It has felt, depressingly, as though most media commentary since Parliament's vote on intervention in Syria has focused on what it means for British politics- on the political consequences for David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, or (somewhat breathlessly and even, at times, hysterically) whether the vote plunges Britain into a new era of isolationism, appeasement and the death of the ‘special relationship' with the US (it doesn't). More column inches have been devoted to us than to the Syrian tragedy. But it is the Syrian people who should remain the focus of this debate.
Individual MPs may have had a range of motives for choosing to back or oppose the Government's position. However, I am clear that the central, clinching argument within Parliament was the inability of supporters of the Government motion to convincingly answer the question "Will airstrikes make the plight of Syria better or worse?' The haste with which Parliament was being asked to decide on the broad principles for action exposed the lack of clarity around this point. How effective would such action be in protecting Syrian civilians? To what extent would such airstrikes be, in substance or perception, an intervention on one side of a vicious civil war, with unforeseeable consequences? And given this level of risk, how much more important the task of ensuring the evidence is solid, the diplomatic solutions pursued with utmost vigour, public opinion carried at home at abroad and the legal justification rigorously tested.
The experience of the Iraq war reinforces the importance of all these points. Decisions then were reached on the basis of less than compelling evidence, with a rush to judgment that prevented UN weapons inspectors from having the time they needed to report. Vital international institutions were bypassed at crucial moments and the consequences of military action were not thought through sufficiently.
The harsh lessons of Iraq don't mean now turning our face away from the world- and of course, our involvement in Libya showed that they do not. There will be those who believe the recent vote in Parliament means that Britain cannot make a difference to the innocent civilians of Syria who are suffering such a humanitarian catastrophe. I don't agree. We must use the G20 meeting in Russia, with the eyes of the world on Syria, to seek to bring the international community together, and force the warring parties into the political solution that is necessary.
The proper lesson of the past week is that Britain's future does not lie either in turning in on ourselves nor rushing into conflict without properly considering the consequences.
It lies instead in a hard-headed multilateralism, where crucial decisions about our foreign policy are made in a calm and measured way, working together with international institutions and in accordance with international law. That is a better future for Britain, and one that will make us stronger in the world.