Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas voted against air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq after a debate in the House of Commons yesterday (Friday 26 September).
The Green MP asked David Cameron: “Will the Prime Minister recognise that killing extremists does not kill their ideas?
“On the contrary it can often feed their ideas and for that reason the former MI6 head of counter-terrorism has said that getting Saudi Arabia and Iran around a negotiating table would be far more effective than bombing.
“Why are we not hearing far more from this Prime Minister about the political and diplomatic solutions to this situation, rather than reaching for the military solution, which could undermine them?”
Mr Cameron replied: “With respect to the honourable lady, we are taking those diplomatic initiatives.
“My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has recently returned from Saudi Arabia.
“I am the first British Prime Minister in 35 years to meet an Iranian President.
“We need all those political and diplomatic moves to take place. They are absolutely vital. But in the end there is a part of this that requires a military solution.
“ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has to be defeated on the ground. That is principally the work of the Iraqi security forces but we can play a role as well.”
Later as the debate concluded, she asked the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg: “The language around air strikes sounds very clean and precise but we know that in reality they are anything but.
“Does the Deputy Prime Minister genuinely believe that all other measures, political and diplomatic, with Saudi Arabia, with Iran, have properly been pursued before we go down the route of yet more bombing?
“Does he agree with those of us who think that the alternative to bombing is not doing nothing but making the redoubled diplomatic and political efforts that we need, which we have not seen?
“That should be at the centre of this debate.”
Mr Clegg said: “While I regret this, and everybody on both sides of the House may regret it, there are times when it is simply impossible to reason with your foe.
“There is no diplomatic initiative that would be recognised by ISIL. It is a barbaric, murderous outfit, which by its actions and its pronouncements has shown that it cannot be reasoned with.
“As for the honourable lady’s suggestion that this action is precipitate, I completely reject that.
“For week after week after week, great restraint has been shown, most especially by President Obama, who has been under considerable political pressure to act more precipitately.
“He has said, sensibly, as have we, ‘No, a coalition’ – of what are now 60 nations – ‘must first be assembled. Countries from the region must play an active role’ – as they are.
“‘We need to receive a request from the government itself – the Iraqi government, a Muslim government’ as we have done.
“‘We must discuss this at NATO’ – as we have done. ‘We must discuss this at the United Nations’ – as we have done.
“I do not think that anyone could reasonably accuse this House, this government or the international coalition of acting precipitately.”
On her website Dr Lucas wrote yesterday: “Every vote I cast in Parliament weighs heavily on my mind, especially as, unlike most other MPs, I have no whip telling me what to do.
“I consider the evidence, reflect on the principles I was elected to stand up for, listen to my constituents in Brighton Pavilion.
“Never more so than on a day like today when MPs are deciding whether to carry out air strikes in Iraq against the so-called Islamic State (ISIL).
“Whatever we decide, people will die. Be it directly at the hands of ISIL, whose barbarity seems to know no limits. Or when they are hit by bombs dropped by the US, France or the UK.
“And, of course, people are dying as a result of the humanitarian crisis engulfing the region.
“The Refugee Council tell me it’s the first time since the Second World War that the number of people worldwide who are fleeing their homes is more than 50 million and the conflicts in the Middle East are a key driver of this exodus.
“The death toll from the crisis in Syria is heading towards 200,000. Getting aid to all Syrians and Iraqis in need must remain one of the UK’s top priorities.
“Among the questions I have asked myself ahead of today’s vote is how best to help close down the cycles of violence, which are taking so many lives.
“There are no easy answers. But there is this certainty: killing people rarely kills their ideas.
“The hateful ideology of ISIL must be stopped but the risk is that air strikes will be counterproductive: every Western bomb dropped will fuel it anew, providing fertile recruitment, fundraising and propaganda opportunities.
“I don’t think this is like the last Iraq war. I don’t think that the Prime Minster is manipulating intelligence or lying to the House.
“There is much in the government’s motion with which I agree. It is written in a measured and very reasonable-sounding tone.
“But the considered, thoughtful tone cannot get away from the bottom line, which is to give permission for the UK to bomb Iraq.
“Nor can it mask that what is often called ‘precision bombing’ is rarely precise. We should be under no illusion that we are debating whether to go to war.
“With virtually everyone on the government and opposition benches looking set to vote for air strikes, there is a real danger too that diplomatic and political solutions are side lined yet further – and possibly even made more difficult.
“The real question should not be whether to bomb but how we can intensify work politically and diplomatically to address the fundamental hostility between Sunnis and Shias – with regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia centre stage and support for a fledgling new Iraqi government to deal with seemingly intractable problems like the failures of the Iraqi armed forces, sharing of oil revenues, decentralisation demands and territorial disputes a top priority.
“Also uppermost in my mind, in a week where it’s been revealed that a young man from Brighton has been killed while fighting for ISIL in Syria, is that there is nothing Islamic about what this extremist group are doing.
“That as well as embarking upon a concerted effort to find a political solution to the current crisis, we must also redouble our efforts to tackle the radicalisation of some members of our communities, and redouble our efforts to address deeply worrying levels of anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents.
“Our best hope of reducing the numbers radicalised would be to champion a new foreign policy doctrine based on clear principles, consistently applied.
“This should not include selling arms to brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It should not include tolerating war crimes in Gaza. We must stand up for international law.
“Being the only Green MP can be lonely at times, especially on days like today.
“But my inbox this morning is full of messages from constituents urging me to vote against air strikes and I know that when I stand up and oppose the government’s motion, I am representing the views of many.”
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