John Baron and Matthew Parris on British airstrikes

by Harry on December 2, 2015

Here’s the terrorist-sympathising MP John Baron:

Any successful strategy to destroy Isis hinges on there being a component of ground troops. Here the government makes the assumption that there are 70,000 Syrian moderates willing to take the fight to the organisation. While on our visit [Baron was part of a fact-finding mission to Middle-East capitals last month], we were reminded that, after nearly five years of conflict, there are precious few “moderates” in Syria. They do not form a coherent group; and, as the Americans found to their cost, they tend to be as liable to fight each other as they are to fight the extremists. The government has forgotten the lessons of Libya, where the anti-Gaddafi forces splintered into a thousand militias the moment the common enemy was defeated. A fresh civil war has been a result. Syria would be similar, but on a grand scale.

In any case, a feature of the Syrian civil war has been the speed at which new groups and organisations can spring from the shadows and stake their claim to support, legitimacy and territory. It is a bold assumption that the government’s strategy would prevent this, and the risks should be obvious that military intervention would merely clear the field for the next wave of extremists. We are all encouraged by the Vienna talks, but we are a long way off any lasting political solution.

The prime minister’s strategy is also notable for being heavy on emotion. We all sympathise with the French after the terrible attacks in Paris, and are mindful that such outrages could easily happen here, but we serve no purpose by allowing our thinking to be cloyed. When emotions run high, people tend to make mistakes. If parliament votes to intervene in Syria, it should not be in “solidarity” with our French partners – they know our sympathies are with them in any case.

Read the whole thing.

Similar tired old lefty stuff from old Trot Matthew Parris, sounding smug at the Times:

‘If not now, when?” asked the prime minister this week: a question that has surely preceded some of the silliest decisions in history. It could have been asked before Iraq. It could have been asked before Afghanistan or Libya, or Suez. It was probably asked before the Charge of the Light Brigade. There is no right time for an unwise decision.

To a hushed House of Commons David Cameron brought the news that he had consulted his conscience. Politicians love interviewing their consciences; they reliably receive a supportive response. Tony Blair and his conscience got on famously: one of the longest-running romances of modern times. Let us have a little less about conscience and a little more about judgment.

Now must come a sentence I never expected to compose. Jeremy Corbyn is right.

Joining the bombing in Syria will do nobody any good. And the funny thing is, I think that in its heart Britain knows that. But it’s one of those things that’s just going to happen anyway. Britain will join the bombing because it’s the kind of thing Britain does. It will make no serious difference to the allied campaign, and the whole thing will end up in a bloody mess.

Is there not, though, a Through the Looking-Glass quality to the spectacle of the media, the Tories and Mr Corbyn’s own shadow cabinet in full cry against an opposition leader who has said something that tens of millions on both sides of the party divide suspect to be true?

But we shall brush those doubts and presentiments aside, and in a moment I’ll tell you why. First, though, to the doubts themselves. They can be addressed briefly because (as I shall explain) this decision doesn’t turn on the merits. Arguing whether British bombing makes any military and political sense is a sideshow, an epiphenomenon.
It was all summed up for me last Sunday in the nanosecond of a ministerial hesitation. I was on a radio programme in which the broadcaster John Pienaar interviewed Matthew Hancock about Syria. There was a case, said the paymaster general, “for making sure there are boots on the ground from . . .” and here there was the slightest of pauses, “. . . somewhere”.

So much for the state of official thinking on stage two. It’s pitiful.

So why do I say there’s no point in persisting with the rational case against Britain joining the airborne queue to bomb Raqqa? For your answer, listen to the silences.

Listen to the silence when you point out to the bombs-away brigade that two years ago the debate that the PM failed to carry was about going to war against Bashar al-Assad, whereas now the plan is to join two much bigger players than ourselves, Iran and Russia, who are determined to keep him in place.

Ask any neocon about that. You get an irritated silence, as though you were nitpicking or being a smart aleck. They change the subject. Their silence says “that’s not the point”.

And, friends, they’re right. You have misunderstood. For them it never was the point. The point is to join our allies in a fight. Never mind on which side, so long as we’re all on it together. Our friends are in there, for God’s sake, fists flying. We must be in there too. We have armed forces, we have jets, we have bombs. Use them or lose them. Do we really want to be left out?

This horror of being left out is for psychiatrists not military strategists to ponder. Strategists are left gaping when asked about the plan for Syria. Next time you see a hawkish Tory or Labour MP ask them for news about the “Free Syrian Army” that it’s our declared purpose to install in Syria. You will get . . . silence. Frankly that isn’t what’s on their minds.

Once you have understood these silences, once you have understood that the underlying motivation is not to be left out, all the questions you’d wanted to ask about the plan for after the bombing is over, all the questions that troubled you about what difference an RAF presence could make in crowded Syrian skies fall away. Wrong questions! Right question: does Britain want to be left out?

You had perhaps wanted to ask about the precedents. You had wanted to remind our up-and-at-’em brigade that the toppling of Saddam did succeed militarily, as I assume that the destruction of Islamic State will succeed. Mission accomplished in Iraq — but things went wrong when it became clear the victors had no clue what to do next. Yes, yes, say the new generation of neocons, but the point is, America got into a fight, and we were there for them. You had perhaps wanted to remind the hawks that helping to harry the Russians out of Afghanistan then invading to drive the Taliban from Kabul was a military victory; but things went wrong as we victors tried to govern an ungovernable space. Yes, yes, but the point is . . .

You had perhaps wanted to add that saving Benghazi and killing Colonel Gaddafi had proved an easy military victory; but things went wrong when we stepped back, leaving Libyans to construct their own democracy as we now say the Syrians can; and it all fell apart. Yes, yes . . .

So by now you are perhaps despairing of getting Mr Cameron and his hawkish friends to focus on the lessons from the past. In vain will you ask if for Syria we have the plans we lacked in Iraq and Libya. In vain will you ask if we know this time who we want to install. In vain will you ask most of them to name (let alone spell) two or three of the leaders of the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, or give you a potted history of where these mysterious individuals and their supporters come from, and how their fortunes stand.

Wrong questions, every one. They haven’t the foggiest, but that isn’t the point. Does Britain want to be left out? That’s the question, the only question, that the prime minister’s Commons statement this week was really meant to answer.

