• Chemical Weapons

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    20 April 2018

    One of the most depressing moments for me in Parliament was in late 2013 when the government lost a vote to launch a strike against the Syrian regime. Labour suggested they were onside right until the last minute when they pulled the rug. Rebels on my side sealed our fate. The reason for my depression was not so much about the government losing a vote – that is always disappointing if you are on the government side – but that we had missed an opportunity to back President Obama at a critical moment in the development of the horror story that is the civil war in Syria. The internal conflict was at a stage where it was far from clear that President Assad would prevail. There was also then a sizable moderate opposition in the mix of opposing forces that might in time have led to the emergence of a far more acceptable regime than Assad and his henchmen. The vote had been triggered of course as a result of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and the loss of that vote was to be key to President Obama changing his mind over intervention and so breaking one of our red lines – that the use of chemical weapons should not be tolerated and should bring with it serious consequences. At the end of August 2013 Assad had fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent Sarin into a suburb of Damascas causing between 165 and 1,700 deaths. Men, women and children – indiscriminate slaughter. Recently of course Assad has almost certainly been at it again. This time a chlorine laden barrel bomb. Chlorine gas kills through combining with fluid in the body to create acid. Victims convulse and froth at the mouth. Lungs dissolve. Death typically occurs when the victim drowns in their own bodily fluids. And when I see and read about that I go right back to August 30th 2013, sitting on the government benches when Parliament had a chance to do something but ducked it. The red line went unchallenged. Russia stepped up her involvement. Moderates were crushed, Assad has cemented his position and yes more people have now died through a yet further use of chemical weapons. There were a number of reasons why Parliament decided to vote against action in 2013. Political opportunism was a part of it but so was the long shadow of Iraq. The Iraq war was a terrible mistake in my view and those in power at the time take the responsibility for it. But its legacy is that it has meant that some have become too distrustful of our intelligence services, of our allies and too ready to fall in with the misinformation of those who are not here to help us – such as Russia and her proxies in the Middle East. All decisions on action overseas have to be considered with the utmost care but sometimes action should not be sidestepped. Follow Mel on Twitter @MelJStride.