US Airstrikes in Syria

My latest column for the Sunday Times:

This week I am spending my days sitting in a sunny room at King’s College Hospital while toxic chemicals are poured into my bloodstream. Some chemo drugs are close relations of those that Assad has been using to slaughter his own people. In my case, the toxins are being used to save my life, and their side effects are closely monitored. I am given drugs to prevent nausea, a blanket to keep warm and a reclining chair for the occasional nap.

No such luck for the innocents of Khan Sheikhoun. There aren’t enough doctors and nurses to treat them, not enough drugs to counteract the effects of the poison. There are hardly any safe buildings for them to take shelter in, let alone enough hospital beds to make their ordeal more comfortable.

For the last four years the West’s record of appeasing Assad has made me incensed, and ashamed. On August 29, 2013 MPs had a chance to punish him for the first time he used chemical weapons against his own people and to reinforce the global ban on the use of chemical and biological weapons. After a few days of twisting and turning on the skewer of his own righteousness, Ed Miliband announced that Labour would oppose military action and a majority in parliament voted with him. President Obama used our parliamentary vote as an excuse to back down on the enforcement of his own “red line”, even though he had repeatedly declared that its infringement would require a military response.

Exploiting the West’s collective loss of nerve, President Putin constructed a deal in which all of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons would supposedly be removed and destroyed. The gullible left hailed it as the 21st-century equivalent of “peace in our time” and patted themselves on the back for stopping the “rush to war”.

Now that Putin’s chemical weapons deal has been exposed as the sham it was always going to be, the West needs to join President Trump in responding, forcefully. Last night, to his credit, the president swallowed his desire for better relations with Putin and began to deliver the targeted punishment that Assad deserves. I am sure that President Trump wants to avoid any long-term military involvement in Syria’s civil war, and so should we.

Now the United States has reverted to its traditional role of leading from the front, it is time for other western leaders to step up. Our own prime minister combines appropriate caution with steely resolve so I trust her judgment about where our national interest ultimately lies. But how powerful it would be if she could join the newly elected American president, and other NATO leaders too, in imposing the proportionate punishment that Assad has so long deserved.