As I left Gazientep on the Syrian Turkish border just over a week ago to come back for the debate and vote in Parliament on whether or not we should take punitive action against Bashar Assad for his chemical attack in Ghouta, which killed over 1,400 innocent civilians including over 400 children, the words of General Idris, the Head of the Free Syria Army (FSA) were ringing in my ears: "If your country does not vote to punish Assad for what he has done to our people this will give him the green light to continue slaughtering and gassing my people with impunity."
On Thursday, 29 August, my country did just that. We chose to abandon the Syrian people in their hour of need. I am wracked with guilt and feel ashamed. Yes, democracy had its day and yes, perhaps Parliament is all the stronger for asserting the will of the people. Nevertheless, I still believe it was the wrong decision.
President Obama, has now chosen to follow David Cameron's lead and have a full debate in Congress over whether or not the world's superpower, the United States, should also take Britain's position and leave the Syrian people to their fate. I hope not. More time has now passed, the UN inspectors have pretty much completed their work and will no doubt reaffirm that a chemical weapons attack did indeed take place on that fateful day (they have no mandate to point the finger at who was responsible). In addition, following Secretary of State Kerry's powerful speech on 30 August, there can be little doubt about who was responsible. The satellite intelligence shows that the rockets came from Government-controlled areas of Damascus and landed in rebel-controlled areas. Congress will be better informed by the time they vote than we were in the UK Parliament.
As my friends in Washington consider which way to vote this week, I would like address a number of myths that were voiced during our debate in Parliament.
Myth One: We will somehow be siding with Al Qaeda
No - we will be supporting the moderate majority. Syria is a country with a population of 22 million people. There are 15 million Sunnis and 150,000 FSA fighters, most of whom are doctors, teachers, engineers, farmers and students - in addition to a number of defectors from the Syrian Army. The number of Jihadis on the ground is less than 0.1% of the population. There are about 7,500 fighters affiliated with Jabat Al Nusra in the north and about 4,000 fighters affiliated with the more radical Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) in the east. They are not part of the FSA command and control structure and represent a very tiny part of the opposition on the ground.
Myth Two: We don't want to go into another Iraq
In Iraq there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In Syria we have now seen Assad use chemical weapons on his own people on an industrial scale in at least 11 different sites in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The situation in Syria is a humanitarian crisis more akin to what we saw unfold in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Myth Three: The Opposition gassed their own people to draw the West in
I am speechless at how many intelligent people consider this a possibility. This is the narrative the Regime and the Russians keep repeating. The intelligence would indicate otherwise. Secretary of State John Kerry, recognising the Iraq "hangover" regarding intelligence, was more open and transparent about the intelligence the Americans have than any of his predecessors. We now have hundreds of witness statements, video evidence and physiological samples indicating the use of Sarin and satellite Intel showing rockets leaving Government-held areas and landing in Opposition-held areas. To use a legal phrase, I believe it is "beyond reasonable doubt" that the Assad Regime gassed and killed over 1,400 of its own citizens. If it comes to a choice as to who to believe, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, or President Assad and President Putin, I know who I would believe.
Myth Four: We don't want to lose any more of our sons' and daughters' lives
I agree, but that is not what is being proposed. No one is talking about boots on the ground. What is being proposed is a surgical strike with Tomahawks and Cruise missiles targeted at Assad's military infrastructure to degrade and neutralise his ability to continue slaughtering and gassing his own people.
Myth Five: We can only act with the support of the UN Security Council
I am afraid we are unlikely to get support from the UN Security Council. Russia has had two and a half years to condemn the Assad Regime. They have not done so and will not do so. Syria is their last remaining toehold in the Middle East - they have a large naval base at the port of Tartus. They have hundreds of military advisors on the ground and they have provided over $4billion of military equipment, including sophisticated radar and missile systems. The UN has failed to live up to its Responsibility to Protect Charter and the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925 which bans the use of chemical weapons. We cannot be held hostage by the Russians' presence on the Security Council. We did not for the Balkans War and we should not be here.
This week my friends in Congress have an opportunity to send a powerful message to Assad that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale, and that he will be punished for his actions. President Jarba of the Syrian Opposition Council came to London on Thursday, and notwithstanding the results of last week's vote in London, reiterated his message that "western silence and inaction is killing my people." Doing nothing is no longer an option. I hope Congress can put their political differences aside and support the Syrian people in their hour of need.