Whose heart was not broken by the tragic pictures of that young man cuddling his twin babies as he buried them in Idlib last week? They had died the most horrific of deaths along with their Mother and other relatives – gassed to death by Sarin bombs, choking and burning in a basement. This was the latest chemical weapons outrage by the dictator Assad, in blatant breach of International law. It was a war crime of which Adolf Hitler would not have been ashamed. Yet the British Parliament- and I am as much to blame as any other MP- voted against bombing Assad four years ago. How many innocent lives might have been saved had we not been war-weary post Iraq and Afghanistan, and untrusting of the reports of weapons of mass destruction?
Trump was right to act as he did - in a proportionate and well-targeted military response, and it is to be much regretted that we could not have done so, even if the PM had wished to as a result of the absurd and very damaging convention which has grown up in recent years that military action needs the approval of Parliament. War crimes and wickedness on this scale demands an urgent military response. That is all that Assad, and his ally Putin can understand.
I had a couple of days in Russia last week discussing Arctic defence matters, and including a meeting (along with 100 or 200 others) with President Putin. I was struck more than anything else how blandly he gave answers knowing perfectly well that they were untrue – and knowing that whoever heard them equally knew them to be untrue. For example, the presence of two brigades (shortly increasing to two divisions) of Arctic trained soldiers based near Murmansk in the High North, he argued were either for Search and Rescue as the Northern Sea Route opens up (two divisions of infantry to save lost yachtsmen; I think not), or to counter terrorism (of which there is no threat in the Arctic regions; and even if there were, two divisions of infantry against random acts of terror come off it.)
I am increasingly of the view that decisive action is going to be needed in Syria, and soon, if we are to stop it descending into terminal chaos, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the West through terrorism and migration. And I am increasingly concerned about the expansionist ambitions of the Russians. Who knows what they will do next? Only firm action by NATO will show them the strength, which they have so often demonstrated, is the only thing they respect. These are dangerous times indeed, and only clarity of vision, strength and determination will save us from yet more terrorist outrages across the West, and worse perhaps, conventional military aggression.
Arms are the Balance of Peace. And only military strength and purpose will end tragic pictures on our TV screens like the gassing of innocent women and children in Syria, or the sad funeral of PC Keith Palmer so brutally murdered in Parliament. I wholly support President Trump’s bold assertion of our outrage at Assad’s wickedness, and am only sorry that we could not stand alongside him in doing it.