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On Cameron’s defeat in Parliament over Syria 30, August 2013

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria, UK.
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By a margin of 13 votes British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote that would have led to the UK joining in punitive military action against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for his presumed use of chemical weapons.

This defeat despite the difficulties being telegraphed beforehand with Labor Leader Ed Milliband’s intransigence clear to all came as something of a shock and many columnists have seized upon it to tout a range of apocalyptic headlines. Some say that this is a huge blow to the US-UK ‘special relationship’, others see this as the UK abrogating its role as a world power, while others are heaping derision on Cameron emphasizing how this is humiliating for the Prime Minister.

I disagree with much of the commentary. I think much of it stinks of journalists cooped up in Westminster for hours on end and getting caught up in the emotion and adrenalin of one of the most extraordinary nights in British politics for many years.


…is alive and well in the UK. Nice to see. Whatever the reasons (and many of them are far from pure, judicious deliberations of the matters at hand) Parliament stopped a powerful Prime Minister from making a key policy decision. Given the carnage that a modicum of democracy spurred on in parts of the Middle East, this is not a facet of British political life that we should take lightly.

Ed Miliband

…is playing a dirty kind of politics. I personally fear that his decision to stand against the motion to punish Assad had far more to do with political posturing and point scoring than with the facts on the ground, such as we know them. I think it was a spineless, short-term decision that will embolden Assad and his ilk  and will do no good to the UK’s position in the world.  I was tempted to switch to Labour at the next election from the Lib Dems: no longer.

Britain’s role as a ‘world power’

…is concept that has now truly seen its day. For decades now the UK has not had anything like the power and influence of a true world power, but part of the British establishment nevertheless thought that by virtue of our language, the soft power of the UK and modest but still potent military power the UK’s role still far outstripped what one might expect from a country with the UK’s typical metrics. However, this decision not to intervene, to stand back and not to protect a central implicit rule of the international system – not to use chemical weapons – indicates that British Parliamentarians do not feel – by a small majority – that this kind of thing falls on the UK to enforce. This, it strikes me, is perhaps a seminal moment in this context; of the UK finally coming to terms with its middling power status, on whom the arduous burdens of enforcing tacitly understood laws in the international community does not fall.

The special relationship

…hasn’t been hugely special for a long time now. Nevertheless, the UK and the US were very close allies before the vote and will remain very close allies after the vote. While this leaves the US almost alone in potentially taking action, there can hardly be a bitter retort towards the UK: this action was taken by the British Parliament and is what we’re all about in the West…you know, democracy.

Arab indignation

…that castigates the UK for failing to help Syrians and for tacitly supporting Bashar Al Assad needs to redirected quickly, for it is getting increasingly irksome. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, have over 250 top-line combat aircraft positioned in many ways in a far better location to be effective against Bashar. Though doubtless some exists, I have seen precisely no commentary whatsoever or call for Arab nations to actually do something meaningful. Moreover, this is a resolutely a situation in the heart of the Middle East; one might think that the Arab world would feel more obliged to actually do something [and I’ll not even start on Yemen: a catastrophic situation on the very doorstep of many of the richest nations on earth but which is nevertheless failing spectacularly]. Say what you will about Qatar and its efforts in Syria, but at least it was trying as opposed to much of the rest of the Arab world that cowers away, bleating sporadically against and then for the West to ‘do something’ as the mood dictates.

The chemical attack

…was most likely carried out by the regime. Though the motivations are difficult to fathom, it seems unlikely that anyone else could have procured the necessary tons of chemicals and found a way to deliver them effectively. This, as far as I see it, is the top and the bottom of the case. Add to this panicked intercepted communications among the Assad forces, and the case appears to be relatively clear: it was the regime that carried out the attack. Whether it was ordered by Assad himself I think is a secondary consideration; he is the leader and he bears the responsibility for what his Government and forces do.


…are justified in my opinion. I think that they – if they ever come – will be extremely limited. Empty army and intelligence headquarters will be destroyed as well as (hopefully) aircraft, helicopters and tanks that have been to regularly used to attack civilian neighborhoods. This strikes me as entirely reasonable. Not only will this retard to some degree Assad’s ability to kill his people, but it will not force him from power and leave a vacuum. Also it will indicate that – eventually – the use of chemical weapons is punished. This is a taboo that is worth keeping taboo.


1. rupertbu2013 - 30, August 2013

I readily agree with the complete post.

I am very proud as a Brit’ to be associated with such a Democracy, irrespective of the merits on both sides.

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