British Parliament tells Cameron to cool it on Syria

Stuart Littlewood
Published: Updated:
Enable Read mode
100% Font Size

Gung-ho Prime Minister Cameron and his saber-rattling lieutenant, William Hague, were so eager to crank up their war machine that they’d lost all caution and reason. They’ve paid the price with a quite brutal Commons defeat.

A decade ago the pair voted “very strongly” for the Iraq war, failing to exercise due diligence and establish the truth about Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction before approving the almost total destruction of Iraq and the obscene slaughter that went with it.


Both were members of the opposition charged with holding the government of the day (Blair’s) to account.

Their recklessness continued and yesterday they attempted again to ignore public opinion and common sense with their determination to join Obama in jumping the gun and attacking Syria without waiting for the UN inspectors’ findings, threatening to bypass the UN Security Council if necessary. Fortunately there was still enough juice in our democracy to pour cold water on the lynch-mob mentality that had gripped Cameron and his government colleagues when they came to the House of Commons.

It now seems unlikely that the UK will be joining the US in an eagerly anticipated military chastisement of the Assad regime in Syria.


Press reports indicate that the view of the Attorney General, delivered to the National Security Council chaired by Cameron, declared that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack and “the world shouldn’t stand idly by”. In New York, Britain proposed a new U.N. Security Council resolution condemning last week’s attack and authorizing “measures to protect civilians” in Syria. But it bogged down when discussed with the other four permanent members, where Russia and China have a veto.

Isn’t hiding behind America’s veto exactly what Israel has done time and again for decades to evade punishment? It’s refreshing to see the U.S. State Department having to swallow some of its own medicine.

Stuart Littlewood

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, told Britain the Security Council should not have to consider a draft resolution before U.N. inspectors reported on their findings. Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman at the U.S. State Department, conceded: “We see no avenue forward, given continued Russian opposition, to any meaningful council action on Syria. We do not believe that the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action.”

Her remark is faintly amusing. Isn’t hiding behind America’s veto exactly what Israel has done time and again for decades to evade punishment? It’s refreshing to see the U.S. State Department having to swallow some of its own medicine.

Cameron had dragged MPs back from holiday early hoping they’d give him a green light to join in the military fun with America and France without waiting for factual niceties like the U.N. inspectors’ report. He was prepared to launch death and destruction based on…well, based on what exactly?

Shrieks of laughter

On this side of the Atlantic you could hear shrieks of laughter up and down the land when we heard that Obama’s warmongering stance relied on ‘evidence’ supplied by Israeli intelligence, especially when a large delegation of Israeli security officials had been in Washington several days.

Hague had said that the British government was “clear” that it was the Assad regime that carried out this large-scale chemical attack without offering anything to back it up. Perhaps he too was relying on what Israel had served up to Washington. Hague and his mates, we remember, were so very “clear” that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Such was their confidence this time that the Foreign Office website announced:

“This is the first use of chemical warfare in the 21st century. It has to be unacceptable, we have to confront something that is a war crime, something that is a crime against humanity. If we don’t do so, then we will have to confront even bigger war crimes in the future.

“So we continue to look for a strong response from the international community that is legal, that is proportionate and that is designed to deter the further and future use of chemical weapons.

“It is important to respond to what has happened. I think it’s very important not to take so long to respond that people confuse what the eventual response is about. It’s very important for a regime like the Assad regime to know that there is a clear response when they cross such an important line. As I say, this is the first use of chemical warfare in this century.”

Standing idly by

Wrong. White phosphorus was used by Israel against the densely-packed civilian population of Gaza in 2008/9. We didn’t notice Hague or Cameron clamoring for punitive strikes against Tel Aviv then. No, they preferred to “stand idly by.”

Cameron admitted that intelligence pointing to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons was not 100 percent certain. The most that UK intelligence chiefs could say was that it is “highly likely” the Syrian government was responsible.

Of course, several other countries had the motive and means to do it. Remember Israel’s Mossad motto: ‘By way of deception, thou shalt do war’, which seems to have been widely adopted by Western nations including our own.

Yesterday Cameron saw the public disquiet and anger in his own ranks at last. He changed his tune and wisely backed away from threatening imminent UK action saying that he would, after all, wait for the United Nations chemical weapons team to present their findings to the Security Council then seek a second vote in Parliament authorizing the use of force against Assad’s regime. He rather unnecessarily put a motion to the House of Commons seeking approval for military intervention in principle and if necessary.

The punishers get punished

During the debate Cameron was given a pasting for getting ahead of himself. MP George Galloway said: “It is absolutely evident that, if it were not for the democratic revolt that has been under way in this House and outside among the wider public against this war, the engines in Cyprus would now be revving and the cruise missiles would be ready to fly this very weekend… According to The Daily Telegraph this morning, only 11% of the public support Britain becoming involved in a war in Syria. Can any British Government have ever imagined sending their men and women to war with the support of only 11% of the public?”

He went on: “There is no compelling evidence… that the Assad regime is responsible for this crime, yet. It is not that the regime is not bad enough to do it; everybody knows that it is bad enough to do it. The question is: is it mad enough to do it? Is it mad enough to launch a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on the very day on which a United Nations chemical weapons inspection team arrives there?”

Sir Gerald Kaufman made the obvious point about the Israeli regime: “Syria is not the only country in the Middle East to have used chemical weapons in warfare. Israel used white phosphorous in its attack in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead - I saw the consequences for myself when I went there - but Israel gets away with it because it is on the right side of what is regarded as civilized opinion…

“If action [against Syria] is taken, what would the action be? What would its impact be? How many casualties, including among civilians, would it cause? Would Assad say, ‘Oh, dearie me, I must be a nice boy now’? Anyone who has been in Syria, as I was when I was shadow Foreign Secretary and was trying to liberate our hostages in Lebanon, knows that this is not a nice regime that will behave as we want. The Foreign Secretary said he wanted to punish Assad, but an Assad punished would be worse than an Assad as he is now. I will vote against the motion and against military action.”

Losing the vote

At the end of the evening Cameron lost the vote by 13. Opposition leader Ed Miliband immediately squeezed from him an undertaking that he would not use the royal prerogative (certain executive powers vested in the monarch but exercised by the prime minister without the need for parliamentary approval) to launch a war anyway. Cameron assured the House he had got the message.

Here is a sharp lesson in democracy for the British political elite. It should also be a lesson to America. Kerry responded by saying the US couldn’t be bound by another country’s foreign policy. Same here.

Little David and wee Willie are grounded, so Obama will have to play with his cruise missiles on his own, or with François.

What it means is that British foreign policy may now get the thorough overhaul it has long needed.

Stuart Littlewood is a marketing specialist turned writer-photographer in the UK. He is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending