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My Lords, we are, I suspect, about to embark once again on the business of war. At this moment, above all else, we must remember that the objective of war is not to secure victory but to secure the peace.
It is understandable that so many are cautious. The failures of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya cast a long shadow. I have considerable reservations. We are told that IS represents “a fundamental threat” to our national security, yet we will not commit troops to the ground under any circumstances. That is militarily bizarre. What are troops for if not to deal with a fundamental threat to our national security?
Am I alone in having no clear understanding of what the specific political objectives of the Free Syrian Army are? Perhaps my noble friend Lord Howe will be able to tell us when he winds up. Yet alongside those reservations, and many others, I ask myself this: what would we be saying if the attack had been on London rather than on Paris and the French refused to help us?
The headlines and the outpourings of insults and accusations would be appalling. Enduring friendships sometimes require us to swallow our doubts.
This will not be a war against Islam but against evil, butchers, beheaders and crucifiers. I have no doubt that we will win the military conflict, but what I fear most is that, in the aftermath of victory, we will throw away the peace, as we have done too many times before. If winning a war is a messy business, securing the peace can be far more difficult.
Peace in the land called Syria will not be the peace we hope for. We are going to get our hands dirty. It will involve deals with Russia and Iran. It will involve us finding a way of dealing with Assad, too, despite our reservations. Some will undoubtedly describe such deals as grubby. The end result will have little to do with democracy, human rights and fair play and everything to do with stability and practical things—grubby compromises. It might even involve an effective division of Syria or widespread and forced relocation of populations. Nothing can be ruled out. Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd will demand autonomy and their own security, and how will we square our new friends the Kurds with our old allies the Turks?
In the end, we will do things that we would rather not do, and we will fail to do some of those things that we very much want to see done. If, and only if, we are ready to meet the challenges of that peace should we embark on this challenge of war. Let us not dare set out on a journey that we fail to finish.