So in we’ll go, and it won’t make much difference, but a short-term though messy military victory will be achieved. Isis will duck, or morph into something else, the fragile alliance assembled to defeat them will disintegrate, and new horrors, as yet unforeseeable, will replace
the old.

But, praise be, Britain will not have been left out.



Bartleby the Commenter 12.02.15 at 4:04 pm

I could note that it is a real tragedy how our foreign policy establishment is completely dominated by morons, knaves, fools and bloodthirsty maniacs. And how being tragically wrong on a decision to go to war seems to be no barrier at all to having the opportunity to be tragically wrong yet again about the next war. But as always I prefer not to.


BenK 12.02.15 at 4:20 pm

It seems that Parris objects to the idea of prioritizing relationships among powerful allies as an element of foreign policy. That seems like a pretty silly position to take.


Metatone 12.02.15 at 4:21 pm

I don’t read the Times (paywall) and I’ve generally not had a lot of time for Matthew Parris over the years, but that’s an insightful (if depressing) and accurate piece.

(Barton speaks plenty of sense too, but that surprises me less.)

Questions of effectiveness and outcomes have been swept aside.


Yet another Pete 12.02.15 at 4:32 pm

@ BenK – or, more plausibly, Parris is making two non-silly points:

1) Maintaining relationships with powerful allies is not the stated primary justification.

2) You have to weigh up relationships with powerful allies alongside the other arguments, and the arguments against are powerful.


Thomas Beale 12.02.15 at 4:41 pm

I’ve just listened to a couple of hours of debate, with some very good arguments given from the ‘no’ camp. David Davis (unsurprisingly) came up with what was needed – some actual facts:

* Daesh recruitment has doubled over the recent period of Iraq bombing and there is no sign of that air campaign reducing it, and every sign of the opposite. I.e. the current efforts are already making things measurably worse.

* There is no ‘special hardware’ or aircraft that the UK can provide for Syria that is not already available (equivalent or better) to the existing group bombing in Syria.

* and the one that really matters: the US bombing effort today flies around 7 sorties a day compared to (I think I heard) 120 by the Russians. This is because there is virtually no-one (well organised ‘moderate’ army of 70,000 anyone?) on the ground to call in an allied (= anti-Assad group) strike, whereas the Russians have Assad’s army calling them in.

Conclusion: adding a few more aircraft from the UK to the Syria side bombing effort is entirely useless because the constraining factor – even if anyone believes this bombing has some value – is not air-power, it’s ground presence – there is none.

Davis also said that the UK government should instead be demanding (not ‘requesting’, Mr Speaker) of its so-called NATO ally Turkey to plug the $1bn oil/arms trade on the open Syria/Turkey border, and similarly to demand of Saudi Arabia and certain other states to stop funding terror groups in Syria and Iraq. We should call some of our so-called ‘allies’ to account.

We can put these arguments together with those of Dr Julian Lewis (chair UK parliamentary Defence Committee), who earlier provided the over-arching arguments demonstrating more general uselessness of bombing without any kind of grand alliance on strategy leading to peace and re-construction, to have a reasonably full picture of just how meaningless the motion (or at least the bombing part) being debated in the Commons today actually is.

The real danger in all this is that a positive vote for bombing will occur, and as a consequence many will feel that by that act they have discharged their duty to UK citizens, the French and that evasive chimera, the ‘international community’ to do something about the imminent threat and long-term disaster looming from within Iraq/Syria.

This will be swiftly followed by a period in which no sensible evidence-based debate or strategy is formulated, due to mental exhaustion from dealing so passionately today with such weighty matters.


Marie Breen-Smyth 12.02.15 at 4:50 pm

Matthew Parris is an old Trot? When did he slip that in, between his spell at Cambrige and his spell as a Conservative MP?


Phil 12.02.15 at 5:03 pm

Now must come a sentence I never expected to compose. Jeremy Corbyn is right.

Not the first time I’ve seen this statement (both parts).

Paraphrased Parris: I’ve listened to Corbyn’s arguments on (this area of) foreign policy, it’s an area I’ve thought about, and you know what, he’s pretty much right. Obviously, as a mad old leftie, he’s wrong about everything else.
Paraphrased Mainstream Economists: I’ve listened to Corbyn’s arguments on austerity, it’s an area I’ve thought about, and you know what, he’s pretty much right. Obviously, as a mad old leftie, he’s wrong about everything else.
Paraphrased Legal Experts: I’ve listened to Corbyn’s arguments on legal aid and the criminal courts charge…

If only they’d confer!


Gary Othic 12.02.15 at 5:06 pm

And the influence all of this will have, will be precisely zero.

The level of debate in this has been pretty poor overall, but it’s all connected to wider problem which is that nobody is willing to take the responsibility that comes with intervention – that is of hanging around and helping to solve problems the country faces. As I’ve said elsewhere:

“This is the legacy of Blair and Bush. Say what you like about them, but at least they were prepared to stay and try and solve the problems in post-war Iraq (badly, but hey). Their successors, Cameron in particular, are wary of this having seen the political fallout and the cost. Public’s loose interest in moral missions; and, unfortunately, interventions take a lot of time and money particularly when they’re on a large scale. So, instead, they take the plaudits of going to war and doing something, but avoid the climb-down and the miseries of the aftermath. This is intervention without the responsibility that goes along with it.”


Donald Johnson 12.02.15 at 5:17 pm

” there are precious few “moderates” in Syria. They do not form a coherent group; and, as the Americans found to their cost, they tend to be as liable to fight each other as they are to fight the extremists”

Something I’ve been meaning to ask, not entirely as snark–what is a Syrian “moderate”? In some parallel universe where people didn’t habitually use words in Orwellian ways, it would mean a group which was against Assad and the Islamists because they believe in democracy and human rights and practice what they preach, or at least in the context of a civil war they generally don’t commit atrocities as a matter of policy. I think this is what we are supposed to think it means. In this universe it actually describes, as best I can tell, warlords who fight each other, ISIS, Assad, and sometimes al Nusra except when they are allied with them. Are there any groups which fall under the first definition? Don’t say the Kurds. Okay, you can say it, but given what Amnesty reported recently, it may not fit them too well either.


Salem 12.02.15 at 5:19 pm

I agree with BenK.

