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Shailesh Vara MP: How can we justify helping the Libyans but not the Syrians?

Vara ShaileshShailesh Vara is the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire.

After Iraq and the continuing struggle in Afghanistan, scepticism about intervention in foreign crises may appear on the surface to be the wise approach. It is obvious that there are no easy answers, and no easy options, for Britain in its efforts to help bring the Syrian nightmare engulfing the Syrian people to an end.

Helping the moderate rebels to defend themselves would be fraught with difficulty, but that doesn’t mean Britain should simply turn away and be prepared to leave the Syrian rebels and their supporters to be slaughtered by the Assad regime forces, Hezbollah and their backers. 

The Prime Minister has arguably not received the credit he deserves for his leadership on the world stage in preventing a massacre of the Libyan opposition in Benghazi, eventually leading to the overthrow of the odious Gadaffi regime.

As Conservatives, we should be proud of this Government’s achievements in helping the Libyan people gain a chance at freedom. Although the Syrian case is far more complex and difficult, it would be hard to justify our intervention and support for the Libyan people, while doing absolutely nothing meaningful to help ordinary Syrians. 

The public certainly has its concerns, but allowing tyrants who use chemical weapons on their countrymen to prosper is not the British way, and we should be proud of that. Nor is it in our national interest either to allow Assad and his backers to regain their grip (with so far 93,00 dead), or allow the appalling civil war to spiral further downwards into destruction and barbarism.  

While there may be sharp differences of opinion about the wisdom of providing various degrees of support to the Syrian rebels, there is common consensus that every effort must be put towards getting effective negotiations going and a durable peace agreement agreed as soon as possible.

Much of the real work lies ahead, but the importance of the G8 agreement should not be overlooked. First and foremost, in contrast to what happened in the lead up to the Iraq war and its aftermath, the G8 agreement managed to keep the international community together despite fundamentally different prior positions. Rather than some countries going it alone and others refusing to get involved in peacekeeping or reconstruction efforts, the American and Russian governments are now committed to working to get a peace conference set up in Geneva. The Prime Minister deserves credit for his international leadership on this. 

Secondly, and again a demonstration that the lessons have been learned from the chaos that followed the Iraq conflict, was the recognition of the need to keep Syrian institutions intact in the event of the downfall of President Assad. It is surely not without significance that Russia, a long-time backer of the Assad regime, signed up to a communique that clearly envisaged a change in the government of Syria to a “transitional” governing body: an acknowledgment that Syria cannot return to business as usual under the Assads. Privately, Vladimir Putin is reported to have insisted that his priority is the avoidance of chaos, rather than a personal commitment to the continuation of the Assad regime. 

Finally, we must not forget the immense suffering of the Syrian people amidst the various political debates at the G8, in Parliament and elsewhere. While the agreement of a G8 text will bring little comfort to people in Syria in itself, the agreement of $1.5 billion (£960 million) of new money, including more than doubling the UK contribution, should deliver some meaningful relief to the millions of people made homeless by the crisis. 

These are meaningful achievements in the right direction, agreed under British leadership. While it is right to acknowledge the difficulties involved in the Syrian situation, tying the Government’s hands would be the easier option but the wrong one.


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