So, what are strikes on Syria meant to achieve? Well, as I write in The Sun today, Boris Johnson was clear at Thursday’s Cabinet what they aren’t trying to do. The Foreign Secretary emphasised that this wasn’t about regime change in Damascus or altering the course of the Syrian civil war. Instead, it was about maintaining the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. The aim is to ensure that Bashar al-Assad’s regime realises that if it uses gas, it will face consequences.
If no action is taken, Assad’s forces will step up their use of chemical weapons. Why, because they are trying to clear out opponents who are dug in and prepared to fight to the death and gas is one of the most effective ways of doing that.
Boris Johnson also argued that the UK should stand by its allies, France and the United States. He pointed out how these countries had given this country their staunch backing after the Salisbury attack.
But don’t think that the Prime Minister is being pushed into a more hawkish position by her Foreign Secretary. I understand that Theresa May is just as hawkish as Boris Johnson, if not more so, on this. Senior figures in Whitehall have been taken aback at how robust she has been on the matter. She is determined that the century long prohibition against the use of chemical weapons will not end on her watch.
These strikes won’t stop the Syrian civil war or end the human suffering there. But if they make Assad—and other dictators—think twice about using chemical weapons, they will have served a purpose.