Ian Austin MP

Labour MP for Dudley North

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Why so-called Stop the War are wrong about Syria and why the West must do more

Saturday's Stop the War Conference shows why they are wrong about Syria and why the West must do more in the country.

This article appears on The Times' Red Box site this morning.

Protesters against Assad’s brutality were howled down at the so-called Stop the War Conference on Saturday.

Hundreds of people in the audience shouted at campaigners asking for support in their opposition to Assad’s brutality, before stewards hustled them out the door.

So much for free speech and the right to protest.

Just last week a convoy carrying food and aid to the starving in Aleppo was destroyed as the cease fire collapsed. Napalm-like fire bombs are being dropped on civilians. Tightly-packed civilian neighbourhoods are being targeted with barrel bombs of chlorine gas. Cluster bombs have left thousands with the most appalling injuries.

And without a hint of irony, the audience at Stop the War chanted “no more wars” at people protesting about a fascist dictator who has killed over 400,000 and displaced millions more.

What a disgrace.

Stop the War must be the most inappropriately-named organisation ever. This is the group that praised what it said was the “internationalism and solidarity” of ISIS, compared them to the International Brigades and supported what it called the Iraqi “struggle” against British troops “by any means necessary“.

They said they stand with Saddam Hussein, compared Assad to Churchill and promoted or provided a platform for Assad apologists.

The hard left are implacably opposed to the UK or other western countries ever taking military action, but despite the heavy price paid by our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t believe most people in Britain believe we should turn our backs whilst innocent children are being killed by poisonous gas in Aleppo.

Chemical weapons have been illegal for almost a century and used on only a few occasions since, by Mussolini in Ethiopia, by Hitler against the Jews and by Saddam who gassed his own people in the eighties. On each occasion, we knew whose side we were on and we stood up for the oppressed.

Last week my colleague Alison McGovern was elected co-chair of the Friends of Syria group in parliament, a post previously held by our friend Jo Cox.

We’re calling on the government to do all it can to salvage the ceasefire as urgently as possible. The Prime Minister was right to call for more help for refugees fleeing Syria when she addressed the UN last week, but she should also be pushing for the UN Security Council to get the Russians back to negotiations and work non-stop for a deal.

We could also be taking a lead on monitoring air traffic over Syria so the Russians and Assad know that the world is watching. Not only would this mean there’d be absolutely no doubt about who is responsible when civilians are targeted, but it could provide the evidence necessary to bring perpetrators to justice in the future. .

Civilians must be protected from bombardment and chemical weapons must be destroyed. Kosovo provides a legal precedent for a no-fly zone without the agreement of the United Nations and this must be an option if it is the best way to safeguard civilians.

The UK should also be pressing to get more aid into Aleppo and other areas that have been bombed so badly and doing more to support volunteers in the ground like the Syrian White Helmets.

And we should learn the lessons of the failure to support Syria’s moderate opposition.

I think we should have acted sooner, to support pro-Western democrats fighting for human rights when the Arab Spring triggered the uprising in Syria five years ago. The tragedy was that while the government was armed by the Russians and backed by Iran and Hezbollah, and ISIS and Islamist rebels supported by their outside allies, the democrats who looked to us for support have been slaughtered by both sides.

The 2013 Commons failure to prevent Assad using chemical weapons gave Assad the green light and told the Russians their allies could act with impunity.

The heavy price paid by our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan means people are more wary than ever about sending British forces into action but no one has proposed putting troops on the ground in Syria which has been so painful in recent conflicts.

Everyone agrees we must learn from the mistakes made after the invasion of Iraq, but I think we should also be learning what can happen when we don’t take action.

UK forces prevented innocent people being slaughtered in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Western air forces prevented Gaddafi butchering people in Benghazi, but with no support help afterwards the situated became even worse causing an enormous problem for the whole region. Keeping out of Syria clearly hasn’t prevented world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, and terrorist attacks in the Middle East and in Europe.

So whilst failing to act might mean fewer Iraqs, it could also mean more Syrias. 

Perhaps we should have a Chilcot-style inquiry into the consequences of not intervening in Syria sooner as well.

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