Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Syria. What now?

Am inspired to comment on what’s happening in Syria by William Hague’s column in today’s Telegraph. Takes me back to the events of 2013, which was the most shocking of my 8 yrs as an MP. It’s the context in which I have to contemplate the current position.
In 2013, Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people and Prime Minister, David Cameron was considering a military strike against Damascus. He was supported by William Hague. Before that summer recess, MPs had insisted that a vote would be needed to authorise such a strike. Parliament was indeed recalled during summer recess. I returned to London, anticipating voting against my Govt for the first time. I informed my whips that I could not vote for action without more clarity about how it would improve the position. I think other MPs must have taken a similar line because when the motion to be debated was tabled the night before the debate, I was satisfied. The motion supported military action against Assad, but crucially, required the Prime Minister to return to the Parliament with more clarity and to seek another vote before military action could be taken. I thought that was acceptable, and voted for it. But (shamefully in my view) MPs voted this motion down. I felt ashamed that some Conservatives had completely undermined the Prime Minisister. The Labour Leader at the time, Ed Miliband had decided to play politics with an issue that should have been above politics and put forward his alternative motion, which was not far from the Prime Minister’s motion. That was defeated as well. I felt deeply ashamed of Labour. I suspect a few Labour MPs did as well. Anyway, Obama and Putin were watching. The former reneged on his ‘red lines’ and decided to do nothing, while the latter realised that Assad backed by Russia could do whatever he wanted. That’s just what he did. The chemical attacks on innocents over the last few days is an inevitable consequence of 2013.
I know there will be many who think the UK (and everyone else except Russia and Iran) should stay out of it. Several of my constituents informedit was their opinion in 2013. Suspect some might feel the same today. I don’t. Non-action can have terrible consequences, as well as action. We cannot wait for the UN to back action because Russia will veto any military response. We cannot allow chemical warfare to become an accepted form of attack, which it will. Of course we cannot be 100% certain that military action will achieve its objective in the short term. If certainty of victory was a requirement of action, military powers who care not about deaths of casualties would always win.
We know that a President Obama would not act. There would just be empty threats. But I do think
Resident Trump may well act. He may well call the Assad-Putin bluff. This is a very hard sentence for me to write, because I know many of my friends and supporters will disagree. But I believe Britain and France should support action led by the US, and be active participants.

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