Syria – 1st December 2015
I have received a briefing note that says "In 2013 MPs were asked to approve airstrikes against Assad and in support of his opponents. We refused to do so". That missive, from a "Senior Tory", is in my view grossly misleading. No such vote was ever taken as the motion on the Order Paper, that I supported, simply sought to give the Prime Minister the right to enter into further discussions about airstrikes. Those who defeated the motion denied him that right and, as a result, I believe that Britain`s place around the table of World diplomacy has been diminished. The perception is, amongst our NATO allies, that the United Kingdom will not act and that has been of great comfort and encouragement to our enemies.
In 2003 Blair took the United Kingdom into war in Iraq on the grounds that Britain was under threat of attack at forty-minutes notice. We now know that the "weapons of mass destruction" claim was false and based upon a highly spurious document. It is understandable, given the disastrous consequences of American and British intervention in Iraq, that politicians and the electorate should be very wary of engaging in further military expeditions in the Middle East.
That, in itself, is highly dangerous. Those that say that "it is none of our business" now only have to look across the Channel. Less than two hundred and fifty miles from our own front doors the self-styled "Islamic State" or Daesh has dealt, in Paris, in the indiscriminate murder of law-abiding and innocent civilians. As one of Scotland Yard`s most senior counter-terrorism officers told Members of Parliament again very recently our security services are among the best in the world and, given the surveillance powers that some seek to deny them, can and have interdicted literally dozens of attempts at terrorists strikes upon London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The harsh reality, though, is that our protectors can be successful two hundred times while the enemies of our State only need to be successful once. It is indeed our business and we must act in harmony with our allies to seek out and destroy an organisation that has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam and everything to do with evil at its roots. At home and abroad.
Which brings me to the "should we bomb Syria" question. I have hitherto been circumspect about this difficult question and certainly to start bombing on the "do something" basis is not the answer. We need to do the right thing and just joining in a campaign that has been embarked upon by the Americans and the French will, on its own achieve very little. We are, however, using our airborne forces - manned and unmanned - in Northern Iraq to good effect and British drones have already been in service over Syria in support of air attacks on key ISIL targets carried out by others.
I am now of the view that, in accordance with NATO principles and following what has been, in reality, an act of war against France, we must throw our own weight behind a campaign that will have to have a very clear objective and that may lead to still tougher political decisions in the future. Just engaging in air strikes may in the short-term decapitate the enemy high command but that enemy has revealed a capacity to reorganise and regroup very swiftly and it will only be defeated, in the long term, by boots on the ground followed by - and this is what was so appallingly lacking in Iraq in Blair`s war of 2003 - a very clear reconstruction and democratic strategy not just in Syria but throughout the Middle East. We also need to understand that while Western troops may provide training and support only a truly local military initiative taken by a Middle-Eastern coalition of united multi-faith moderates will stand a long-term chance of securing anything resembling a lasting peace. That will be a tall order but it has to be achieved.
In London, Paris, Washington and Berlin we can and should be helping to prepare the ground. We, as politicians, have to distinguish between the futile military adventures of the past and the very real threat that faces the world, through the guerrilla warfare of terrorism, today. We must not allow a knee-jerk reaction to events in Paris to over-influence our judgement and we have to learn from past mistakes but we cannot allow those past mistakes to leave us, like rabbits caught in oncoming headlights, to be indecisive or terrified to act now that it is really necessary. I am not prepared, whatever the party or personal political cost, to place your children and grandchildren and my own in the position of saying "If only you had intervened while there was still time". I shall vote in support of United Kingdom engagement in the air over Syria in accordance with the UN Resolution and I shall not flinch from backing any decisions that are deemed militarily necessary to defeat a very real enemy on the ground.