The “no” side here seems histrionic. We need to be realistic about Britain’s place in the world, and what we can and can’t accomplish. Britain’s participation in air strikes against Raqqa is not going to meaningfully raise or lower the violence in Syria. David Cameron is not going to dictate the international strategy to deal with Da’ish, or its success and failure. We aren’t a negligible country, but we aren’t a world leader either, and our impact on Syria, one way or another, is going to be purely marginal.

The only relevant question is whether we want to be part of the international community effort, or on the outside looking in. In that sense, the hawks Parris criticises are focused on exactly the right question.


Jim Harrison 12.02.15 at 5:31 pm

Isis is merely the most recent of what’s becoming a very long series of Muslim insurgencies, and it won’t be the last. Critics of interventionist military measures are quite right in pointing out that defeating it won’t end the deeper problem. Victory—whatever that means—would probably result in the emergence of new groups, perhaps in new places. It doesn’t follow, however, that military action is irrelevant as part of managing the situation. Isis isn’t the threat its hyped up to be and it’s actually been losing ground lately; but no American president or Russian leader, for that matter, can ignore it. A mixed strategy that aims at damage limitation rather than glorious triumph isn’t very attractive politically, but it may well be the best available option. I recommend that policy makers reread A.J.P. Taylor’s book on the 19th Century. The Bismarcks and D’Israelis had to deal with intractable problems in various unpleasant places and generally managed pretty well with a policy of backing and filling. Ambiguous measures are appropriate to ambiguous situations where your allies are almost as bad as your enemies and the public is always clamoring for decisive action.


Phil 12.02.15 at 5:47 pm

Salem – why is that the only relevant question? What about whether what we’re being asked to do is in fact a good idea, in and of itself? How about undertaking a cost-benefit analysis (that well-known plaything of woolly liberals) to assess whether the predictable costs of bombing Syria are outweighed by realisable benefits?


Daragh 12.02.15 at 5:49 pm

I’m deeply ambivalent about the airstrikes myself. While I lean towards intervention, I certainly don’t think those opposed are any less valid in their views. To me the question centers on influence – Parris decries the ‘me too’ sentiment, but if the UK government really wants to influence the Syrian crisis positively, it has to have skin in the game.

I do think Harry has let himself down a little bit by buying into the line that Cameron called all opponents of the war terrorist sympathisers. By all accounts he was referring to Corbyn and his inner circle. Of this group we have Ken Livingstone, who said last week the 7/7 bombers ‘gave their lives in protest’ over Iraq, John McDonnell whose historical support for the IRA is a matter of record, and Jeremy Corbyn himself, who has also supported the IRA as well as providing platforms and warm words for HAMAS, Hezbollah and any manner of theocratic fanatics. In other words, I would be more upset by Cameron’s rhetoric if the people he was attacking didn’t have a demonstrable and proven track record of openly sympathising with terrorists.

Additionally – Cameron isn’t an idiot. He calibrated his words to try and force the Labour party into defending Corbyn after a week in which it became clear the PLP will oust him ASAP. The Tories are seeking to preserve Corbyn’s leadership because he gives them almost limitless licence to do as they please with zero electoral consequences, because the alternative is discredited on virtually every issue of import.


LittleMac 12.02.15 at 6:03 pm

If anyone’s an expert on being “discredited on virtually every issue of import,” I suppose it would be a pro-Cameron LibDem supporter.


Salem 12.02.15 at 6:04 pm

But Phil – Syria is going to be bombed anyway. Syria is being bombed anyway. Britain participating is not going to substantially raise or lower the number or lethality of bombs being dropped, or change the outcomes of the war. The Syrians underneath will be just as dead if a few more British bombs are dropped, and a few fewer American. So the costs and benefits are all very woolly.

1. Financial cost of military operations.
2. Possible increased risk of Da’ish attacks on Britain.
3. Possibly increasing the legitimacy of international coalition’s bad plan in Syria.

1. Better relations with allies.
2. Possible reduced risk of Da’ish attacks on Britain.
3. Possibly increasing the legitimacy of international coalition’s good plan in Syria.

It’s mostly theatre. The US wants us to shoulder some of the cost of the bombing campaign, and lend them some legitimacy. Well, OK.


Guano 12.02.15 at 6:26 pm

As both Baron and Parris say, recent military interventions have lacked any thought about “what comes afterwards”. There is little thought about what comes afterwards because it will have to be a great deal of conflict-resolution and institution-building about which the USA knows very little. In fact in the neo-liberal world little thought is given to institution-building anyway. Thus there is a tendency to look for magic bullets to the “what comes afterwards” issue, such as Chalabi in Iraq.

Somewhere in the historic memory of former colonial states like Britain and France there must be something that says that it isn’t so simple, there will be need for a great deal of understanding and balancing of local interests and an invasion is likely to be followed by a long and expensive occupation. Yet that is forgotten and, as both writers note, there appears to be a deep anxiety to take part however little planning for the aftermath there has been.


Bartleby the Commenter 12.02.15 at 6:32 pm

“If anyone’s an expert on being “discredited on virtually every issue of import,” I suppose it would be a pro-Cameron LibDem supporter.”

Bingo. And shouldn’t those proposing the dropping of thousands of bombs on built up areas be careful about who they call “terrorist sympathizers”?

I could call Daragh dishonest in his description of the situation but I would prefer not to.


Bruce B. 12.02.15 at 6:36 pm

Salem: I admit to being just an ignorant American, but it seems like doing something expensive, stupid, and immoral just to keep on good terms with other countries (like mine) who are keen to do stupid, expensive, and immoral things is not the best bargain around.


Guano 12.02.15 at 6:41 pm

Daragh – “To me the question centers on influence – Parris decries the ‘me too’ sentiment, but if the UK government really wants to influence the Syrian crisis positively, it has to have skin in the game.”

In which case those who want the UK to join in the bombing have to make explicit what influence they want to have. What do we want to get the USA or France to do, or stop doing, in exchange for joining in? If you look at the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, you will see that Tony Blair talked about getting George Bush to do various things but in the end he had no influence. The Downing Street meeting of July 2002 was told that little thought had been given to the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, but the meeting agreed to join in. Similarly today there is no sign that those who want to be part of the bombing nations want to use that leverage for improving strategy.

It is axiomatic for the UK government and military that, if they join in, they will have influence. When you examine it, this is just a fig-leaf for joining in anyway.


