, (due for decommissioning soon anyway) to bomb civilians in various iterations of 21st century civil war sieges. It’s another to use the really expensive stuff, particularly when the USA has much, much more of it.

But the really key people in the stage managers control box will be the air traffic controllers, specifically the military air traffic controllers, both Russian and American. They will , we can assume, be in constant communication with each other during the entire performance.

If it turns out they are not in constant communication with each other then for those in the “upper circle” I suggest they try and ensure a seat is near the fire exit.

Comments (28)

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  1. Paul Carline says:

    What a waste of space! All based on an extremely dubious allegation (of a supposed chemical attack by the Syrian government for which there is neither motive nor means, Syria having given up all its chemical and biological weapons) – itself coming from another dubious source: the fake White Helmets, created as a media propaganda force by ex-British army officer James Le Mesurier.
    If this reflects the level and quality of information and evaluation in the SNP, we are in serious trouble.

    1. Iain McIntosh says:

      Guardian 13 Apr:

      “Russia tested nerve agent on door handles before Skripal attack, UK dossier claims”

      This is not even up to Dad’s army standard of propaganda!

  2. MrBlobby says:

    Agree with Paul here. Surly the following should at least be prefaced with ALLEDGED: “Assad’s use of chlorine based chemical weapons to kill 60 odd civilians”

  3. May Ayres says:

    I agree with Paul Carline. This is all getting very disturbing. Bill Ramsay’s post follows on from the equally dubious Gordon Guthrie’s post of 10th April! Who are these individuals who clearly have no intellectual understanding of the crimes being waged against Syria by US/UK regimes and the outrageous propaganda these western powers are spewing forth.

    1. Yeah who is Bill Ramsay and what is this “CND” thing you speak of?

      They sound alike renowned war-mongers!!!!

  4. J Galt says:

    As an SNP member I am utterly ashamed of the SNP’s response to both the Skripal nonsense and now this blatantly ludicrous “Gas Attack”.

    1. Iain McIntosh says:

      The response from the SNP and the First Minister on the Skripal’s case was caveated by “Infomation supplied to her (Sturgeon) by the uk government”. This provides the FM the option to attack, withdraw support and question the uk government if evidence comes to light she was lied to. Politically smart, but requires patience from those who question uk case.

      It’s difficult to take a contrary stance when others such as France, Germany, Australia and US are supporting the Russian theory (for now). The bbc, press and oppostion in Scotland are looking for something major to hurt the SNP with, caution is required. Sturgeon saw that Salmond was taking a risk when when accepting RT job and said so publicy. Looking at events, she was right, its all about “perception” and the uk government control the news.

      We have two events in Salisbury and Syria, the uk government wishes the public to conflate the two and come to the conclusion, it must be Russia (Russia = BAD), sound familiar? But as long as we lack truth or evidence, we can’t say either way other than to learn from history, e.g. Iraq or Falklands when we were lied to. Moreover, to this day those in the labour cabinet of that time continue to lie.

      The West are cultivating fear over Russia. Syria provides the opportunity to do so as Ruissia backed its horse with conviction, the west backed its multiple horses without conviction. Of the two outcomes, Syrian government winning quickly or IS and others winning eventually, the West’s stance seems to run counter to the benefit of the majority.

      Trump, Mrs May, Syria, Yemen, brexit, Skripals, return to cold war and trade wars, etc are not happening by accident, but rest assuered, we the public, are being lied to and no one appears to be at the wheel!

      1. Nika Marsic says:

        Exactly spot on Iain McIntosh.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    You can quantify and locate worldwide violent deaths too, see figures for 1989 to 2016 from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program:

    Of course, you can kill by non-violent means like sanctions and blockades, removing funding from medical programmes, degradation/destruction of environment, inducing psychological states like despair etc. And death is not the only negative outcome of conflict/aggression/oppression.

    The article is surely right in pointing out that a very narrow, selective story is being constructed, and even then the facts are hard to substantiate and the omissions may be more significant to a clear understanding. Even although our culture is saturated with “successful military intervention” fiction, it is difficult to think of unambiguous examples where this has been the pattern.

  6. Jo says:

    Mr Ramsay, you have wasted an opportunity here, you really have.

    You ask “if” this about regime change. We already know it is! That’s why the US, UK have been funding terrorist groups in Syria to help bring down Assad. Syria just follows Iraq and Libya….targets of western governments who want (illegal) regime change only that wasn’t going to plan so now we have the latest farcical stunts designed to fool us into giving approval.

