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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well done. (10+ / 0-)

    We disagree only in that I believe the SOS was delivering the rhetoric the admin. desires. Dems so fear looking soft on Defense that looking in disarray,especially 'principled,humanitarian disarray' is preferable. It is also a usefully fluid stance as the situation is evolving in the USA, and in Syria. Heck,it is so fluid that Putin could play a diplomatic role.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 12:09:22 AM PDT

  •  I have been thinking of how very different this (17+ / 0-)

    would have been had Bush not taken us to war in Iraq. We would be much better off financially, to say nothing of the costs to our servicemen & women, and we would not have sullied our reputation so badly with false cries of WMDs.

    Lying to our allies, and to us, the Bush Administration has made it impossible for us to have any kind of reasonable foreign policy. I do believe that had not Bush led us to this place, the American people would have supported taking some action against anyone who used chemical weapons against civilians.

    Today I fear that it is simply impossible. We are forced to stand by and watch while children are murdered with sarin, by their own government. And we can do nothing.

  •  Good analysis . . . (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, commonmass, koNko, GAS

    In the case of France, it's worth noting that Syria became a protectorate/colonial interest at the end of WWI.  So as happened in Mali this past year and Libya in 2011, France's position tracks closely with historic ties and interests, which, in this case, also include Lebanon, so it's not entirely surprising that they are on board.

    I agree that Cameron's situation is probably as much a measure of his standing/vulnerability within the domestic politics of the UK as it is a rejection of the march to war in 2003 in Iraq.

    The vote in the UK likely colored the Obama administration's pivot to seek a vote in Congress, although I think there are some other domestic factors at play as well (e.g. push-back from within the Democratic party on military action, as well as some legitimate and principled push-back from the GOP -- Rep. Rigel from Virginia who represents the VA Beach area where a large naval base is located -- as well as purely opportunistic anti-Obama posturing from a large chunk of the GOP).

    A "no" vote in Congress, which I suspect is a better than 50-50 proposition will complicate the Obama teams calculus, but I do not think it will preclude the use of military force.

    My interpretation is that Obama is committed to some kind of military response, but that he is willing to make a case over the next two to three weeks in order to give greater legitimacy to the action (assuming that some event does not take place earlier that precipitates action sooner).  The timing of the G-20 Summit likely factors into this as well.

    Under the War Powers Act Obama could launch a military strike for up to 60 days -- he wouldn't be the first president to conduct military action in this manner, and it wouldn't be the first time in his administration that he had exercised this authority.  I do not think he is going to bother himself much over any kind of impeachment threat.  Yes, the GOP has been fishing around for some way to do this since the day after the 2008 election and may very well pursue this line of action.   But I don't Obama will feel constrained by the threat.

    I think Obama's position is likely more influenced by his prior commitments in terms of "red liens" and his own credibility.  The video concerning a large scale chemical attack and evidence to support the finding matters as do the combined memories of advisers like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who remain haunted by the failure of the U.S. to act during the Rwandan genocide and are inclined to intervene in cases where they believe the U.S. can prevent mass slaughter (putting aside the question of whether it is appropriate here).

    I think this is the kind of issue where Obama is concerned enough about the escalation of the conflict in Syria, that he could risk his presidency over this issue.  Whether this is a wise course of action or not, is a separate discussion (much will depend on what exactly he intends to do.  Personally, I am not opposed to a military response, but I think we shouldn't bumble into a crisis that might escalate without having first built a broad coalition and having bulked up our security commitments to the point where we could engage in a sustained response with the goal of forcing Assad's removal and/or abdication).

    •  I'm not sure the House (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tardis10, commonmass, i dunno, GAS

      would accept the "War powers" justification.

      We have not been attacked, we are in no danger. The type of action being considered can be subject to a vote of Congress with no danger to the US in waiting.

      I'm just thinking aloud, but if I were a Republican, that would be part of my argument that the President exceeded his authority.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 12:35:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Under the 1973 Act . . . (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koNko, twigg, GAS

        the president has fairly broad discretion within the 60 day window.  Congress might move to impeach anyways, but legally the precedent has been set and it has yet to be successfully challenged in the courts.  The impeachment move would be driven by political rather than legal considerations anyways.

        •  The question here is imminent danger (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          i dunno, twigg, GAS

          Doesn't really exist, and he faced enough hardship over Libya. Maybe Obama is finally learning how to play 11 dimension chess?

          My take on this is he is positioning to do more than what he is saying, which no sane person thinks is going to change much and comes with a lot of risk attached.

          If he has even a limited resolution ig things go bad it's easier to take the next step.

          Some people are giving me shit for saying so, but that's my 2 cents.

