In 2013 Parliament was asked to authorise the use of British military force against the evil regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
In the absence of a clear and coherent strategy to achieve clearly defined military and political objectives, the House of Commons declined to do so, and the votes of Unionist MPs were crucial.
I make no apology for this. Indeed, I hope that a very hard lesson has been learnt that there were and are worse things in the Middle East than the current Syrian government, evil as it undoubtedly is.
Our focus now – as it always should have been – is the twisted fanatics of Daesh. My test for any extended British military intervention overseas is simple: will it deliver concrete results, or is it action chasing headlines rather than terrorist targets?
This is what the Prime Minister will, I trust, convince the House of Commons of this week.
The key thing that has changed since the dreadful atrocities in Paris just over a week ago has been the unanimous UN Security Council resolution directed against Daesh.
This is not because having one affords any spurious legal authority to the use of force. We’re a sovereign state and can legitimately employ force as we see fit. What the news out of New York shows is the willingness of the major military powers in the region to fight terrorism wherever it can be found.
In other words, what this war on terror needs is not a ‘coalition of the willing’. Rather it needs a coalition of the effective. And after the agreement at the Security Council, we now know that the UK, the US, France and Russia can all finally start to fight the real enemy in Syria and beyond: Daesh.
Some will ask questions about President Putin’s regime, much as they earlier raised them about Assad’s. Let no one be in any doubt: Russia is not a well or decently governed country. But we’ve allied with far worse Russian regimes than this one in the past.
We in Northern Ireland know only too well that if Western governments don’t act to decisively and swiftly defeat terrorism with all the resources at their disposal, then dealing with it can become a lengthy, broken-backed and squalid process. If this is to be done, it needs to be done well and now.
We need to learn the lesson of what we got wrong in Libya. It was entirely right for the UK, with other countries, to overthrow the monster Gaddafi. This should have been a simple matter of national honour: no one should be left to think they can arm bombers here in our country with impunity. But what has gone so painfully wrong in Libya since we intervened is a grim warning to us as we again go about the business of using Western force to solve Middle Eastern problems.
That we have adequate force to act is in itself a matter for anxious debate. While I’m glad that David Cameron has acted on the DUP’s general election pledge that the next government should spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence, it’s been money a long time coming. Many capabilities have been cut or lost and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has a lot of damage to undo, not least that caused by the last SDSR.
If the West is to defend itself, both on its own streets, and further afield, it needs to adequately shield itself. This government has cut the armed forces far too far. It would be very prudent politics for the Chancellor to ensure that the 2 per cent pledge is really delivered on.
Of the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, there is little to say, save how grotesquely unfitted they are for the challenges of the hour. Their equivocation – at very best – on IRA terrorism stands utterly exposed. They have had chance after chance to show that they’re opposed to fascistic men of violence, but time after time they duck under the lowest of hurdles.
It will do no one in British public life any credit, from either side of the House of Commons, if they try to do anything which artificially prolongs such people in office in one of our great political parties. Every day Jeremy Corbyn leads Labour, he does a day’s more harm to this country at home and abroad. Labour MPs in their own and the national interest need to unseat him. No one who puts this country first can seriously be expected to work in opposition with Corbyn and McDonnell.
There’s a serious job of work to be done in the Middle East and I expect the Prime Minister to show us that he’s up to it. We need to do this right. It needs to be overwhelming. We need to have a clear target. And we need to have a definite exit strategy. The chaos the region suffers from needs to be intelligently addressed, especially after we intervene. Not least, other Arab countries need to do much more to help Syrian refugees. Europe should not have to be their distant destination of choice. But nor should we sit idly by whilst communities that have flourished since the time of Christ are destroyed.
I will be surprised if David Cameron in these circumstances won’t be able to make a convincing case in Westminster for action. What he also must show is that realistic action will lead to credible consequences which enhance the security of the British people. This is a policy which the DUP will wholeheartedly be able to support.
• Nigel Dodds is DUP deputy leader
Chris Moncrieff’s weekly column will appear on Wednesday