I am pleased to see the US, the UK Russia and the regional powers have pressed ahead with a peace conference for Syria. When we had the long debate about bombing Syria there was an absence of informed discussion of Syrian politics. The solution to Syria’s woes has to be a new political settlement, where more people will accept the authority of the government and where the government is able and willing to govern by peaceful means, using less force.
There were two obvious reasons why there was little debate about a Syrian political process. The first is all too few UK MPs understand the parties, factions, religious groupings and terrorist cells that characterise modern Syria. Few of us have met any of them, few have visited the country or been able to read definitive briefings on the complexity of Syrian political movements. The second is those who have read a bit have come to understand that the West cannot impose a political solution on the Syrian people. It has to emerge from the parties, factions, cells and armies on the ground when they think it is better to talk than to fight.
This does not mean the West is without power or influence. Recent events have shown that working with allies in the region, and working alongside Russia, it is possible to push forward a peace process. The aim agreed this week is to help Syria move towards elections and a new national government within eighteen months. The West thinks Assad must go to allow this to happen. Russia thinks the Syrian people should be able to decide between Assad and others, but may well privately have come to the same view that Assad has to be replaced by a less contentious leader. Success is not going to be easy to achieve, but there will be even less chance if no-one tries.
Meanwhile I am pleased to see the UK is not undertaking many air strikes against Syria and seems not to have used the Brimstone missiles yet which we heard might be useful. I am glad they are taking care in identifying targets and seeking to avoid civilian casualties. There has been no early pre-emptive move against Raqqa.
As Daesh are a movement which does not recognise state frontiers, the Coalition forces being used against them in Iraq and Syria need to understand that Daesh now has an important stronghold in Libya. It would not improve western security if military action flushed Daesh terrorists out of Raqqa or elsewhere in Syria/Iraq only for them to turn up in Libya that much nearer to ourselves.
Progress was also claimed in seeking to create a single legitimate government in Libya to replace the competition between two Assemblies and various military bands. That would also be welcome. The West should not rush to give military aid to any such new government in Libya until it can see that such a government does have decent popular support, and is well enough established. The West should not allow its military resources to be used by one faction amongst many in these civil wars. Only if and when there is a government of Libya with reasonable traction over most of their country should the West consider any request for military assistance.