  •  Pesky Parliament, Pesky Congress ? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, i dunno, twigg, GAS

    Will Congress grant the President the desired AUMF?

    I suspect it will, but not to help him.

    If Congress wanted to help the President it would deny the AUMF, enabling him to withdraw from the corner in which he's painted himself with his red-lines talk, and to do so without significant loss of credibility, for then he could say he was simply respecting the wishes of Congress (like Cameron and Parliament)

    Instead, a pesky Congress might well decide to grant the AUMF simply to put him back in the messy situation of his own making with his inopportune red-lines talk, for once the President has AUMF from Congress then the ball will be in his court again.

    And then:
     - either he doesn't act on his red lines and loses credibility, or
     - he does, and intervenes militarily without the backing of a UN Security Council resolution, which would make his intervention (even if presented as R2P) an act of aggression (Syria has not attacked the US) and a war crime.

    Either way, a pesky Congress would then be able to criticize him no matter what he did, and even try to go for his head.

    It will be interesting to see how this develops.

    We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

    by Lepanto on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 01:24:23 AM PDT

  •  France, hmmm, it tends to get really messy here (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, swarf, tardis10, twigg, thomask

    but the President of France does have the constitutional authority to launch a strike without Parliament's approval.


    The French parliament is due to debate the issue on Wednesday, but as yet, no formal vote on Syria has been scheduled. Under the French constitution, Hollande does not require parliament’s approval in order to launch a military strike.

    “Like the US president, who decided to consult the US Congress in the name of democratic principles, the French president must organise, after the debate, a formal vote in parliament," said Borloo in a statement.

    A similar request was made by Christian Jacob, the leader in parliament of the right-wing UMP, as well as representatives of several other smaller French political parties on both the left and right.

    "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." Arundhati Roy

    by LaFeminista on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 02:01:08 AM PDT

  •  In the case of the UK, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, koNko, i dunno

    I believe that as a nation they have realised that their invasion of Iraq was an international war crime. A crime for which they are disgraced and ashamed. In the UK there are still at least two ongoing inquiries into the Iraq.

    The Al-Sweady Inquiry into allegations that British soldiers tortured and executed Iraqis in an episode which, if confirmed by the investigation, would go down as one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq war.

    The Chilcot Inquiry is considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.

    The UK is a nation that realises it must rehabilitate itself from being a war crime committing nation. The vote in the House of Commons last Thursday was an indication that a slim majority of the UK politician are now rehabiliated.

    What is interesting for the British is to observe which of their politicians are not rehabilitated. This list of the non-rehabilitated includes David Cameron. However now that his intended international war crime actions have been voted down, his "I get that...", may have been the start of his rehabilition program.

  •  I watched the Parliament debate (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DRo, i dunno, annan, twigg, thomask

    And as I did so, I was playing message tag with another Dkos member (Conspiracy!) and remarking on how impressed I was with the opposition and the questions they were raising.

    As a Brit, you should be proud they rose to the task, particularly some of the skeptical Torries and Lib Dems.

    And the next day my friend wrote back to say how much he was impressed after reading the reports.

    I hope the US Congress takes it so seriously and asks similar and other questions.

    Yes, I think the dubbing Cameron took weighed on Obama's mind and caused him to make the right decision, even if it was primarily politically motivated and despite the hedging on his authority.

    Let the process work. Hold all of the feet to the fire.

    •  Yet the actual tally was 285-272. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, twigg

      Seven members could have swung it the other way. Either Cameron is so weak in his coalition that he miscalculated or he truly does not want to side with Obama. I doubt US Congress will be won over, just given how much more drawn out it is going to get.

      •  The narrowness of the vote (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tardis10, koNko

        doesn't demonstrate the gravity of the political defeat.

        Many of the Conservatives who voted with the government were, at best, lukewarm on the idea, but loyalty runs deep.

        Winning by one would have been just fine for the PM, losing that vote, even by one, is very damaging.

        I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
        but I fear we will remain Democrats.

        Who is twigg?

        by twigg on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 08:41:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I think that what happened in parliament (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    was an historic occasion. It was the first time the Suez debacle of 1956 that the UK has asserted independence in foreign policy from the directions of the US. It was essentially the backbenchers of the prime ministers own party who handed him the defeat. That all amounts to a political tsunami.

    The vote certainly had a major impact on Obama's decision not to go full steam ahead.  However, he still sent Kerry out to make his sales pitch before changing his mind on Friday night, so it seems very likely that there were other factors.

    Obama has consistently been the president who was looking for a compromise even when none was to be had. He seems to have found himself in the position where the only person left to compromise with was himself.

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