A footnote re. Charles Kennedy and military intervention

Charles Kennedy‘s name has been invoked by some during the current Syrian debates with cast iron certainty that he would have been opposed to British air strikes in Syria.

It’s a curious cast iron certainty for two reason. One is simply that on many occasions during his political career, Charles Kennedy supported military intervention. His opposition to it in Iraq second time round was by far his most high profile foreign policy stance during his long, yet tragically short, political career. But he was not a pacifist nor a consistent opponent of military action. Rather his internationalism led to him supporting it on many occasions, as in the case of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait:

The last time that Saddam Hussein invaded a sovereign state, Kuwait, we as a party, and the country as a whole, supported the international action that was taken.

Indeed, Kennedy even set out the circumstances in which he would have backed military intervention in Iraq second time round too:

If Dr Blix in due course comes back and says that the weapons inspectorate have now exhausted their cause and there are material breaches and there’s substantial evidence of non-cooperation and they can’t make further progress, the UN would then have to take a considered and a serious view which would lead to a second resolution. In that context I think it would be very hard indeed for a pro-UN party like the Lib Dems not to back it.

Q. If that happened you would then be in favour of war?

Nobody is in favour of war in that sense, but if the United Nations on that scenario which is the one that they have sketched-out on the terms of the first resolution reached that inevitable conclusion then with a very heavy heart you would have no option.

Of course, those further circumstances never materialised and Charles Kennedy was right therefore to oppose the second Iraq war. But those conditions show he was willing to support military intervention.

The other oddity about the cast iron certainty is that it is sometimes wrapped up in the sort of aggressive and personal denunciation of others which runs quite counter to Kennedy’s own consistent personal style and approach to politics.

So those who angrily denounce others in the name of Charles Kennedy are not only wrong in their certainty as to what his views on Syria would have been, they are also repudiating the very approach to politics that was such a hallmark of his approach.


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