Coles 12.02.15 at 6:59 pm

Cameron just wants to ‘join in’ because he can, and otherwise you don’t get any of the spoils. There’s not really anything else to it.


novakant 12.02.15 at 7:21 pm

The most disgusting aspect about the “bomb syria” faction in this “debate” is that they’re all about posturing and positioning themselves and not at all about the actual facts on the ground, their position is absolutely without content and Cameron pretty much said so himself.

His main “argument” was actually that we should be “good neighbours” (he used those actual words) ready to help out a friend in need, while largely conceding that he doesn’t have a bloody clue about what might stop ISIL. But nevermind, as long as we get to throw a few bombs – so we can say we “did something” and more importantly sit at the table of the big boys, all is well, because that worked a treat for Blair back in the good old days of the Iraq war.

And then you have Yvette Cooper who lists 27 caveats and reservations before declaring that she will support the airstrikes anyway – but, and get this, only if it can be guaranteed that no civilians will be hurt. WTF?

And then there’s some guy previously unbeknownst to me who says:

“I will do everything I can to stop my party becoming essentially the cheerleader, the vanguard for a sort of angry, intolerant pacificism which sets a myriad of conditions which they know will never be met, and will ultimately say no to any military intervention.”

Yeah: military intervention without conditions and for its own sake, so as not to have to share the bus with the dirty, angry hippies – nevermind the actual situation on the ground, who cares, as long as I can play tough guy.

Are these people for real?


Coles 12.02.15 at 7:28 pm

It really is doubtful that Yvette Cooper is ‘real’ in the sense of ‘real, as opposed to a soulless chanting politics-bot’.


harry b 12.02.15 at 8:02 pm

This is a matter that I take very seriously perhaps because, like you Daragh, I am not sure what the right thing to do is. I’m probably one of the less pacifist CTers, and not only did I support the Afghanistan invasion, but I have rethought my opposition to previous wars (Falklands, and Gulf War 1). Even the second war on Iraq, I had an open mind about until a couple of months before it started.

I am struck, though, by the complete lack of seriousness with which Cameron approached this issue, exemplified so nicely by Parris’s comment about consulting his conscience, the silliness about the 75,000 moderates, and also Cameron’s ‘terrorist sympathizer” comment, which was all about exploiting division in the Labour Party and not at all about offering a reasoned case for participating in the killing. The reason you should be upset about Cameron’s rhetoric has nothing to do with the pasts of the people is using against but because of what it tells you about his cavalier attitude to what should be the most serious issue he ever deals with (whether, directly, to order the killing of innocent people — which the air strikes will do — and, to be clear, that does NOT iin itself, make the air strikes wrong, what it does is makes them a very serious matter). And that is quite apart from the fact that when you are allied to terror regimes (as Cameron is) and are trying to convince people to kill significant numbers of innocent people, and have no answer to the (very reasonable) concern that doing so will help fuel support for the very terror organization you purport to oppose, if you have the nerve to use the term ‘terrorist sympathizer’ of any of your opponents you should expect to have it thrown back in your face.


Phil 12.02.15 at 8:03 pm

Salem – you seem to be arguing on the basis that British military intervention will have no effect on Syria whatsoever; presumably they really are going to be dropping peppermints and daisy-chains. This is news to me, but if that is the case then it is just a matter of weighing some speculative future payoff in terms of diplomatic standing against the outlay on sending some planes there and back – the cost of the petrol, basically.

If on the other hand there are going to be people killed, dwellings demolished, survivors traumatised and essential services disrupted as a direct result of the British intervention, I’d say all of those things need to be put in the ‘cost’ column and weighted fairly highly.


Stephen 12.02.15 at 8:50 pm

Two questions. One, if it were possible to destroy the murderous sectarian mass-raping enslaving anti-everybody-but-demented-Sunni-Islamists Daesh regime in the Islamic State, with the death or humiliating capitulation of all its supporters, would that or would that not be a good thing?

Two, are the measures proposed by Western governments likely to bring that about?

As the way I have phrased the first question must indicate, I have no doubt about that one (but if anyone wants to argue that I am entirely mistaken, that Daesh are not in fact,or if they are they are entitled to be so, I will listen with interest).

As for the second, I have serious doubts.


Salem 12.02.15 at 9:38 pm

Do you seriously think the Americans are logistically constrained? That they have a shortage of available bombs or planes? No, the issue is a shortage of targets, so the availability of a few more bombs and planes isn’t going to make much difference. If they want to run, say, 100 bombing runs over Raqqa, then 100 will be run, and that remains true whether or not they subcontract 20 to the RAF.

Or do you think the British government is going to be operating some sort of independent military policy in Syria, rather than closely following American direction? That, if anything, is even more absurd.

Yes, the RAF will undoubtedly kill Syrian civilians, but without British involvement they’d have been killed just the same by the USAF. From a cost-benefit perspective it comes out just the same.

This is more about the illusion of control. As if the fate of the fate of the Middle East depends on a vote in Westminster. It’s rather like a teenager fretting whether opening a savings account with HSBC means she’s helping tax evasion. HSBC are going to do what they do regardless of your little account. Although at least in that case you can worry about your personal moral complicity – it takes rather more identification with the nation state than I can manage to think that the nationality of the pilots dropping bombs on Syria is morally noteworthy.


christian_h 12.02.15 at 9:58 pm

There isn’t really a “don’t bomb Syria” side in this debate. There is the obviously wrong side that wants to add even more bombing (Cameron, the Blairites, the Daraghs of this world) – and then there is the side that doesn’t really mind, or sometimes actively supports (as in the case of Corbyn advisor Seamus Milne) bombing Syrians as long as it’s done by Russia and the Assad regime. Much as I support Corbyn and am glad he was elected leader, I am deeply disappointed that he has basically thrown in his lot with the second kind of bombing supporters.

As a consequence, the anti-UK-bombing argument is for all intents and purposes as right wing as the pro-UK-bombing argument; they both are bedevilled by their search for the elusive “moderate” when what is needed is solidarity with the people under assault by their government and its sponsors in Moscow and Tehran. Hence the intellectual whiplash of Times commentators finding themselves in agreement with the “Stop the War (offer of stopping war not valid in Free Syria)” rump.


Salem 12.02.15 at 11:08 pm

The vote passed, with just under 1/3 of Labour MPs voting in favour.


