What heightens our grief and horror over the atrocities in Paris is the knowledge that they could easily have happened to us here in the UK. Our country experienced its own pain a few months ago when 30 British holidaymakers were murdered on the beaches of Tunisia. Both were strikes against all decent and civilised people.
They underline how Islamic State hates us for who we are, not for what we do. Any idea that these fanatical terrorists will leave us alone if we leave them alone is misguided. We must confront Isis and its poisonous ideology wherever we find them. That’s why I was one of 524 MPs who voted a year ago to support airstrikestargeting Isis’s strongholds in Iraq – at the invitation of the Iraqi government. There is no logic, however, in opposing the jihadists only in Iraq – especially when they do not recognise any border between their bases in Iraq and Syria.
Over the summer I attended a meeting of the national security council with my fellow Labour MPs Harriet Harman and Vernon Coaker. We were briefed on the barbaric crimes being carried out by Isis and the very real threat it poses to our country.
Labour said at the time that our party would support the government in tackling Isis in Syria if ministers could present a coherent plan that met a number of tests about its aims and legality. I still believe this is the right approach. However, theresolution unanimously agreed at the UN security council on Friday gives us a compelling mandate to act – legally and morally.
Britain is already providing intelligence and logistical support to our allies flying missions over Syria. I believe that we should join them – but only if the prime minister can demonstrate that any proposal to extend British military action is framed within a wider strategy.
We will not overcome this evil through piecemeal interventions. We need a clear plan that leverages both our hard and soft power, drawing upon all the military, political, economic and cultural tools at our disposal.
First, we need clarity about the difference that extending Britain’s intervention will make to hastening Isis’s defeat. Our role should not solely be justified by solidarity, but on how we can make a practical difference.
Second, any military action must be accompanied by a diplomatic plan to broker a political agreement to end the conflict in Syria. We cannot divorce our action from the wider context of the civil war that has created a haven for Isis. This includes addressing the question of President Assad and his brutal regime. No adequate long-term solution can have any place for a dictator who has usedchemical weapons against his own people. We need to build on the progress made between countries at the Vienna conference and work towards a transition where he goes once and for all.
We should also acknowledge that we will not be able to defeat Isis solely from the air. In the longer term a presence will be needed on the ground to keep the peace. This needs to be led by troops from the region – otherwise we risk reinforcing Isis’s narrative. Britain must therefore work closely with countries in the region to develop a plan.
Third, we should be using our economic power as well as military resources. Isis is trading like a state, so we need to follow the money. That should include economic sanctions, cutting off the finances and targeting the human trafficking operations that fund its bloodshed.
Fourth, the prime minister must provide assurances that post-conflict reconstruction is not being treated as an afterthought. Syria is a failed state with broken institutions, and will need to be rebuilt.
The fact that many former commanders from Saddam Hussein’s army now occupy senior roles within Isis is testament to the failures of the “de-Ba’athification” process in Iraq. We must not repeat these mistakes. Military action should go hand in hand with humanitarian relief and a development effort to create a stable Syrian administration.
Finally, what makes Isis more dangerous than other foes we have faced is that it has proved itself capable of reaching across borders and poisoning the minds of our own citizens. As many as seven plots have been foiled in the UK over recent months. I hope, therefore, that any proposal laid before parliament will include measures to strengthen community cohesion, give our police the resources they need, and prevent extremism from finding a voice in our communities.
Much has been said in recent days of the importance of learning the lessons of recent conflicts. As someone who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, memories weigh heavily on my mind. Of course we must learn from the past, but we must not become prisoners of it either.
This is a moment when we should put party politics aside in the national interest. We have a duty to stand together and confront as one this common enemy. If the prime minister can show he has a wider strategy to do that, he will have my support.