The guided-missile destroyer, USS Stout, is on its way to a position in the eastern
Mediterranean to join four other destroyers in preparation of a possible attack on Syria.
In a surprising turn of events, the Tory government of Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a major defeat
late Thursday when the House of Commons voted 285 to 272 against a motion
that would have authorized military intervention in Syria pending the results of a U.N. inspection team's probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The vote came at the end of hours of debate with so many members of parliament wanting to weigh in that the speaker of the Commons finally had to limit each to three minutes apiece.
An amendment by the Labour delegation—calling for "compelling" evidence—was rejected by 114 votes.
The main vote was to have been the first of two. The second would have come after the inspectors returned from Syria, where they are expected to be until Saturday, and presented their findings. Given that MPs would have a second chance, it was expected that the first vote would succeed. But Conservative defectors ended that possibility.
Cameron said afterward:
I can give that assurance. Let me say, the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.
How this will affect the Obama administration's apparent determination to strike Syria is unknown. But Obama is said by aides
to be willing to order a solo attack if nobody else goes along.
As anyone paying attention knows by now, the rationale for an attack on the regime of Bashir al-Assad is based on what everyone or nearly so says was a chemical attack in an area outside Damascus in which thousands were injured and, various sources say, as many as 1,300 killed. Leaders of the U.S. and British governments, including President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, say they are certain that the attack was undertaken by Syrian government forces. The regime has denied that and claimed the rebels who have been fighting it since March 2011 launched the attack. U.S. experts say they are convinced the rebels do not have the capability to attack with chemical weapons.
The U.N. inspection team has been taking samples and interviewing victims of the attack. The team's mandate is only to determine whether an attack occurred not who was responsible for it.
Please read below the fold for more developments.
The United States is moving a fifth destroyer into the place in the Mediterranean, and U.S. submarines may be there or on their way. Bases in Turkey and Turkish-occupied Cyprus are also possible launch platforms. As are a pair of U.S. aircraft carriers. The French foreign minister says that France is ready to commit military forces as soon as President Francois Hollande gives the go-ahead. How the development in Britain affects his views are anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, Moscow says it is sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to th region, according to Russian news agency Interfax. Syria is, depending on your point of view, a Russian ally or a client state. Syria's air force is mostly a mix of various MiG fighters and Russian-built helicopters. Its air defenses comprise Russian radars and surface-to-air missile batteries, although not the most advanced the Kremlin has to offer.
The Obama administration was scheduled to present its evidence and options for a military response in a 6 PM ET briefing of congressional leaders, including the chairs of the intelligence committees. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., White House national security adviser Susan E. Rice and Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were all expected to be on hand for the briefing.
Because of Russia's alliance with Syria and its unwillingness so far to join in even censuring Syria, much less taking other action regarding the situation there, it's unlikely the U.S. will go to the U.N. Security Council to seek support for military intervention. Russia is one of the five permanent members of the council that has a veto. Given that Russia refused to support a British proposal for action presented Wednesday at a closed-door session of the five permanent members, going back to the council for its imprimatur would seem pointless.
At last count 140 members of Congress, including 21 Democrats, have signed a letter urging the president to seek congressional approval of any military action, that seems unlikely. "Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution,” the letter states.
Different interpretations of the War Powers Act of 1973 say the president must seek advance congressional approval before engaging in war unless the United States is directly attacked. In the case of Libya, the Obama administration circumvented the requirement by arguing, among other things, that the action there was a NATO operation and therefore did not fall under the act's purview.
In addition to scores of MP comments in the Commons Thursday, prominent members of the House of Lords also spoke against intervention.
Lord Hurd of Westwell, former foreign secretary of Britain in the early '90s under John Major's government, said:
The aim of military intervention must be to improve the lot of those who are suffering. There's no doubt of the suffering. We see it every night on the television. It's ghastly. It's intolerable. But our action, if it's going to be effective, has got to be proportionate, has got to be in line with and it's got to help the people it's got to help. I cannot for the life of me see how dropping some bombs or firing some missiles in the general direction of Syria, with targets probably some way removed from the actual weapons we've been criticizing, I can't see how that action is going to lessen the suffering of Syrian people. I think it's likely to increase and expand the civil war in Syria, not likely to bring it to an end [...]
If I felt that military action would actually lessen, not today, tomorrow, the next day, but in the long run, the suffering of these people, would bring closer the day when that civil war would come to an end, then that would change my whole attitude.
I'm not opposed to intervention on principle. There have been cases where we have successfully intervened, but this is not likely to be one of them. That's my judgment.
And then there was Lord Dannatt, Baron F. Richard Dannatt, that is, former chief of the general staff of the British army. He said he could only support intervention as part of an international force implementing a peace agreement.