Guardian opposed US attack on Syria in 2013; Now says inaction led to more bloodshed. Fails to admit error.

A recent Observer editorial is critical of Obama’s decision not to bomb Assad in 2013, but there is just one thing the editorial does not mention –that Observer editors, at the time, encouraged Obama NOT to take action.

Written by Aron White

The Observer (sister site of the Guardian, and part of the Guardian Media Group) often publishes editorials on the major issues of the day. These editorials contribute to national debate on a topic, so are especially deserving of analysis. In looking at some recent editorials on foreign policy, editors contradicted themselves in editorials on the same topic; in one case, the editorial line seems hypocritical, and in the other one, to be obfuscating the story.

The first editorial in question regards the war in Syria. This conflict has recently taken (another) turn for the worse, with the fighting in Eastern Ghoutta leading to terrible human suffering. The Observer editorial from February 25th slams the international community for its inaction over the crisis.“The past few days have witnessed a shambolic orgy of bickering and mudslinging at the UN security council,” says the article, further stating that the West must do more to deter Russia.

“Trump, like Barack Obama, has also failed Syria, and Ghouta is one direct result. When the US refused to take action in 2013 after Assad attacked Ghouta with sarin gas and crossed Obama’s “red line”, Putin read it as a green light. Direct Russian military intervention ensued in 2015.” This inaction is a “problem with dire implications for international order.”

The editorial is critical of Obama’s decision not to bomb Assad, but there is just one thing the editorial does not mention –that Observer editors encouraged Obama not to take action in 2013. In August 2013, when Assad used his chemical weapons and Obama decided not to respond militarily, the Observer editorial at the  time supported this decision – “An air strike will have no practical benefit” ran the headline, with the byline explaining that “Rebuilding nations is much harder than building cruise missile sites”.

The editorial argued that “the continuing debate lacks reality, and therefore substance”, that “it won’t stop the killing”, and dismissed it “gesture politics.”

The article even went as far as to say the public should reject intelligence, “The first, practical response to intelligence advanced in support of military action is distrust,” as well as challenging the moral superiority of the West, reminding them of their own misdeeds such as the napalm dropped on Vietnam. Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria in 2013 was seen by his critics as giving the green light to other international actors to act with impunity – but the record is crystal clear, that the Observer supported that decision.

They published an editorial in 2013 that stridently called upon the West not to take action against Syria, saying it would just be a gesture. But now in 2018, in equally strident terms, it criticises the inaction of the West!? This surely seems hypocritical stance to take – at the very least, they must own up to their mistake if they have changed opinion, and admit that they were in the wrong for supporting the inaction. But to lambast the world for a policy which they publicly supported seems inconsistent and unethical.

This lack of consistency in Guardian Group editorials is also found in other areas, closer to Israel-related issues. In a Guardian editorial from October 2017, editors defended the Iran deal, amid discussion that the Trump administration may decertify it. The article concedes that “Iran’s behaviour in the region may well be criticised,” but it argues this is not a reason to decertify the deal:

“…the 2015 accord had nothing to do with the actions of Iranian-controlled armed groups in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, nor with its support to Hamas and Hezbollah. The agreement was solely focused on curtailing the regime’s uranium enrichment programme and removing its ability to build a nuclear weapon within a relatively short period if it took the decision to do so.”

Technically speaking this is true, but if we see the Guardian editorial from July 2015, celebrating the signing of the Iran deal, the Guardian itself did indeed take a broader view. Beyond just stopping a nuclear weapon, “the deal offers Iran a chance to come in from the Cold,” said the article.

“There is now the possibility of Iran playing a different, more constructive role in the affairs of the Middle East….. This accord, so long in the making, offers the hope that one of the world’s great civilisations might be drawn back into the international community, with untold benefits not only for Iranians but for its conflict-ravaged neighbours. The opportunity should be seized.”

The Guardian then understood that the Iran deal had far broader implications and elements then merely an agreement regarding nuclear enrichment. It was supposed to be a resetting of Iran’s relationship with the West and its role in the Middle East. Today critics point out that with Iranian hegemony spreading conflict throughout Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, Iran has not changed course. It seems disingenuous for the Guardian to now say that these actions have “nothing to do with” the nuclear deal.

Editorials form an important part of national debate, with major newspapers forming opinion around the country. It is important that editors are held to account, to be consistent in their editorial stances, and not to obfuscate the story, or to criticise decisions they one supported without at least acknowledging their error.

Aron White has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London (Lead College: LSE), and is a graduate of the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem. His writings have been published at the Jerusalem Post, JNS, The Daily Caller and the Algemeiner.

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