The Syrian conflict has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. I’ve seen the impact of it myself, standing 15km from the Syrian border in the world’s second largest refugee camp in Jordan with 100,000 displaced Syrians being supported by British aid.
The latest depressing chapter has been the chemical attack reported from Douma. This is the last opposition-held town remaining in Eastern Ghouta. The Government of Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, denies mounting the chemical attack and blames the opposition troops. The Syrian Government has the means, motive and previous form for chemical attacks on its own population so all indications are that it is the work of President Assad.
If all of this sounds remarkably similar to the background of the poisoning of a Russian dissident and his daughter in Salisbury, then the hand of Moscow should be seen as pulling the strings in Syria. President Assad is propped up by Russia who act as his financial and military guarantor and sponsor.
So how do we act against this latest horror? It would appear that the United States are preparing to act, and have asked Britain, France and other forces from across the globe to join a coalition for military action against Syria. In recent years, Governments have asked Parliament to give its consent for Britain’s military action but it does not have to do so and may not for these targeted military strikes.
The last time Parliament was asked to give its consent was in 2015 when it was proposed that RAF air strikes should be launched against Islamic State fighters in Syria. I remember that Parliamentary vote well. The Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, delivered the most powerful speech I have heard in Parliament, urging his own MPs to back military action and not stand by. In doing so, he was bravely contradicting his leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and left his position shortly afterwards. I voted in favour of military action, but only after I had heard from the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and International Aid Secretary as to the military, diplomacy and humanitarian arguments in favour.
Despite some very well meaning and strong lobbying from constituents warning against UK intervention, the resultant military action was notable by it being deemed a universal success by observers. The Islamic terrorists have largely been decimated with little collateral damage. I have continued to receive updates from the MoD on how our action has unfolded. Not a single constituent contacted me with criticism once the action was delivered.
Of course, the eradication of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria was an aim we shared with Russia. The decision to target Syrian Government forces carries a greater risk because it would be deemed to be an attack on an agent of Russia. It would also be led by a US President whose presence in office troubles me. However, despite the stakes, the question to me is clear: do we stand by as more innocent people are murdered or do we intervene to stop it?
My trip to the Jordan/Syrian border tells me that we owe it to the Syrian people to use military force to defend them and send a clear sign to the millions of Syrians in refugee camps in neighbouring countries that there is a will to deliver a route back home. Without it, we are as good as ushering refugees to seek migration in Britain and Europe across dangerous seas.
Those of a pacifist nature feel that we should not engage in military action but seek a ‘diplomatic solution’. They may as well say we should just cover our eyes and pretend innocent people are not dying. We are conning the most vulnerable by pretending that we will suddenly get a diplomatic solution from those who have demonstrated complete contempt for the practice over the seven years the Syrian conflict has been raging. We need to be honest with ourselves. Either we take this on, no matter how difficult it will be, or we turn our backs and condemn more people to death and starvation.
If I am asked to cast my vote then I will ensure I listen to the arguments and report these back to constituents as I did in 2015. However, in my opinion, the case for military action is already strong. I hope constituents will agree that we should stand against bullies and support those who have lost the ability to stand up for themselves.