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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.