Thursday, August 29, 2013

Parliament to British Military / Industrial / Orwellian Complex: "Drop Dead"

Courtesy of

LONDON—British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a preliminary vote on Syria, an early sign of the pushback Western governments may face as they prepare to launch an attack.

Thursday evening's vote was nonbinding, but in practice the rejection of military strikes means Mr. Cameron's hands are tied. In a terse statement to Parliament, Mr. Cameron said it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action.

Facing vocal opposition from politicians and the public, Mr. Cameron had told parliament earlier that military action was justified on humanitarian grounds and the need to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He said the case for action wasn't about taking sides in the Syrian conflict or about changing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The prime minister said no decision to act had been made and that the U.K. wouldn't become involved in military action until a further parliamentary vote, due next week, after inspectors from the United Nations report their findings on the use of chemical weapons last week. Western governments have said the Assad regime carried out the attack.

But, he said, military intervention would be legally justified and pointed to the government's legal advice, which says that even if the U.N. Security Council can't agree on action, the U.K. would still be permitted under international law to act.

Mr. Cameron pointed to an assessment from the government's Joint Intelligence Committee that said there is "little serious dispute" that chemical weapons were used and concluded "it is highly likely that the [Assad] regime was responsible" for the attacks that caused hundreds of deaths. The body, which brings together the heads of Britain's intelligence agencies and advises the prime minister, said that it believes the Syrian government has used lethal chemical weapons 14 times, albeit on a smaller scale, since 2012.

Mr. Cameron didn't provide detailed evidence to support those conclusions, but highlighted "open source" evidence such as extensive video footage and the fact that Assad regime was capable of such an attack and the opposition wasn't.

"Intelligence is part of this picture but let's not pretend there is one smoking piece of intelligence" that proves the Syrian government was responsible for the use of chemical weapons last week, said Mr. Cameron. "I am saying this is a judgment, we all have to reach a judgment about what happened and who is responsible," he said.

Thursday's vote is a precursor to a further parliamentary vote due early next week specifically on whether the U.K. should get directly involved.

The timing of the latter for next week could delay any military response by the British. It also could make it more difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western allies to convince their own publics—already weary from years of difficult military intervention in the Middle East—of the need for intervention in Syria.

The situation also raises the question of whether the U.S. would go ahead with military action without British support. France's parliament is due to hold an emergency session on Sept. 4 to debate the Syrian situation, though the country's president, Fran├žois Hollande, can engage French troops in a battle or order overseas airstrikes without seeking prior parliamentary approval. France's defense minister said the country's military was "in position" to participate in possible strikes against the Syrian regime.

Mr. Cameron indicated he won't proceed without parliamentary approval. "Our actions won't be determined by my good friend and ally the American president, they will be decided by this government and votes in this House of Commons," Mr. Cameron said.

The prime minister had hoped to secure parliamentary support for U.K. military action following Thursday's debate, but he was forced to change tack late Wednesday by making a key concession by saying politicians would be able to vote before any direct British involvement in military action occurs. That vote is due to take place early next week after the U.N. weapons inspectors report their findings, in an effort designed to avoid a repeat of the country's swift backing for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Assad has repeatedly said his country will defend itself against any aggression.

Mr. Cameron faces pressure from the main opposition Labour Party, as well as from some politicians in his own Conservative Party and the governing coalition's junior partner, the Liberal Democrats.
Among key concerns raised during Thursday's parliamentary debate involved whether military action would prevent the future use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and what the implications there would be for the stability of the Middle East region. John Baron, a Conservative politician and among skeptics on intervention, said that no matter how clinical the strikes there is a real risk that military action would escalate the violence and suffering in Syria.

U.N. officials said weapons inspectors will be done with their work in Syria by Saturday and that their conclusions will be shared with members of the Security Council.

Damascus was quiet Thursday, with the shelling and rocketing from the military offensive on the suburbs appearing to have stopped. People were out and about shopping and stocking up on essential goods amid a more robust military presence on the streets and some roads where government officials reside are closed. Newspaper headlines in Syria continued to be defiant against a military strike by the U.S. and allies.

Until Wednesday Mr. Cameron and his government had been moving ahead with urgency. Mr. Cameron in recent days returning early from vacation, recalled parliament to debate the issue, and introduced a draft proposal to the U.N. Security Council seeking authorization for military action against Syria to protect civilians.

The British military also undertook contingency plans, which continued Thursday with the deployment of six RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets to Cyprus. A defense ministry spokesman described it as "a movement of defensive assets operating in an air-to-air role only. They are not deploying to take part in any military action against Syria."

—Nicholas Winning in London, Sam Dagher in Damascus and Stacy Meichtry in Paris contributed to this article.
Write to Cassell Bryan-Low at

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