Marshall 12.02.15 at 11:16 pm

I’m noticing that this overwhelming urge to support the team, with a strong bias towards action, seems to be a feature of modern life at all levels. Maybe used to be when your buddy was about to do something stupid the friendly thing that a friend would do would be have a talk, but not so much any more. Violation of personal integrity.


Marshall Peace 12.02.15 at 11:18 pm

… me.


Watson Ladd 12.02.15 at 11:40 pm

Today the US debates whether to bomb Germany. There are no liberal forces: as we all know Russia is even worse. Germany has no tradition of democracy: their most recent attempt collapsed into a dictatorship, and we can be sure that amid the disorder someone even worse might rise up. Ethnic strife and division has lead to mass killings and expulsions, and it is unlikely that those displaced will live peacefully with their neighbors.

Whatever happened to a belief in the universal desire and goodness of the democratic and liberal state? What happened to the possibility that historical change was not only possible but inevitable and could be shaped by the will of mankind? As ISIS’s tyranny stands, know that they could be hung by the neck within the week if we had only the a tenth of the will those volunteers in Spain had.


Keith 12.02.15 at 11:54 pm

The remarkable thing is seeing sellout Blarites side with the Tory party to try and discredit their own leader and the votes of their own members who recently elected him. With certain people like Hilary Benn doing a John Wayne impression.

Being rejected is so painful for the Blair babes! better to play to the tory press and establishment and ignore the non existent case for the Government motion. The inability of the new Labour faction to grasp why they were rejected is amazing to behold. Corbyn is right in his criticisms regardless of any doubts about their sincerity. I have to laugh at the Tory appeals to “morality” as they sell arms to Saudi Arabia that bastion of democracy and drive the poor to food banks with austerity and benefit sanctions.

Will responding to violence with more of it solve problems of terrorism? Off course not.

Will trying to change the politics of foreign countries thousands of miles away with air power work? No. But we would not wish to confuse people with the obvious.

How much of this is caused by simple corruption and back handers from arms companies and jobs in the board room? How many Labour poodles are just stupid and how many corrupt; or blinded by spite like Alan Johnson?


Keith 12.03.15 at 12:10 am

At 29. Are you happy for the US Congress to introduce conscription, raise a vast army and send them to occupy various states for an indefinite time to bring democracy to the occupied? Will you be happy to serve and pay the taxes required? Will your fellow citizens? And if the answer were yes how effective would the US governors be at delivering this outcome? How do you bring Democracy to places that never had it? How do you resolve ethnic tribal conflicts which have been going on for long periods? How to settle theological differences between co religionists? Deal with corruption? Answers on a postcard please…


Tabasco 12.03.15 at 3:12 am

We aren’t a negligible country, but we aren’t a world leader either, and our impact on Syria, one way or another, is going to be purely marginal.

If the impact will be purely marginal, then Britain is a negligible country, in this context, by definition.

Assuming that the arguments, pro and con bombing, have been made in good faith, they are pure Kant versus Bentham. The Kantians want to do the right thing, which is to join (even more) the fight against ISIS. They neither know nor care about consequences of this action. The Benthamites care only about the consequences. It’s not that they are against bombing as such, it’s just that in this case bombing will be useless or counterproductive.

As with most such arguments, it’s not that each side can’t refute the other side’s arguments, it’s that they won’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side’s arguments.


Bruce Wilder 12.03.15 at 3:35 am

Assuming that the arguments, pro and con bombing, have been made in good faith . . .

You may have unrealized potential as a stand-up comedian.


js. 12.03.15 at 4:03 am

And Kant turned over in his grave, vomited in his mouth, and died just a little bit more.


Emma in Sydney 12.03.15 at 4:51 am

Speaking as a citizen of an actually negligible country that invariably does whatever the US tells it, and never learns from the mistakes of doing this in the past (Australia), it is a sad day when the UK carelessly does the bidding of its great and powerful friend. You guys had the sense to stay out of Vietnam. What happened to that?


Neville Morley 12.03.15 at 7:33 am

“We know fascists. Fascists are evil and must be destroyed*, and the destruction of fascists is our paradigm of the Good War. So anyone we label as fascists must be evil and must be destroyed, and because this is a Good War it’ll all be perfectly straightforward so long as we don’t pay any attention to those lily-livered terrorist sympathisers trying to claim that perhaps this isn’t just like WWII.”

*Apart from the ones that are friends and allies, but we don’t call them fascists.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.03.15 at 8:07 am

Very worried that the mass killing in San Bernardino may be a terrorist response to the campaign against ISIS. The LA Times is reporting that the woman who carried out that attack came back from Saudi Arabia as the wife of the male perpetrator (she may have in fact only been the fiance); “Farook recently traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with a new wife he had met online.” Nothing seems to be known about her. On the other hand, the male perpetrator who was born in the US has a sister here whose brother has already appeared remorsefully in public; and the perpetrators’ infant seems to have been in the care of the male’s perpetrator’s mother. Yet we are being told nothing about the woman perpetrator.
The attack may have been motivated by Farook’s workplace rage in what may have been a toxic environment; there may have been no political motive.
But it is possible that a Christmas party was a symbol for terrorist attack. That we know nothing about the woman seems not even be a topic for discussion on CNN and MSNBC.


TM 12.03.15 at 8:33 am

Since we are already resigned to the fact that our political systems are designed to never learn from the mistakes of the past, why not mention that the US and UK in an earlier icnarnation of the GWOT sent prisoners to Syria to be tortured by their then ally Assad. All in the name of fighting terrorism of course.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.03.15 at 8:52 am

If this was a terrorist attack and Tafsheen Malik was the ideologue who converted Farook to terrorist ideology, the US authorities will have to explain why Malik had been granted entry to the country and whether her husband/fiance or even she, though apparently not a US citizen, could buy several semi-automatic weapons without putting them under surveillance. Or perhaps they were under surveillance, and their stockpiling of weapons escaped notice. And now the US government may have to worry that it has let other sleeper agents into the country. Again I don’t think Malik was US born, or even a US citizen. The Obama administration may well in the next several days face a potentially destabilizing challenge to its legitimacy. The political repercussions of what has happened or may be about to happen may be catastrophic. Of course this may simply be a case of workplace rage, but I don’t think that this adds up.


