Analysis: Iraq scares Britain out of the Middle East

The vote sent a clear message to Cameron that, should any vote be brought to the House of Commons floor on the use of force, it would fail.

David Cameron 370 (photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
David Cameron 370
(photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
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 norms.
The motion was not intended to authorize the use of military force in Syria.
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.
“I get that, and the government will act accordingly,” he said upon hearing the vote tally.
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 States.
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 flawed.
The invasion of Iraq involved tens of thousands of troops in a ground war with the explicit aim of toppling a decades-old government.
The intelligence community incorrectly presumed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
He was not, and had not used them since 1988, before the First Gulf War.
The 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 Ghouta.
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.
Rockets, 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 worldwide.
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 masse.
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.
Britain”s Parliament 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.