Sitting on the sidelines was never an option
The fundamental truth about Theresa May’s first experience of committing Britain’s Armed Forces to combat is that she really had no other choice.
There are many MPs of all political persuasions who will argue that the Prime Minister should have held back until the Commons had been given the chance to vote on British involvement. The reality, though, is that, once Donald Trump had taken the decision to target forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the choice for Downing Street became a simple question of whether we supported Washington or abstained.
And, in the context of the remarkable display of international support Mrs May has drummed up after the Salisbury poisoning, sitting on the sidelines was just not an option.
Britain cannot protest about the use of chemical weapons in an English city and then turn its back when they are used in the suburbs of Damascus. To indulge in such double standards amounts to moral bankruptcy of a very high order. To Mrs May’s credit, she understood the importance of the connection between these atrocities from the moment it became clear the evidence pointed to Assad being responsible for launching the attack on Douma last weekend, killing an estimated 70 people.
The civilised world simply cannot stand idly by when rogue regimes such as Russia and Syria resort to such measures. And it is for this reason that Britain’s participation in yesterday morning’s carefully co-ordinated airstrikes was thoroughly justified.
Jeremy Corbyn, who has no credible proposals of his own for tackling the modern evils of chemical weapons, is hopelessly wrong when he claims that Mrs May was simply taking instructions from Washington, and that the action was legally questionable.
There is a well-established body of international law under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Britain is a signatory, that prohibits the use of such munitions. And by supporting international military action, the Government has demonstrated that it is just as opposed to the use of chemical weapons in Syria as it is on the streets of Britain. Moreover, Mrs May, who is not renowned for her demonstrative leadership skills, deserves credit for having the political courage to back military action when the siren voices of opposition MPs,
and even her own backbenchers, cautioned restraint.
Targeted airstrikes carried out by the RAF in support of internationally recognised treaties are not the same as a large-scale military offensive to topple the regime of a foreign state, as happened in Iraq in 2003 and was the reason Tony Blair set the questionable precedent of allowing the Commons a vote on military action.
The fast-moving dynamic of modern global conflict decrees that a British prime minister must be allowed to exercise the authority he or she enjoys under the royal prerogative to initiate military action when the interests of national security are at stake. And it is hard to contemplate a more pernicious threat to our collective well-being than rogue states that are prepared to use weapons of mass destruction with disregard for the likely consequences.
On a practical level, I doubt that the Trump administration, or the French, were prepared to delay the proposed military action to allow Mrs May to pander to the vanity of MPs by allowing them a vote on the issue.
Mrs May can rest assured that she has been “blooded” in her first conflict as Prime Minister for all the right reasons. And by so doing, she has called the bluff of the Russians, whose tactics of obstruction and dissembling are reminiscent of Saddam Hussein in his heyday.
The one area of concern the allied action does not address, though, is what to do about Syria’s long-running and brutal civil war, which is now in its eighth year. The absence of any meaningful international pressure to resolve the conflict simply lends encouragement to rogue states such as Russia, Syria and Iran that they can act with impunity. And this is potentially a far greater threat to world peace than Assad’s chemical weapons.