Peter T 12.03.15 at 9:18 am

After making allowance for all the uncertainties of war, I can just about see a way to restore a modicum of peace in Syria and Iraq. It does involve some use of western air-power. It does not result in democracy or universal content. But it also does not involve adding a few British planes or making up stories about non-existent local forces. Those are just spin masquerading as policy.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.03.15 at 9:35 am

to correct my 39 we know something about the male perpetrator Farooq because his sister’s *husband* has already appeared remorsefully in public. We know that Farooq was born in the US, was a health inspector, has a sister and left the baby with his mother. We know really nothing about the woman Tafsheen Malik except, according to LA Times, that she seems to have met Farooq on the web and came back from Saudi Arabia with him. Farooq’s brother-in-law was not asked anything about Farooq’s new wife/fiance/girlfriend who seems to have killed and wounded many people.
Could it be that the US authorities want people to believe that they are treating this as a likely issue of workplace rage in order not to provoke other possible sleeper terrorists into action due to fears that the US govt is about to radically step up its efforts to root them out?


Peter T 12.03.15 at 10:16 am


While I can admire your imagination, it is a leap too far to imagine the “US authorities” having a concerted, coherent, secret line on anything. This is a state administered by people who have a hard time finding their arses most days.


kidneystones 12.03.15 at 11:16 am

There are a lot of sensible observations here. A few less so. I cannot for the life of my understand how anyone can be either mildly or deeply ambivalent on the question of deploying weapons that invariably end up killing innocents, especially when absolutely nobody has offered any rational reason for doing so. Stunning indifference to life.

Re: doing something. I’m doing something right now, shifting my weight from one cheek of my ass to another. As much as I’m sympathetic to the general argument I feel compelled to insist that virtually nobody in Britain is taking any ‘action’ in the feel-good taking of life, and certainly not the type of action that those unlucky enough to be on the business end of British weapons, namely scurrying for cover, praying to God family and friends survive the attack, and generally being subjected to the imminent threat of death and dismemberment. I see absolutely nobody in Britain being involved in that kind of action.

Which brings us to Peter T. and William Hague. Peter T. is so clearly well-informed and, I believe, moral that he always deserves a fair hearing, and as usual he doesn’t mince words or disappoint. He bravely supports air-strikes as he has in the past with the necessary caveat that these may be effective, but only as part of a larger campaign. (involving ground troops).

Hague, somewhere, just advocated precisely that. Unless Britain very much wants to find itself much more deeply-embroiled in Syria, on the ground, with no clear plan going in, or getting out, then I suggest that any and all opposition to all air-strikes is one of the most pressing orders of the day. The air-strikes are just the beginning of something bigger, and have no utility otherwise, as Peter T. reminds us.


casmilus 12.03.15 at 12:28 pm

@13 “Additionally – Cameron isn’t an idiot. He calibrated his words to try and force the Labour party into defending Corbyn after a week in which it became clear the PLP will oust him ASAP. The Tories are seeking to preserve Corbyn’s leadership because he gives them almost limitless licence to do as they please with zero electoral consequences, because the alternative is discredited on virtually every issue of import.”

I think Cameron’s main motive in pushing this issue is to trigger a nasty Labour split. Even if Corbyn fell, it would put them out of the game for at least 5 years.


Manta 12.03.15 at 12:33 pm

UK cannot go to war alone: it’s not USA. And even USA doesn’t go to war alone.
Thus, next time UK wants to do something evil and stupid, it will need allies.
And, for instance, France will ask “did you help us when WE did something evil and stupid?”
THAT is the question that got answered by the vote to bomb Syria.


chris y 12.03.15 at 12:47 pm

Now must come a sentence I never expected to compose. Matthew Parris is right.

How can the advocates of Britain committing its negligible? marginal? whatever, anyway I’m disinclined to insult the RAF for the sake of a partisan spat… committing its forces in the Syrian conflicts on the grounds that our allies would appreciate the gesture put this forward as a serious argument without considering whether our allies are proposing to do the right thing?


Peter T 12.03.15 at 1:05 pm


To be clear, I support limited air-strikes in support of the parties most able to impose a reasonable peace. I do not support western troops on the ground (forward air control to limit civilian losses, IED clearance and maybe training excepted). Western forces are not trained, equipped or politically suitable for the ground fight. Nor can they impose a settlement. The political outcome on the ground will inevitably reflect the local balance of power.

In Iraq, this is clearly the Shi’a/Kurd coalition. Syria is more murky, but the emerging Kurd/Arab Christian group is a clear candidate, and since they have an arrangement with Assad, anything one does (and they do) benefits the regime as well. So it makes sense to abandon thoughts of overthrowing Assad in favour of negotiating with him (repellent as he is, pretty much anything is better than continued war).


chris y 12.03.15 at 1:30 pm

So it makes sense to abandon thoughts of overthrowing Assad in favour of negotiating with him (repellent as he is, pretty much anything is better than continued war).

And yet, the overwhelming majority of Syrian voices that are making themselves heard emphasise time and again that Assad is the root of the problem, Assad is killing far more civilians than Daesh, and that if Assad could be brought down first, the Syrians could dispose of al-Samarrai’s cult comparatively easily.

And yet the instinct of the western powers is to offer him a helping hand. Will he demand that the British and the French bomb international hospitals as the Russians have been doing? I’m sure that would help everybody. The House of Commons rises to congratulate Hillary Benn for calling Daesh fascists. Daesh aren’t fascists, they’re David Koresh gone large. The closest approach to fascism in Syria is the Ba’ath Party. Always was and it looks like it always will be.


Salem 12.03.15 at 1:31 pm

How can the advocates of Britain … committing its forces in the Syrian conflicts on the grounds that our allies would appreciate the gesture put this forward as a serious argument without considering whether our allies are proposing to do the right thing?

What does it matter if they’re doing the right thing? Sure, if they’re doing the wrong thing, Britain should stop it. But Britain can’t stop it. They’re going to go ahead whatever we do. If Britain refuses to take part, or condemns it, all it’s going to do is damage our alliances.

If you’re invited to be a bridesmaid at your friends’ wedding, it’s irrelevant whether they’re “doing the right thing” by getting married, and you have a massively overinflated sense of your own importance if you think that you can persuade them not to get married, or that your presence or absence will make or break the ceremony. The only relevant question is whether you want to be friends with those people. If you don’t want to be friends any more, make your excuses and decline. Otherwise, you’d better accept. Sure, gossip is fun, so maybe you can (privately!) speculate over how long they’ll last. But it’s pure narcissism if you’re genuinely agonising over whether they’re “doing the right thing,” and considering how to RSVP in light of that.

