WASHINGTON – Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a surprising defeat on
Thursday night when members of Parliament voted down a motion to underscore that
the UK condemns the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, and that it sees
the use of such weapons of mass destruction as a violation of international
The motion was not intended to authorize the use of military force
The vote sent a clear message that, should any vote be brought
to the House of Commons floor on the use of force, it would fail.
that, and the government will act accordingly,” he said upon hearing the vote
Cameron reconvened Parliament from its summer recess for the
crisis vote, and had already sent Royal Navy destroyers to the eastern
Mediterranean in anticipation of a strike.
Members of the Liberal
Democrats, in an uncomfortable coalition with Cameron’s Conservative Party,
joined Labor Party members in opposing the motion, citing lessons from the Iraq
War as their primary reason.
The “dodgy dossier” of intelligence that
then-prime minister Tony Blair presented to Parliament in 2003, which proved
misinformed, led Britain to take part in the invasion of Iraq with the United
Many of those who voted in favor of that 2003 motion – which
preceded the bombing of Baghdad by mere hours – voted against intervention in
Syria on Thursday night.
But comparing the lead-up to the full-scale
invasion of Iraq and the current crisis in Syria is fundamentally
The invasion of Iraq involved tens of thousands of troops in a
ground war with the explicit aim of toppling a decades-old
The intelligence community incorrectly presumed that Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
not, and had not used them since 1988, before the First Gulf War.
case of Syria is not comparable. An extraordinary amount of open-source
intelligence has provided the international community with clear proof that a
chemical-weapons attack occurred last week in the Damascus suburb of
No country – not even President Bashar Assad’s allies Iran and
Russia, or the Assad regime itself – denies that Syria has stockpiled massive
amounts of chemical weapons, primarily the type of weapon that was used to kill
more than 1,000 people last week, including women and children.
fired simultaneously – and beyond the weapons capacity of Syrian rebel forces –
were launched in the dead of night, when the air is most still and the
temperature is coldest, allowing the gas to settle.
This was a
well-planned attack, and the results played out on television screens
The fundamental goal of preventing countries such as Iran,
Iraq or North Korea from attaining weapons of mass destruction is to prevent
such scenes: the crossing of a much deeper red line, the use of WMD to kill en
There is neither an intelligence lapse on Syria nor an interest in
a ground war. The Arab League, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Germany, Australia,
Canada, France and the US, among others, have called events in Ghouta a clear
and grave tragedy that requires a serious response.
just told the world it disagrees.
Based on a deeply flawed and completely
unique vote in 2003, the House of Commons has now determined that the
responsibility to protect – a British principle – is too heavy a burden to bear.
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