Today's Parliamentary debate on the military strikes against Syria will feel very much after-the-event. The missiles have been fired and no MP can call them back. That’s as it should be. This paper argued last week both that it was necessary to punish and deter the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, and that the Prime Minister would be justified in authorising the use of force without seeking the prior consent of Parliament. So we applaud this weekend’s decisive action by the US, France and Britain. How would we feel about our role in the world if that action had taken place without us, and with our country left on the sidelines? Diminished.
That’s not to say there isn’t a role for Parliament. Far from it. MPs now have a job to do in holding the Government to account for its decision-making. There are the questions about the military action itself. Why were the strikes so limited in their extent? Did Russia have an effective veto over the targets by choosing where to deploy its forces in the country? What will be the response if Assad continues to deploy chemical weapons, as he has done after the US strike a year ago?
Then there are the broader questions. Does Britain still have a view on the outcome of the Syrian civil war, and what is it prepared to do to achieve it? Or have we decided to continue to do nothing as this human tragedy unfolds on Europe’s doorstep? Do we want the Americans to continue to deploy 2,000 troops to assist the Kurds in the north of Syria? President Macron says “yes” and claims that he’s persuaded President Trump to stay involved in Syria. What does Theresa May say, and how is she trying to influence US thinking? As someone who has resisted greater British involvement in Syria over the years, is she content for our allies to do the heavy lifting without more help from us?
Finally, there is the British public — which remains, according to instant polls, unconvinced over the need for the military strikes let alone any future involvement with Syria. On Friday this paper urged the PM to get out and engage with people. A Downing Street press conference and an appearance at the Despatch Box doesn’t count. President Macron subjected himself to a two-and-a-half-hour grilling on TV to make his case to the people of France. Mrs May needs to find her way to reach the people of Britain. She has not done that yet. We said leadership requires not just action but explanation. We’ve had the former; now we need the latter.