Shocking defeat for British PM on Syria

David Cameron called parliament back from vacation thinking that they would quickly approve a resolution giving him effectively a blank check to attack Syria. He argued that it was clear to him that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons and that the UN investigation was unnecessary, which is also the Obama administration position. When that ran into headwinds and he seemed likely to lose, he agreed to a watered down resolution that would revisit the issue later depending on what the UN inspectors reported.

But even members of his own party still deserted him and he lost 285-273, effectively killing any chance that the UK would join the US in any campaign in Syria in the near future. The Guardian has a live blog of today’s events. It seems like 30 Conservatives and 11 Liberal Democrats joined the opposition Labour party. The fact that about 30 Labour MPs were absent means that the margin defeat could have been even greater.

Not only is this a huge defeat for Cameron, inciting calls for his resignation, it also puts president Obama in a bad position. If even his most loyal client state is not able to go along with him, it makes him look increasingly isolated.


  1. machintelligence says

    To repeat my earlier comment

    I like the idea of dropping the mess into the laps of the congress. Ask them what they will approve in the way of a military response and sit back. It will take them a long time, maybe forever, to come to an agreement.

    It also passes the buck to the congress, so Obama can say his hands are tied.

  2. Pen says

    ‘Small island with not enough money to cover needs of its own poorest citizens decides to mind it’s own business!’ Thank goodness for that. Yes, chemical weapons are terrible, but previous interventions haven’t been impressively effective, rather they’ve tended to make things worse.

    I’m not astonished by parliament’s decision – a lot of people never forgave Blair for taking us into Iraq when he was basically the only person in Britain who wanted to go so parliament will tend to be more cautious about warfare. Also, if you had the slightest idea how many cuts to social services have been made in Britain and how they are being received, you would understand why this is no time to spring the cost of a military intervention on a reluctant public.

  3. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Get your filthy hands off my desert. Neo-neo-colonialism style. And they said No! I’m impressed.

  4. eigenperson says

    Obama may want to ask Congress to decide so that he can wash his hands of the issue. But if he does, unfortunately for him, he’s basically estopped by his previous decision to unilaterally attack Libya.

  5. Francisco Bacopa says

    I wonder what things are like at the local Syrian consulate. I should drive by there and see. It used to be that they had separate protest days for Muslims and Christians.

    Seriously, Syria is fucked up. But can we make it better? I doubt that.

    And imagine the UK dropping out while France is still hot to bomb. My how things change.

  6. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    It’s an increase in Parliament’s control of the cabinet as well. War used to be- still is, technically- a royal (i.e. prime ministerial) prerogative.

  7. Bob Dowling says

    Pen (@2 above) has it exactly right. The UK has stopped trusting its government when it comes to going to war (and many other topics). Blair’s rush to join Bush is widely seen as a low point in the UK’s self-respect. The Syrian situation has too many echoes of the Iraqi one.

    I don’t think this will be a resigning issue for Cameron. I don’t believe it was a whipped motion. The people calling for his resignation on this issue are just going through the motions.

  8. aziraphale says

    From what I hear the US also has trouble covering the needs of its poorest citizens. And the reason is the same – the money is hoovered up by the richest 1% and by bailing out the financial sector.

    Otherwise, totally agree with you.

  9. AsqJames says

    I think Pen, @2 and Bob Dowling, @6 are right that the legacy of distrust from 2003 is the main reason for this, but I think the hung parliament and the Con/LibDem coalition is also a factor. If Cameron had had the parliamentary majority Blair had in 2003 I’ve no doubt he’d have been able to pass the motion defeated last night. In fact I think he would almost certainly have got his original un-watered down motion.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    The question of whether or not to intervene in Syria is an exceptionally difficult one – thebest analysis of it I’ve read is here : discusses it best :

    Via Jim Wright’s ‘Stonekettle Station’ blog. It is a lose lose situation with no good options and
    like that piece notes, I too don’t know what the right course of action is here. All the choices are horrible and involve needless avoidable deaths.

    I do think we need to learn more and not rush into doing anything, we need to be very clear about what we want to happen and how we’re then most likely to make that happen with the fewest bad consequences for the longer term. I sure don’t envy Obama a or anyone else who ultimately has to decide on this and will thus wear all the blame for the inevitable losses either way.

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