Last week, while in Munich, I met Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs. When I introduced myself to him as a British MP, he turned his heel. Cowards like him, Putin and Al-Assad respect one thing alone – strength and leadership. But Britain lost that in 2013 after Parliament voted against military action in Syria – and we have continued to lose political respect ever since.
In fact, the world is so turned on its head, that in comparison, Donald Trump’s actions in the unilateral US strike in 2016 into Syria following another use of chemical weapons made him look like he was – unlike Britain – prepared to stand up for something. Donald Trump, leading the way in moral leadership.
In the past week, Syria has seen an uptick in civilian deaths. 7 Feb saw the first fatal meeting of US and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War, although thanks to Britain’s own political chaos, most of us missed it. The ‘Wagner’ group – an alleged civilian militia bankrolled by the Russian state, would not heed warnings from an American force in front of them that they should cease their advance. They were massacred by US Apache helicopters, artillery and the US airforce, with Russian casualties close to 300. One of the Russian militia wrote back home on Facebook ‘Don’t come here; we are getting slaughtered.’ Like any coward, Putin seems to have taken it out on those who cannot defend themselves – the children of Ghouta, Damascus.
I sense the world still listens to us; they look for Britain to play a role. But we must wake up from our hangover from Iraq before it is terminal for this nation’s global standing. No answers here are easy; no solutions are clean and quick. But that doesn’t mean we walk away. It means we recommit ourselves and sweat ever harder for those in danger, to help find a solution. In an increasingly inhumane world, the saying that the only thing needed for evil to flourish, is for good men to stand aside and do nothing, has never had more relevance. But as I’ve said before, the window is closing.
If you haven’t seen it, you must watch the acclaimed HBO documentary ‘Cries from Syria’. If you come away from that still feeling noble about your opposition to military intervention post the self-confessed errors of Iraq, I would question your humanity. If you are never prepared to countenance foreign intervention abroad again, at least make yourself watch the consequences.