KE Cellars

The unwilling.

lord north 560

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In 1782, the House of Commons of Great Britain repudiated Lord North and voted to withhold from him any further authorization for hostilities in America. That vote by Parliament effectively ended the American revolution and conceded independence to the American colonies. Less than a month later, Lord North lost his prime ministership.

That was the last time Commons denied a British prime minister the authority to go to war.

Until last week.

Two hundred thirty-one years on, Prime Minister David Cameron just had his political head handed to him in much the same way. Cameron summoned members of the House of Commons back early from their summer recess in order to duly authorize Her Majesty’s Government to join the United States in military action against the Assad regime in Syria. Much to Cameron’s surprise, (and no doubt much to the surprise of the Obama administration) the people’s representatives declined.

So much for the “coalition of the willing.” Even our most willing ally is no longer willing.

It’s not as if the Brits are unconcerned as it pertains to the use of chemical weapons by a sociopathic tyrant. It’s not as if the Brits want to stick a thumb in the eye of the United States a la the digit of Vladimir Putin’s that is now pushed deeply into the skull of President Obama.

It’s that the British people have had it up to here, and justifiably so, with military action that costs money, risks lives and, in the end, accomplishes nothing. In other words, the Brits are fed up with military action done American style.

It is axiomatic that the U.S. military is the strongest, most capable in the world. In a purely military confrontation, U.S. armed forces cannot be defeated. But there’s no such thing as a purely military confrontation. Military conflicts are initiated and managed by politicians. It is American politics as they pertain to war that renders a military that cannot be defeated into one that is never allowed to win.

A majority of Britain’s House of Commons has reached precisely that conclusion and has voted accordingly.

The British vote is an embarrassment but it carries no strategic import. British participation in the plan developed for Syria by the Obama administration would have been symbolic only. That’s because the proposed action is symbolic only.

By virtue of having gone off prompter a year ago August and saying that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime constituted the crossing of a “red line,” Obama has committed the foreign policy equivalent of mouthing off on the schoolyard. From the president’s perspective, to not back the words with concrete action is to risk becoming the kid on the playground that everyone picks on and laughs at. Thus, Obama proposes to lob a few Tomahawk missiles.

But that’s all.

There is no chance that Obama will propose anything that would have any substantive impact on the tragedy that continues to envelope Syria. Telling your enemy in advance that your offensive against him is going to last only “two or three days” and telling him specifically what assets you intend to target is unlikely to have lasting impact on his ability to continue committing mischief. It is even more unlikely to shake his resolve. In fact, it is likely to redouble his resolve.

That there is nothing strategic to be gained by the administration’s proposed operation in Syria is obvious. It is unlikely in the extreme that a few rockets fired into Syria for a couple of days will have any impact on the calculus of either our allies or our enemies other than to convince both that our politicians cannot (read: will not) win a war.

This is the realization, whether stated or not, that has come upon the Brits. Thus, as the Brits have now made clear, there is no justification for them getting mixed up in the business.

The whole world now sees that two decades spent fighting with Muslims largely for the benefit of other Muslims – all to little good effect – has served to squander much of the respect that the U.S. once enjoyed.

Obama firing a few rockets for 48 hours or so will only squander what little is left.


  1. Mark Olinger says:

    Those who support a non-intervention, isolationist or libertarian point of view need to understand that “Fortress America” does not exist.

    Today the United States can no longer rely on geographic stand-off from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, strategic nuclear deterrence, and its standing conventional military forces to ensure its citizens’ safety, prosperity, and liberty. Containment is no longer an option in protecting U.S. citizens from today’s threats.

    Today, the question before Congress is ostensibly narrow: whether to give the president a green light to use military force against the Assad regime in Syria to enforce the international norm against using chemical weapons.

    The use of chemical weapons in the region indicates that a muted response can be dangerous, if action is not taken against high value targets inside Syria, the Assad regime is going to take it as a green light and potentially begin using them on a recurring basis.

    When any president draws a red line, for better or worse, it becomes policy, the United States cannot appear to be scared or tepid. With respect to policy choices concerning Syria, we are discussing degrees of bad and worse.

    Much has happened in the Syria debate over the weekend and through today; like it or not armed diplomacy is becoming more frequent when the national security strategy begins to fall apart or has shortcomings. The questions that need to be answered are:

    1. Will limited air strikes against Syria counter the future use of weapons of mass destruction by the Assad regime and other like-minded countries?
    2. Will limited air strikes against Syria deter future aggression by the Assad regime?
    3. Will limited air strikes against Syria protect U.S. citizens at home and abroad?
    4. Will limited air strikes against Syria mitigate Iranian interference (providing arms, ammunition, money, undermining democracy, and other behavior outside of international norms) in the region?

    There are no good options when it comes to Syria, but they need to be punished for the chemical attacks on 21 August. There are risks regionally, globally, and domestically, for the United States, if we do nothing.

    Congress should think long and hard before denying the President the authority he seeks. Those tempted to vote no need to consider the precedent they may be setting and the signal they would send not only to Syria, or Iran, or North Korea, but also to our strategic partners and allies from Jordan to Japan.

    No one is talking about another Iraq or Afghanistan; I do not believe any of us want that.

  2. Linda E. Montrose says:

    This is something we should stay out of. The gas, it has been said, was accidently leaked, not intential. So why does obama have his drawers in a wad over it? Probably pulling a “clinton” to create a distraction from other issues he doesn’t want the American people to hear. Britian was wise in not following obama on this!

  3. I used to think that the nations needed to know that US resolve was steadfast and unwavering – that America backs up its words, so to speak. Obama has changed my mind, however.

    I now believe the world understands that America has short term personality disorder due the Obama administration’s unpredictable mucking up of foreign policy. The nations will disregard Obama’s red line for now. The next president will be treated as a new phenomenon and the slate will be clean.

    So, guarding what a president says on behalf of America is not worth going to war over.

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