The House of Commons does these debates well. The cases for and against intervention in Syria have been ably rehearsed, and I have learned things that I didn’t previously know. With a handful of exceptions, the speeches on both sides were measured, judicious and informative.
I have wavered back and forth on Syrian intervention, envying some of my fellow politicians’ certainty. It seems to me that the argument comes down to a concept ill-suited to our moralistic, 140-character age: that of the lesser evil. Still, I’m finally off the fence.
I write as someone who supported the war to evict Saddam from Kuwait, but opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion; who backed the toppling of the Taliban in 2001, but opposed the extension and prolongation of our presence in Afghanistan; and who opposed the bombing of Syria in 2013.
Many of the arguments against intervening this time are true and important. The involvement of the RAF will make little tactical difference; there will be unintended consequences and collateral casualties; Syria is not, directly, our concern; and bombs are the most extreme of measures, to be used only when nothing else has worked.
Yet I keep coming back to two things that have changed since 2013. First, Islamic State has come into being, and has attacked us. When it began to kidnap and murder British citizens, for no reason other than that they held UK passports, it committed an act of war under any normal definition, inviting an armed response.
Second, perhaps 600 of the most deranged, dangerous and disagreeable people in Britain have travelled to Syria to join the jihadis. Think of what those people were choosing to join: an organisation that enslaves children, beheads aid workers, dynamites antiquities, commits acts of mass slaughter against religious minorities. I genuinely can’t think of anything Islamic State could do to slide further along the spectrum of wickedness.
If a boy born in Britain feels such hatred for his country that he will fight against us in this basest and most loathsome of causes, I don’t want him coming back. Except in small pieces.