Moments ago the UK House of Commons, in a razor thin vote, rejected the Cameron proposal for military action in Syria with a vote 285 to 272. Cameron promptly said he would respect the will of the House of Commons and UK Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond confirmed there would be no UK military intervention in Syria. Incidentally, this may have been the best outcome for an already humiliated British premier who will avoid being dragged into an unpopular war having both sided with his greatest ally, the US, and also relented and listened to the voice of the people. More importantly, the “people” in the UK actually had a voice, which is more than can so far be said about developments in the US. And speaking of the US, the NYT reports that even as the Syrian war “option” is slowly being shut out for staunch US allies (except for France of course), that Obama is “willing to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria even while allies like Britain are debating whether to join the effort [ZH: and have now voted against it] and without an endorsement from the United Nations Security Council” citing senior administration officials.
The ETA for a unilateral move by Obama may be as soon as Saturday:
Although the officials cautioned that Mr. Obama had not made a final decision, all indications suggest that the strike could occur as soon as United Nations inspectors, who are investigating the Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds of Syrians, leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus, the capital, on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will back such a decision, or whether in addition to getting the cold shoulder from his allies, Obama will also be forced to use the War Powers Act to once more stomp out popular dissent for a conflict that as previously reported, only has the support of just 9% of the US population.
The White House is to present its case for military action against Syria to Congressional leaders on Thursday night. Administration officials assert that the intelligence will show that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus.
The intelligence does not tie Mr. Assad directly to the attack, officials briefed on the presentation said, but the administration believes that it has enough evidence to carry out a limited strike that would deter the Syrian government from using these weapons again.
It is unclear if this intelligence was obtained by the US, or through collaboration with Israeli which three days ago was said to have intercepted “Syrian regime chatter” confirming Assad was behind the attack.
Specifically, the intelligence intercepted refers to the following:
One central piece of the White House intelligence, officials say, is an intercepted telephone call from a Syrian commander who seems to suggest that the chemical attack was more devastating than intended. “It sounds like he thinks this was a small operation that got out of control,” one intelligence official said Thursday.
Curiously, Obama’s proposed line of attack, pardon the pun, and distinction from comparable previous foreign policy blunders most recently by the Bush administration, is that unlike in Iraq, Obama does not seek an overthrow of the Assad regime and merely “reinforcing an international ban on the use of chemical weapons, and seeking to prevent their use in Syria”:
Obama’s rationale for a strike creates a parallel dilemma to the one that President George W. Bush confronted 10 years ago, when he decided to enter into a far broader war with nearly 150,000 American troops in Iraq — one that the Obama administration says differed sharply from its objectives in Syria — without seeking an authorizing resolution in the United Nations. In that case, they said, Mr. Bush was seeking to overthrow the Iraqi government. In this one, they argue, he is reinforcing an international ban on the use of chemical weapons, and seeking to prevent their use in Syria or against American allies, including Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
The current American objective, officials say, is to halt future use of chemical weapons rather than remove the leadership that allowed their use. Mr. Obama has referred, somewhat vaguely, to reinforcing “international norms,” or standards, against the use of chemical weapons, which are categorized as weapons of mass destruction even though they are far less powerful than nuclear or biological weapons.
Not surprisingly, this differs from what Hillary Clinton said over a year ago. From AFP in June 2012:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday she “made it very clear” to her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at the weekend that the focus was shifting to a political transition in Syria.
“Assad’s departure does not have to be a precondition but it should be an outcome, so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves,” she told reporters in Stockholm.
This sounds dangerouly close to intent to overthrow a government.
Finally, and perhaps worth noting, is the question of just what form of delivery did the alleged Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons come in. Hopefully it was not remote-controlled toy planes. Recall from June:
Iraqi officials say they have busted a plot by an Al Qaeda cell to carry out poison gas attacks in the Middle East, Europe and North America.
The attacks could have possibly been carried out by remote-controlled toy planes, which were seized at two workshops in Baghdad, the BBC reports.
Mohamed al Askari, a spokesman for Iraq’s defense ministry, said on Saturday that five suspects were detained over operations at the two facilities, where they were allegedly planning to produce sarin and mustard gas using instructions from another Al Qaeda group, Sky News reports.
Askari said the suspects had materials and formulas to make the gases — and had a network to smuggle the toxins out of Iraq — but they had yet to produce any weapons.
The arrests were made after an investigation by Iraq and foreign intelligence services, Sky News reports.
Al Qaeda in Iraq detonated 16 chlorine bombs between October 2006 and June 2007, the BBC reports.
Either way, the just concluded UK vote is not only a huge blow to David Cameron, and a shocking success for democracy, but leaves Obama in a truly no win position: he will be humiliated if he backs off now after having escalated the war drums to a beating frenzy, and will be blasted by all sides of the political spectrum if he proceeds to engage in a widely unpopular military conflict.
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Update from the UK:
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says he expects military action against Syria will still go ahead despite Britain not taking part
— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) August 29, 2013
Check to you, Obama