Lord Guthrie to Newsmax: Syrian Intervention Would Make Matters Worse

Tuesday, 31 Jul 2012 03:47 PM

By Edward Pentin

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Edward Pentin's Perspective: Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank tells Newsmax exclusively that armed intervention in Syria would only make the ongoing uprising worse.

Britain’s highest ranking military officer also said in an exclusive interview recently that he had “a problem” with the war in Afghanistan, was firmly opposed to the use of torture, but generally favored the use of drones.

Guthrie, who served as Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 until he retired in 2001, said he would “certainly not” advocate intervention in Syria at the moment as it would “make things worse.” He also doubted whether nations on the UN Security Council could, in any case, agree to such an intervention.

“Who would want to go to Syria? Russia certainly wouldn’t, the Chinese wouldn’t,” he said. “It would make America even more unpopular and make [Syria] very unstable. It’s a very dangerous region.”

Lord Guthrie, 73, added that any military action would not be like in Libya where NATO forces helped oust Colonel Gadaffi. “That was relatively easy but we haven’t heard the last of what’s going on [there],” he predicted, stressing the dangers of “unforeseen consequences” in armed conflict.

“War is not like a folio of a play, when you know what the ending is and you know what the characters are,” he said. “The enemy nearly always does something you don’t want him to do, and doesn’t react in the way you would like him to react, and I’ve seen that time and time again.”

The Field Marshal, who is also Colonel-Commandant of the SAS, Britain’s special forces, said he was an interventionist “on some things” but only if those involved know what they are doing. He recalled having to occasionally advise ministers against military intervention, contrary to their wishes.

But some operations have been successful, notably Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s that Guthrie led, and which helped end a 10-year civil war. “The British did magnificently there,” he said. “I didn’t want the British put under the command of the UN, so we weren’t,” he said. “The UN were a bit upset about that.”

Asked if that was the secret behind the operation’s success, he said: “In many ways, yes. The chain of command is dead easy.”

On using military action to resolve conflict in the Middle East in general, Guthrie said it is “very difficult to impose peace and make people love each other, and it’s very difficult to impose a united force on a warring faction that’s going on.”

Turning to the war in Afghanistan, the veteran solider who was once an SAS troop commander in the Persian Gulf, said he had “a problem” with the military operation as “people didn’t really think of the consequences.”

“We got involved [in] a whole raft of things which were actually beyond us unless we were going to make a far, far bigger effort than we did,” he said. “You could argue that we did make things a bit worse.” He also noted that people tend to forget the Taliban “were not really our enemies to start with, al-Qaida was, and the Taliban just hated the thought of us being in the country.”

But he believes the initial reasons for the intervention — to allow U.K. and U.S. special forces to destroy the al-Qaida camps — were “perfectly lawful” and “morally right.”

To that end, “I think that was achieved brilliantly,” he added “I would then question — and we come to unforeseen consequences again — should we not have just come home then?”

On the subject of using drones, the remote-controlled, pilotless warplanes, he is generally favorable. “I think that a lot of nonsense is talked about drones, that they’re unfair,” he said. “There is a sort of British thing that it’s not really cricket to kill people if they haven’t got a chance to kill you.”

He stressed that it’s “very, very regrettable that people get killed, the wrong people sometimes,” and that he hadn’t enough evidence about the effects of drones. But he noted that “very large numbers of al-Qaida have been removed and that the situation is probably better.”

Guthrie, who was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal by Queen Elizabeth II in June, remains firmly opposed to the use of torture. “My view is absolutely clear, which is that torture is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed, and people who torture should be apprehended, with the full force of law applied,” he explained, adding that such tactics, including waterboarding, “almost always does far more harm than good.”

He lamented the damage caused to the reputation of the United States for upholding human rights, after reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo. He also thinks people “tend to tell you what you want to hear” when being tortured.

But although he would never condone it, he “would understand” if it was used, for example, to find a nuclear bomb, planted in a hotel by someone you had caught, and about to go off.

If such a scenario were to occur, he believes all those involved in the torture should be tried in a court of law.

“I cannot see a British jury convicting us if I had saved London from a nuclear bomb,” he said. “But you’re on a slippery slope once you start doing it.”

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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