    You very much understate the dangers also. Iran’s in the mix, Israel is in the mix. You’re also trying to suggest that Russia in the mix isn’t a big deal. Are you serious?

    You know the biggest shock? All you guys who were so horrified by the prospect of a lunatic like Trump in the White House are now so laid back about what he’s preparing to do here…..with our own PM ready to follow! Did you learn nothing from Iraq? Are you not afraid that the UK has helped to make the UN redundant when that means international law can be ignored so that we can just take out those leaders of countries we don’t like? Where we can hurl allegations around without offering proof and just start launching missiles?

    I’m sorry, this article is just terrible. It’s almost satire! You’ve used so many words and said nothing. There’s no urgency, no alarm and yet this is the scariest time I have experienced ever. What is wrong with you?

  7. james says:

    who needs facts? what an awful article devoid of them and moving on regardless..i stopped reading after the first paragraph!

    i don’t know what “Convener SNP CND” but i personally would not want someone like you convening on anything that i had anything to do with..

  8. james says:

    you could always change the title ‘to bomb or not bomb the west’ for the constant display of propaganda aimed at generating more and more war…

    this article seems to be running off thefumes of the last disaster article by gordon…. are you going for a consistent foreign policy theme here at bell caledonia? lets call it ‘war, war and more war based on supposition only’…

  9. Willie says:

    I think Bill Ramsay’s satire was very clearly intended to reinforce how unimportant human life is in places like Syria, Iran or Iraq.

    It is indeed life that you flush down the toilet whilst the people in the ring side seats for the most part sit and watch and do not care.

    That I think was his message and of course he is right.

    There are many in this country who do not give the proverbial toss as long as it does not affect them.

    I wonder however what those same folks would think if a fire breaks out in the audience stalls.

    Mr Ramsay alludes to that in his satire too. Certainly would involve a bit of audience participation if the Performing Bear was stung into putting a few missiles into Faslane, Coulport and environs. That’d give the armchair viewers a bit of participation.

    Humanitarian bombing I think Caligula would have called it.

  10. Willie says:

    And while we’re at it why is it that only the RAF and the USAF bombing is humanitarian.

    Is the world largely elsewhere peopled with savages. Seems that it is when one reads the BBC and other such organs of our democracy.

    The Great War where our odious dead died a good death for our salvation.

    And then again a rerun a couple of decades later.

    Maybe the RAF should have done a bit of humanitarian bombing in West Belfast, Londonderry or wherever else it was needed.

    Kind of makes it a bit easier than putting boots on the ground. And yes those from the audience stall don’t usually take to ballet dancing on the live stage.

    But I digress. Time for war. Let’s quell the savages. We know it makes sense. Just ask the trade unions who will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of a boom in armament manufacture.

    Its a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. There’s important lives and totally in important ones too.

    Fodder I think they used to call them. Economic or cannon it doesn’t matter.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Willie, yes, I wonder if the Syrian Arab Republic air force are missing a public-relations trick by not flying Lancaster bombers (not that I’ve watched this BBC offering yet):

      It seems there’s no weapon of civilian slaughter that won’t warm the heart of some militarists somewhere.

  11. T, roz says:

    I thought this was a good article, in its highlighting of all the onlookers rubbing their hands together, readying for war.

  12. Richard L Bijster says:

    “Assad’s use of chlorine based chemical weapons to kill 60 odd civilians appears to be an extraordinarily counterproductive gambit”. Show me the proof. Where is the fact based evidence to back up this ridiculous statement? Nowhere to be seen. Going to war is being based on unfounded accusations and the tweets of a bellicose fool in the White House. Incredible. What’s even more incredible is that BIll Ramsay takes it as truth.

    A disgraceful decision by the UK government based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever to bomb Syria. The UK government is determined to make a bad situation even worse by risking direct conflict with Russia in Syria. No proof of guilt is necessary, simply an accusation and the tweets of a bellicose fool in the White House are enough these days. If the bombs start coming our way we fully deserve every nuclear bomb that will go off over our cities, towns and villages.

    Never forget, it’s easy to get involved in illegal wars, as this is, but it’s very difficult to end them.

    As Robert Fisk said in todays Independent, “So we are going to “war”, are we? And how do we get out of this war once we have started it? Any plans, anyone? What if there’s a gigantic screw-up, which wars do tend to usually produce? What happens then?”

  13. Guy Dreich says:

    Seems to me there is a Yesser swivel-eyed trend to buy into the Russian inspired White Helmet conspiracy theory which flies in formation with an equally bonkers equation of anti-imperialism with defence of Syria. Noted this recently in piece by (usually interesting) CaltonJock.

