My Lords, as has been stressed in this debate, the responsibility of us all and of the Government is the safety and well-being of the British people—and, as has also become clear in this debate, the well-being of the Syrian people. Let us remember that more than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria and that, effectively, more than half of Syria’s citizens are displaced. Four million of them are refugees and 7 million are displaced people within their own country. Civilians are the worst affected by the battles due to, for example, indiscriminate barrel bombing on cities such as Aleppo.
We therefore have to ask how what we are proposing to do will help. It would be very dangerous and stupid to be doing something simply for the self-satisfaction of polishing our own consciences. We are dealing with cruel, horrible, calculating people. Whatever happens tonight in the Commons, there will be some wider ongoing issues. First, there is a battle throughout the world for hearts and minds, and we have to win that battle in minds. Impressionable, highly intelligent young people have to be won over to something worth while.
The second challenge is how the world sees us, and I do not think that we face up to it. We like to congratulate ourselves on how good we are at doing things. I have worked a great deal all over the world and I must say that an awful lot of intelligent people in the world see us as part of the problem, not part of the solution. The way that they look at us is as if to say, “We don’t want any more, thank you, to go on being managed by the traditional powers, being asked to fall into line with their solutions. We want to be part of taking responsibility and asking the outside world for what we see as appropriate support”. These are immense challenges to the future of foreign policy.
Consistency is also essential. If, as is absolutely right, with no doubts whatever, we condemn the beheadings, the brutality, the cruelty, the crucifixions and the rest, we have to be seen by young people, particularly those in the region, to speak out just as clearly about the lack of justice, when it occurs, the beheadings, the lashings and the cruel imprisonment in much of the Arab world.
In the immediate situation, part of our credibility depends on us recognising that we have to have a fully convincing and watertight case for whatever we do, not least militarily. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether we have had a convincing call from those who are struggling for their freedom in Syria and convincing evidence that they are ready to provide the co-ordinated support from the ground that will be essential for bombing. I have never seen anywhere in the world where bombing on its own achieved anything. Co-ordination with ground activity is crucial. This was even true of the French resistance in the Second World War.
Have we thought through what we are doing? There will inevitably tend to be mission creep. I applaud what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said: if you wish the ends, you must wish the means. Have we thought this through and are we sure that we will provide all the means that may be necessary? How does it relate to an inclusive political solution? With a heavy heart, I have come to the conclusion that the case is not yet proved.