We mentioned this in the QOTD last night, but David Cameron’s defeat in Parliament last night puts Barack Obama in a bind — and may have lost him his best hope for a partner on Syria. CNN’s Max Foster notes that the door may still be open for Parliament to reconsider, but for now Cameron is throwing in the towel:
ABC News sees this as a settled question on UK participation:
The Obama administration’s plans to strike at Syria lost its most important foreign ally tonight when the British government said it would not take part in any military action against Syria for its suspected use of chemical weapons.
The announcement by British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond came after Prime Minister David Cameron was defeated in the House of Commons when he put it to a vote.
Cameron said it was clear that Parliament did not want to see British military action.
“I get that and the government will act accordingly,” the prime minister said.
That means the United States could be facing the real prospect of being forced to go it alone in any strike on Syria.
Cameron may have more political problems on the horizon. After hearing about the vote at dinner with family, we wondered if this would force a resignation from Cameron and perhaps new elections in the UK. The Daily Mail notes that this was the first time a PM has lost a war vote since the American revolution, and that Cameron’s government may not last much longer as a result:
In an extraordinary assault on the Prime Minister’s authority, 50 coalition MPs joined Labour in voting against a watered-down Government motion supporting the ‘principle’ of military action.
There were shouts of ‘resign’ from the Labour benches as the result – 285 votes to 272 – was announced to a shocked House of Commons.
The last time a Prime Minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782.
Cameron later said he had no intention of resigning, but that depends on whether he can prevent a possible no-confidence vote. Labour may see an opportunity to gain ground on the Tories after this embarrassment, and enough Tories may resent Cameron’s rush to seek authorization to want him gone after this debacle.
Did Obama learn anything from this political disaster? At least for the record … no. The Washington Post reported later that the Obama administration intends to do just that, but is this determination — or just bravado?
The administration insisted Thursday that President Obama has both the authority and the determination to make his own decision on a military strike against Syria, even as a growing chorus of lawmakers demanded an opportunity to vote on the issue and Britain, the United States’ closest ally, appeared unlikely to participate.
Britain’s sudden withdrawal came after Prime Minister David Cameron, deserted by rebels in his own Conservative Party, lost a parliamentary vote for provisional authorization for military action in Syria. …
A statement distributed by the White House said: “The U.S. will continue to consult with the UK government — one of our closest allies and friends. As we’ve said, President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States. He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.”
Both privately and publicly, administration officials continued to portray Obama as edging closer to a decision to launch a limited cruise-missile strike on Syrian military targets. As a fifth U.S. warship entered the Mediterranean, Obama’s top national security officials briefed congressional leaders on evidence that they say proves that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government killed hundreds of civilians in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.
Even before the Parliament’s rejection of military action, almost 200 members of Congress — many of those Democrats — insisted that any military action requires Congressional authorization. Without the UK as a partner in the response, even more Republicans and Democrats will demand that Obama explain just what intelligence he possesses on the chemical weapons attack last week, how the US will handle the attack, and what contingency plans Obama has if this spins out of control into a regional war. For that matter, the UN might be interested in hearing that, too.
Obama is playing with fire, especially after high-handing Congress on his Libyan intervention, which turned into a disaster that culminated in the sacking of our consulate in Benghazi and a full-scale war in Mali that required full French military intervention to stop. The action by Parliament last night will have American voters wondering whether the US has more of an imperial executive than the British, rushing us into a war that is overwhelmingly unpopular already. Obama might be able to pull off an attack under these circumstances without risking a Congressional rejection, but Democrats will pay the price for it in the next election — especially if this turns out anywhere near as bad as Obama’s clueless Libyan adventure.