Since the vote in the UK Parliament that put paid to any British involvement in military action in Syria (at least for now), I have observed some confusion as to whether or not it is linked to the apparent change of mind from the President.
This is a complex issue. British politics, and how they relate, in this instance, to American decision making is nuanced. The votes in the UK do not control US Foreign policy, but maybe this time it did influence it.
Let's try to examine and expose what happened in the UK, and why it might have been important here.
This brief and amateur analysis has its origins in the remarks made by the President when he drew his now infamous "red line in the sand".
At that time I remember thinking that if he was drawing lines, then I hoped he had ink in the pen. As it turns out, he hadn't. I have seen commentary suggesting that the drawing of the line was foolish, a mis-step, an error. Well it now appears that it was, but only because it didn't work, and hindsight is always so damned clear.
It was reasonable that the President warn against the use of chemical weapons. We knew the Syrian forces had them, and desperate people do desperate things. If there was an error I would suggest that it wasn't the warning, but the clear implication that America would take action. I rather feel he should have drawn that line, but concomitant with it demanded that the "community of nations" would be the ones who would have to respond. As I said ... easy to say now.
Last week there did appear to be a softening of the stance. Only a hint, but I rather had the feeling that Barack Obama might just be testing the waters in the event that he decided against lobbing missiles at Damascus. Sure they were still heavy on the rhetoric, but comments about ... well just a few missiles, limited attack, short duration and definitely no boots on the ground ... that kind of thing.
The French are not the natural allies of the US. Why would they be? They are fiercely independent and while the French people will happily forgive any number of mistresses, and other indiscretions, they will not forgive their government appearing to support the US without some very solid reasoning. They also never do as they are told!
The President was no doubt glad of French support, but he also needed America's oldest friend onboard, and hopefully the Arab League too.
Towards the end of last week a careful reading of the British press indicated that not all was well in the UK. David Cameron had recalled Parliament for a debate and vote authorising military action in principle, but requiring a second debate when the UN Weapons Inspectors had reported. This was a direct hangover from 2003, when Hans Blix wanted six more weeks, and Bush and Blair didn't give it to him. The Brits have not forgotten that they were lied to, and they will not forget any time soon.
There were also rumours that some senior Conservatives were not too happy with the idea of any action.
Here is where it gets complex, and you need to understand how the UK works, so bear with me. This is the "potted" version.
Normally the leader of the majority party in parliament becomes Prime Minister, and the majority party usually has an overall majority in the House of Commons. We can forget the Lords for a moment, and we can forget the Queen permanently because she has no power at all. Generally this means that, with a healthy majority and a "three-line whip", the government can pass anything it wants. A "three-line whip" almost compels MPs to vote with the government. If they do not, they may have the whip withdrawn which means they are thrown out of the party and their seat goes to someone else at the next election ... Imagine if Harry had that in the Senate!
But things in the UK are not normal. David Cameron does not have a majority, he has a coalition between himself and the Liberal Democratic Party. They are a cross between the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party, in a US context. I know, it's crazy, and it doesn't make any sense to me either. Still, those are the forces Cameron needed to muster to get a vote passed.
Well by about 5.00 pm on the day of the vote (vote was at 10.00 pm), it was becoming clear that Cameron had miscalculated, he didn't have the votes. Not only did he not have the Lib Dems, he didn't have thirty of his own side, and two who simply failed to show. In fact the story is that he only had about 30 of his own side, with the others voting out of Party loyalty.
This was a catastrophe of almost Biblical proportions. Prime Ministers do not call for votes that they will lose ... ever!
So when the vote was tallied, and the result announced, what we heard were words that sounded quite remarkable to many Americans. We heard Cameron acknowledge the vote and say "I get that".
He had little choice in the matter. At that moment in time he wasn't thinking of Syria, or President Obama, or the French ... He was fighting for his political future. He had been slapped down by his own side, and only a complete surrender to the will of parliament was going to save his Premiership, and even that might not be enough.
In the British system the Prime Minister has a problem, and in a coalition government that problem is many times larger. If Cameron had not wholly and immediately capitulated, the next action would have been the Leader of the Opposition (Ed Milliband - Labour) tabling a motion, "This House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government". That would have happened the following day. Had the government lost that vote then the UK would now be six weeks from a General Election. Yes, it happens that fast.
Meanwhile, back in the Situation Room there were probably a few naughty words uttered, then an immediate damage limitation exercise began. Absent the "broad coalition", and given the clear antipathy in the US poeple for more war, the President needed a way out, and he needed one fast. The Brits, by the way, will not revisit this unless something dreadful happens to concentrate minds.
So he did what he should have done sooner, he wrote to Congress. We have been asking him to reconvene Congress for weeks. He could have done it, and he should have done it, and now he had to do it ... well at least state that Congress needed to vote.
The President drew a line in the sand. A reasonable line that fully complied with international law. But international law is not party politics, and while the stance of the President is awesome, he was now facing "going it alone", and his neck was on the block.
We do not have a reasonable Congress, one where honorable men work out their patriotic, but philosophical differences. I don't know if America ever did have that, but right now Congress is as far from that ideal as it has ever been since the civil war. There is a small but determined group of political terrorists in Congress, whose only ambition is to make this President fail. If they have to destroy the middle-class and the economy to do it, they have no conscience about that.
What better than to hand them a President who has little international support, no appetite among the American people for more fighting, but who has just ordered an act of war against a foreign country, where that act could be challenge legally.
How fast can you say "Impeachment"?
It might be a bullshit charge. It would go nowhere, but it would go nowhere very slowly while the Administration ground to a halt fighting off attacks from every flank.
So he did what he had to do. If any action is to be taken, militarily, and I hope it is not, then Congress needs to own it. I'm not even confident at this point that Barack Obama even wants to take any action ... his comments have been less than lukewarm in the last couple of days.
So when you hear folk suggest that other members of the government team might consider toning down the rhetoric, they might have a very good point.