Manta puts it a bit more cynically than I would (I think the intervention is unlikely to accomplish its aims, but I wouldn’t call it evil or stupid), but he’s basically right.


LFC 12.03.15 at 1:45 pm

Ze K @41
The strategy is to weaken local actors

Of course. That’s why the Obama admin a few wks ago sent 50 special ops forces to n.e. Syria to help the Kurd/Arab forces (SDF). The SDF are just pretending to be local actors. They’re actually a group of Chechens, Azerbaijanis, Indonesians, Malayans, and Singaporeans masquerading as local actors. As for the 200 US special ops forces being dispatched (over the public objections of the Abadi govt) to Iraq, they’re also not going to work w/ local actors.


LFC 12.03.15 at 1:50 pm

p.s. I had a “sarcasm” tag typed in for my comment at 53, but I did it wrong and it didn’t display.


Stephen 12.03.15 at 1:51 pm

Peter T@50: re negotiating with Assad, and leaving him in power.

Comparisons are almost always partly inaccurate, but if one may compare a small war with a larger one: bringing the Northern Irish troubles to an approximate end required talking to and negotiating with the PIRA, and eventually installing their leadership in government positions, despite their record of bombing and murdering people. If people generally can swallow that, should they not also swallow negotiating with Assad, despite his record of bombing and murdering people?


Manta 12.03.15 at 2:19 pm

Anybody can offer help when you do something smart and noble. But a true friend (at least, in the context of international relations) will help you when you make something foolish and immoral.
The fact that the intervention in Syria is badly planned, ill-advised, and bound to kill lots of people is a plus.


chris y 12.03.15 at 2:30 pm

If people generally can swallow that, should they not also swallow negotiating with Assad, despite his record of bombing and murdering people?

Well you might try asking the Syrian people whether they should, rather than laying down the law in a manner that they might find redolent of the French occupation. The present arrangement in Northern Ireland was approved after an extended cease fire by all belligerents, first by an agreement of all the major parties and then by a referendum. I think even you would agree that the preconditions for that are some way off in Syria.


Dipper 12.03.15 at 3:15 pm

just on whether the UK should be attacking Assad; ISIS have attacked the UK’s ally France and have tried to attack the UK, hence the response. Assad has not attacked the UK or our allies, hence no justification for attacking him.

Personally I view civilian casualties of bombing as inevitable. If you are going to do something that kills civilians you need to be absolutely sure you have to do it. I don’t think the UK is in that position so don’t support the governments decision yesterday.


Stephen 12.03.15 at 3:30 pm

chris y: please dismount from your high horse.

I’m not laying down any sort of law, just posing a question. If you do not like the answer, that is no reason to try to change the subject. I said explicitly that the NI and Syrian situations are different, so your comment is not exactly relevant.


Bruce B. 12.03.15 at 3:50 pm

Salem: You keep talking about damaging Britain’s alliances. But you haven’t started talking about what it is in these alliance that has been to Britain’s gain in the wake of past rounds of joining in pointless, unproductive, costly, deadly warmaking. What does Britain have now that’s good to have that it probably wouldn’t have had if it declined to join in attacking Iraq or Libya? How did doing those help the British people?

Please be specific. If it’s that important to you, you ought to have something clearcut to point at.


Yet another Pete 12.03.15 at 4:10 pm

@ Salem

Was Manta being cynical, or just sarcastic?

“We should do this because we too might want to do something evil and stupid one day” doesn’t sound like a winning argument to me.


js. 12.03.15 at 4:34 pm

I want Salem to keep talking. It’s not often that something so wrong is expressed with such clarity.


Manta 12.03.15 at 5:31 pm

Dipper @59 “ISIS have attacked the UK’s ally France”

I think you have the date wrongs: France went to war with ISIS more than 1 year ago.


Salem 12.03.15 at 6:04 pm

@Bruce B:

When I repeatedly call an issue unimportant and the costs and benefits woolly, it’s very strange to get challenged on why it’s so important to me, and to identify precise benefits. I don’t think we’ll gain or lose anything specific, whether or not we participate in Syria, but long-term relationships rarely work on explicit quid-pro-quos. I imagine, for example, that Cameron thinks that participating in the bombing will earn him a little goodwill in the EU renegotiation. That’s hard to quantify in diplomatic terms, and whether that “helps the British people” will of course depend on your view of those negotiations.

More generally, if Britain is always unco-operative with its allies, they will eventually cease to be our allies. We will lose access to their military intelligence. We will be unable to influence EU-decision-making, and leaving the EU will be a more serious prospect. We will not be able to build support for military interventions that our government is keen to do, such as in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. We may find them less helpful when Britain is attacked, as in the Falklands. And so on. Any individual choice doesn’t swing us from always co-operative to always unc0-opearative, but it’s a continuum.

But then – maybe you think all that would be a good thing, because you don’t like the nature of our alliances. A lot of people don’t, and I’m not going to argue. I’m not saying you have to be friends with the girl, just that if you want to be her friend, you should accept when she asks you to be a bridesmaid. You probably won’t get an explicit quid-pro-quo, and and it may well be that she’s making an obviously stupid decision. But if you accept that you can’t change it, you may be able to focus your energies on the things you can do something about.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.03.15 at 6:55 pm

I have been relying on Mohammed Ayoob, Juan Cole and even Piketty’s recent piece to frame my understanding of the rise of ISIL and the best response to it.
On what I had written above: I had assumed that anyone who stockpiled this number of weapons was likely a terrorist, but I am being told by people at work that San Bernardino is such a gun-crazy culture that it would not be unusual for someone to have such a collection of weapons (something as a Jain who lives in the SF Bay Area I cannot imagine); and that it is indeed possible that what motivated the attackers may have been serious mental illness coupled with (or interacting with) workplace rage, easy and legal access to weapons, and perhaps a sense of besiegement as a Muslim.


Bruce B. 12.03.15 at 7:58 pm

Salem, I would prefer to cooperate on matters that clearly are of shared interest and that don’t involve stupid wanton carnage. Same deal as with my friends, really – there are people I owe a tremendous amount to, but I wouldn’t help them start forest fires just because they’re my friends.


Keith 12.03.15 at 8:31 pm

At 37, in 1964 we elected James Harold Wilson Prime Minister , who started his career as a Bevanite by resigning from the Attlee Government over Britain joining the Korean war and paying for it by introducing charges for the NHS.

Wilson retained an admirable scepticism towards the USA and its foreign policy, as did many politicians in the UK. This tradition has weakened unfortunately for the UK and indeed the USA as well. Nye Bevan as well as creating the NHS and building lots of council houses had no illusions about American conservatives, or the British version. Nor did Tony benn, unlike his son with his John wayne /Rambo complex.


Keith 12.03.15 at 8:48 pm

At 65, Corbyn is right and you know it. So do most people. This absurd emotional hyperbole from the Tory /Blarite out of touch faction of Atlanticists does not wash.

If you want less Terrorism from the Middle East it would be more effective to show some actual concern for the welfare of the people living there rather than cynical power politics.
The point we are ignoring is that this is a foreign culture which we try to disturb at out peril. Western involvement with dictatorial regimes for cheap oil means the foreign powers can never deliver for the people of the region. Support for sectarian groups is driven from within and without the region and makes any progress impossible, and bombs away is not a solution. it is a continuation of a policy that will fail to produce civilised outcomes for any one. The UK has no obligation to go along with this to appease the French or American Governments. Our MPs have disgraced themselves once again by refusing to use their brain and look at the facts. This is Gesture politics.


engels 12.04.15 at 1:26 am

The Tories are seeking to preserve Corbyn’s leadership because he gives them almost limitless licence to do as they please with zero electoral consequences,”

BBC Labour candidate Jim McMahon has won the Oldham West and Royton by-election with a majority of more than 10,000.
UKIP’s John Bickley came second, followed by the Conservatives’ James Daly.

And how did the Lib Dems do Daragh?


engels 12.04.15 at 1:27 am

The Tories are seeking to preserve Corbyn’s leadership because he gives them almost limitless licence to do as they please with zero electoral consequences,”

BBC Labour candidate Jim McMahon has won the Oldham West and Royton by-election with a majority of more than 10,000.
UKIP’s John Bickley came second, followed by the Conservatives’ James Daly.

And how did the Lib Dems do Daragh?


js. 12.04.15 at 1:52 am

The Monster Raving Loony party were last, on 141.

I want to know more. So, so much more!


engels 12.04.15 at 2:19 am


LFC 12.04.15 at 2:47 am

Ze K @70
No, he [Salem] has a point there. Except that bridesmaid is not a good example. It’s more like the Mob. Their loyalty, and their code. Anything for The Family.

Whereas, of course, Vladimir Putin has nothing in common whatsoever with a mobster, but is a heroic, determined, strong, vigilant leader defending his country’s entirely legitimate interests, both in its near abroad and the Middle East, by pursuing a foreign policy whose wondrous, not to say miraculous, synthesis of calibrated force and wise, skillful diplomacy should be a model for the entire planet. When the hypocritical, greedy, repellent, morally bankrupt leaders of ‘the West,’ drenched in innocent blood and haunted by the countless miseries they have inflicted, are justly relegated to the ash-heap of history, the example of Putin will still be shining as a light and a beacon for generations to come.


js. 12.04.15 at 5:17 am

engels @74: Yeah, I saw that. Disappointing, really.


dax 12.04.15 at 9:39 am

It seems to me the point of the UK joining the strikes is not to do much militarily, but to make it a target like the other Western nations already involved.

This was the American strategy after 9-11; get the Europeans by their side, so that Europe could be the target, as well as or indeed instead of, the US.

If you’re a Brit, it may not make much sense – the strategy makes Brits less rather than more safe. So the government can’t really come out and say it.


kidneystones 12.04.15 at 11:50 am

Hi Peter,

Thanks for adding detail to my crude summary of your past remarks on air-strikes. The critical issue for me is that you, and pretty much all informed observers agree that the air-strikes alone make no sense. Even Cameron knows as much. I did a poor job of fleshing out the distinction between ‘doing something’ and looking like we’re doing something. The risk isn’t that Cameron is pretending to take action, rather cynically, but rather that he’s taking action in order to prepare the public for additional actions – troops on the ground. I’m curious whether you’d support Cameron is he decided to follow your suggestions, or something similar, in defiance of public sentiment. I disagreed very strongly with the invasion, and of the so-called surge, but Bush did seem to get results of a kind at a time when just about everyone, including a war-weary US public, opposed the use of additional troops.

My own strong preference is for no military intervention at all, and a very different response to the refugee problem – billing the warring parties at the very least for the costs of feeding and relocating the citizens of Syria and Iraq. Not likely too happen, of course. The headlines are absolutely hideous. The British public are taking no action whatsoever, other than giving into blood-lust and a sense of payback. Sad.


Barry 12.04.15 at 12:45 pm

Salem: “The only relevant question is whether we want to be part of the international community effort, or on the outside looking in. In that sense, the hawks Parris criticises are focused on exactly the right question.”

Yet another argument for doing something dumb.

I guess that it makes a change from ‘credibility!’.


James Wimberley 12.04.15 at 7:35 pm

Salem: what is your evidence that the USA has asked for British military help against ISIS, or welcomes it now that it has been pressed on the Pentagon? Every two-bit ally involved adds to the command-and-control problems of American commanders. Don’t tell me they are short of resources. Same question for France: Hollande politically has to Do Something, Cameron doesn’t.

The allies Obama needs in Syria are Middle Easterners: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE. All apostates ripe for the block in ISIS eyes, so you would think they might be more concerned.


Peter T 12.05.15 at 12:22 am

I’ve argued the case for limited military intervention against ISIS, but this latest UK move really does seem to be straight out of the “something must be done; this is something; therefore we shall do it” school of policy. In military terms, it’s the Hannibal Lector school of surgery: cutting people because you can.

As others have noted, there is no shortage of planes in the sky over Syria. What there is is a shortage of carefully verified targets that can be hit with minimal risk of civilian casualties and with military advantage to the forces that have some hope of forcing a workable politico-military solution. Any air strikes that do not meet both these criteria are not just superfluous; they are actively counter-productive.

And talk of ground forces is equally stupid. Western armies have a very small number of people suitable for fighting in dense urban infrastructure, yet that is where the fight is. Fire-power beyond a certain low threshold is essentially irrelevant or, again, counter-productive. If all you want is a stream of bodies, an addition to an already complex political situation, and an exhausted and frustrated army, go ahead.

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