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U.K. PM Cameron loses Syria war vote
Question of the Day
The British House of Commons rejected a proposal from British Prime Minister David Cameron that would have paved the way for British military action against Syria — effectively ending the nation's chances of getting involved in a US-led strike against President Bashar Assad's regime.
The 285-to-272 vote marks the second setback in as many days for Mr. Cameron, whose government has been pushing for some sort of retaliation against the Assad government, which it says used chemical weapons last week in an attack in the suburbs of Damascus.
British lawmakers shot down Mr. Cameron's push to put off a final decision on military strikes in Syria until after U.N. weapons inspectors finish their investigation into whether chemical weapons have been used in that nation's civil war.
"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," Mr. Cameron said after the vote. "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."
The vote puts a major dent in President Obama's attempt to build an international coalition in support of military strikes.
Mr. Obama said Wednesday in an interview with PBS's "NewsHour" program that his administration has concluded the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack and there need to be "international consequences."
Senior administration officials, though, said Thursday that Mr. Obama may still push ahead with a limited military strike.
The ghost of the Iraq war hung over the debate in the House of Commons.
Mr. Cameron told the House of Commons that he is aware the debate has been "poisoned by the Iraq episode," where the U.S. made the case that it needed to go to war to oust Saddam Hussein because his regime had weapons of mass destruction. However, no stockpiles were found.
"This is not like Iraq," Mr. Cameron said. "What we are seeing in Syria is fundamentally different. We are not invading a country. We are not searching for chemical or biological weapons."
Mr. Cameron said the evidence that Assad used chemical weapons is "right in front of our eyes," and pointed to social media reports, videos and eyewitness accounts of the incident.
"The question before the House today is how to respond to one of the most horrid uses of chemical weapons in a century, slaughtering innocent men, women and children in Syria," Mr. Cameron said. "It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict. It is not about invading. It is not about regime change or even working more closely with the opposition. It is about the large-scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime — nothing else."
"Put simply," he said, "is it in Britain's national interest to maintain an international taboo about the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield? My argument is, 'Yes, it is.'"
Mr. Cameron recalled Parliament from its summer break to hold the session, hoping to win approval of retaliatory strikes.
But by the middle of the day, it became clear he faced an uphill battle and that he could have trouble reaching a consensus on his hopes of keeping the military option on the table.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked all sides to wait for weapons inspectors to finish their investigation, which he said would finish up on Friday and would report back to him when they leave Syria on Saturday.
Ahead of Thursday's parliamentary debate, Mr. Cameron's government released a legal memo arguing that Britain can conduct military retaliatory strikes even if the U.N. doesn't authorize them.
"The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity, " the memo said. "However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons."
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