  14. Peter Hurrell says:

    So according to Bella when the government and bbc present information on Scotland it is propaganda but when it is about a foreign country it’s suddenly wholly factual and is to be accepted without question.
    Another in a long line of appalling articles on BC.

    1. Jo says:

      It wasn’t always that way Peter although I share your dismay at the responses from Bella Editorial to points being made on this thread and especially on the thread below the Gordon Guthrie article.

      Earlier I had a look around Bella and found a few gems which made me realise I wasn’t losing my mind.

      Two were by Mike Small. One entitled, “Troops Out” was published in July 2010. It concerned the basket case that is UK foreign policy and started with a quote from Orwell.

      “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”

      The second was, “Afghanistan: War Failure and Remembering King”. This was published in January 2011.

      Both were darn good reads and lamented long the failures of UK governments, the carnage and the death WE took abroad.

      Mike wrote the words I read. In Bella.

      Which makes it even crazier that so many barbed comments have been hurled at contributors for expressing deep reservations and fears about what Mrs May is caught up in concerning Syria. By Bella’s Editorial.

      If nothing else I’m glad I found that Orwell quote. For it perfectly sums up why so many of us do not trust governments. But having found those articles I have a question for Bella’s Editorial. Who are you and what have you done with Mike Small?

      1. Thanks Jo, same person, same outlook, same political analysis 2007 – 2018. Highly critical of the British state, highly critical of British imperialism, highly critical of US imperialism.

        I’m just not buying the conspiracy theory and I find it deeply distasteful that people are offering succour to Assad and Putin.

        I could use dozens of examples but I’m sure none will be sufficient, that is part of the problem here. People are consumed by a narrative that if I hate Britain enough that must end up with me loving their enemies.

        Here’s what the journalist Richard Hall writes:

        “There are limits to what journalists can know about the attack without unhindered access (which the Syrian gov blocks), and OPCW investigation is crucial, but here are a few stories that have collected witness testimony and examined the open source evidence:

        [email protected] and @hwaida_saad spoke to a dozen witnesses to the attack, examined flight records and reviewed more than 20 videos…



        The team at @bellingcat specialise in examining open source data. Here they try to verify witness reports with videos from both opposition sources and video from journalists who accompanied Russian personnel to the site:


        he ends:

        “Scepticism is good and healthy, but it should be based on the available evidence, not statements from the Russian military, or any other party to the conflict for that matter, including the US.”

        1. Willie says:

          British Imperialism, US imperialism don’t exist.

          On the other hand however Russian Imperialism and Korean do.

          Equally Assad, Gaddafi, or Hussain are all bad.

          Some bloggers need to get real. Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan are all theatres where the world powers are vying for influence or resources. It takes two to tango and the methods are very murky.

          What seems to have happened in Syria is that the Russian backed Assad regime who the West tried to undermine are winning the civil war.

          The West now has to decide how to intervene.

          That direct action is now being considered above and beyond the special forces who have clearly been operating actively on the ground is a dangerous intervention.

          That is why the West and no doubt Russia are moving many time more firepower into the area than was expended in both of the previous world wars.

          It’s high stakes where the powers are asking each other if they feel lucky.

          Well Theresa, fire a few missiles or bombs into Russian assets and you’ll get your answer I’m sure.

          The toys are all there and ready to go. Yee Haw Cowboys, do you really feel lucky. Do you?

        2. Peter Hurrell says:

          “I’m just not buying the conspiracy theory and I find it deeply distasteful that people are offering succour to Assad and Putin.”

          You seem to have the whole thing inverted. It is you that is presenting the conspiracy theory that Syria/Russia have been carrying out chemical attacks. The onus is therefore on you to demonstrate that this has occurred. To suggest that anyone who questions this idea is involved in some conspiracy is bizarre. I and millions of others don’t have any theory, I don’t know if there has been a chemical attack and if there has been an attack I don’t who carried it out. It’s only you and others like you that have a theory on this.
          It is also pretty low to suggest that anyone who questions your narrative is “offering succour to Assad and Putin”. A quite disgraceful stance to take.

          In support of your position you offer the NY Times, the Guardian and Bellingcat.

          You may have forgotten but there was a war in Iraq a few years ago that turned out to be based on false intelligence that was fabricated by US/UK governments. This narrative was supported by almost every western media organisation including thr NYT and Guardian. Millions of people around the world and most of the dogs in the street new it was nonsense at the time but these “experts” were convinced by it. And here we are again in a very similar position and you are happy to run with the very same sources that were shown to be wholly, completely and utterly wrong before but you strangely seem to think they are accurate. This is an odd position to take for someone editing a supposedly independent media platform.

