The following words were written on Friday Morning to meet the deadline for the Argus Newspaper for todays column. Although some aspects have moved on in the light of our coalition attack on Syria, the majority of this text seems even more relevant to me: It seems strange for our Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson to stand up and demand “the West does not stand idly by” in the aftermath of the chemical attack on innocent people in Ghouta last week. This is the same person in our Government who is responsible for working on our behalf on a daily basis to ensure that as he stated back in July 2016, that Britain becomes a “great global player”. To be a great or even a mediocre global player requires going well beyond occasional knee jerk reactions to every incident that Johnson sees as concerning, or that his friend Trump sees as concerning. Working proactively as Foreign Secretary means that every nation on earth is on the list of things to do, places to go and people to see. Some such as Syria and Sudan and Yemen along with Russia are places that should be at the top of the list and there should be a clear strategy for how to ensure that we are seen as supporters of the populations as a whole and playing a watchful role on the way in which their governments or neighbouring states act. Although Boris has clearly been travelling around the globe since July 2016, the sense that he knows what is taking place and we are well placed to respond in an effective manner when incidents such as this one and the attack in Salisbury in March take place, seems less clear.
It is clearly impossible for even the nation’s greatest ever Foreign Secretary to be in a position to personally prevent attacks such as the one in Ghouta and the role does not allow any incumbent to single handedly prevent the on-going death and destruction in a place such as Syria, but rather than emerging blinking into the lights and demanding that we do not stand idly by, and commending Trump for his missile launch on Syria in April 2017, Johnson should be standing up and explaining what he has been doing on our behalf since the missile strike last year to bring an end to the conflict in the region in general and the use of chemical weapons in particular. The reason that Trump sent 59 of the US missiles to attack a military airbase a year ago was supposedly to diminish the power of Assad and his allies, particularly in the context of the use of such weapons. The allegations that only 23 actually hit their target perhaps diminishes this sense of success, however once the 23 or 59 Tomahawks had exploded, to then turn our nations back on Syria and assume that the job was done would be a terrible mistake.
It is not unreasonable to ask for some measure of what the Foreign Secretary has done since July 2016 or even April 2017 to help reduce the violent impact of Assad on his own people. When it suits Governments to do so, they try to explain that by cutting benefits, more people applied to get a job, or for their opponents to measure the amount of poverty and human distress that cutting of benefits creates. Equally they can tell us how even though they cut policing budgets that crime levels have dropped, while other people tell us how violent crime is expanding because of the lack of police officers on our streets. These are crude measures and extremely superficial, but they do at least show that the nature of policy setting has a cause and effect dimension to it and it then helps people to decide which policy and which political groups they are willing to back when it comes to campaigns or elections. Whilst measures are even more complex when it comes to the provision of foreign aid to groups of people in Turkey, Iraq and Syria as well as the dropping of bombs or launching of missiles into Syria, along with the tireless efforts of Ambassadors and their staff in such nations, headed up by the Foreign Secretary, it does not seem unreasonable for such simplistic and superficial issues to be discussed before a decision to load even more of our taxpayer funded bombs into planes or launch missiles from very expensive submarines. Even if the MPs in Parliament are given the opportunity to vote on the bigger picture aspects of this, the fact is we as taxpayers and as people who have concerns about world peace and friends in Syria also deserve some level of explanation and justification that goes beyond telling Syria’s strongest ally that the latest set of weapons are “nice and new and “smart!”” and telling the nation that one of our submarines is travelling into waters near Syria.