          Your other source, Bellingcat, takes its source from White Helmets.
          I don’t think I need say anymore.

  15. SleepingDog says:

    As far as I can see, some commenters are (with good reason) objecting to the framing of the pair of articles:
    To Bomb or not to Bomb Assad
    Yes, I still oppose British military intervention in Syria

    see https://masscommtheory.com/theory-overviews/framing-theory/

    These articles are responding to the question being asked by mainstream media, and are therefore to some extent legitimising that question. We do not know if there are more articles to appear in this series, or if perhaps they are presented provocatively.

    Alternate approaches to broaden the frame, such as the 2013 article
    Syria Conflict And Just War Theory: The Ethics Of Military Intervention
    can bring in more universal concerns and a (select) panel, but even here some of the panellists are keen to expand the terms of debate to cover, for example, what kind of peaceful world some may be trying to build (or not), and what effects global USAmerican military expansion has.

    So in the Huffington Post article, for all its apparent breadth and depth compared to typical mainstream framings, we should still be concerned about its selection and perspective and narrative and all.

    Really we should be able to ask more and more questions, like:
    what are the greatest threats to world peace? (Noam Chomsky says that world opinion polls put the USA consistently at the top)
    what institutions best serve justice? (you might like John Rawls suppose yourself randomly allocated to be born in any nation of the world before you answer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_position)
    before we throw stones, is our own house in order? are we, with whatever supposed freedoms, scrupulous in holding our own governments and representatives to account? are we sure of our own history and state activity in the world? have we condemned rather than rewarded our own war criminals?
    how should we make warlike decisions? gut feeling? leave it to the monarch (as royal prerogative in the UK)/blind obedience to authority? build strong constitutional safeguards and binding international law? only commit to war after exhaustive, open, public debate? devise many appropriate technologies and methods to achieve aims without all-out war?
    and what kind of peace do we want? how can we build and maintain it? how are the warmongers, arms dealers, imperialists, oppressors going to push back?

    1. You’re right, some commenters are objecting to these two articles – one from the Convenor of CND – that reknowned war-mongering outfit – and the other by someone who outlines why we SHOULDN’T go to war.

      The question “before we throw stones is our own house in order?” is a good one. That is why we have spent the best part of eleven years dissecting the failure and corruption of the British and American states, elites and imperial forces.

      The idea that Britain and America being a force for chaos and disorder somehow absolves or explains away Russian or Serbian atrocities or aggressions is just absurd.

      There is no counter / alter powers or political system being presented by these states, just Disaster Capitalism / Rogue / Gangster states acting with military power.

      The confusion that reigns on the left and supposedly progressive movements about this is appalling and depressing.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, well, I only applied “good” to the *framing* objection (and I may be wrong in my interpretation that others see that as a problem).

        I have been trying to find a mention of what efforts have been made to find out what Syrians want outside forces to do. Interviewing refugees is not fully representative, but the theme amongst them is generally a wish to end the fighting, so not really a call to arms. So perhaps a better question than mine would be to ask what Syrians want.

        My impression is that the worse any permanent member of the UN Security Council behaves, the more the others feel empowered to behave badly. It seems like a vicious downward spiral.

        It is perhaps a sign of our times that we have movie genres for Detective and Disaster but not Diplomacy in between.

        Bella’s record of criticism is strong, I expect it will continue to develop.

        But I don’t see a unified Left (as I comment elsewhere, this is itself an ideologically-constructed category). Reading George Orwell’s political writings from the start of World War 1, he describes authoritarian communists who take their cues from overseas, Labour party members who support war and imperial exploitation, his own independent Labour party which was anti-colonial, pacifists (but not all pacifists are leftist), and the history of Comintern which in an earlier phase supported world revolutionary communism but later emphasised a grand coalition against Fascism. Religious leftists were also very varied, pro- and anti-war.

        If there is confusion on the Left, it may be created by trying to unify authoritarian–libertarian, hawk–dove, open–closed society, religious–secular, internationalist–isolationist (and so on) ‘wings’, and expecting people to entertain conflicting ideas labelled ‘Left’ to belong in the club.

        Perhaps an article or two on the diverse continuums and intersectionality of political thought would help reframe the discussion and add more modern concepts and movements. Perhaps with less words, more graphics. Cheerful and uplifting ones.

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