The House of Commons vote against British involvement in air strikes against Bashar Al Assad didn’t come as a complete surprise. The stunning NO to Prime Minister David Cameron’s enthusiastic and hurried plan to join the US in punishing the Syrian dictator for gassing his own people was in fact in consonance with the public view. A Guardian online poll showed overwhelming public opposition to intervention in Syria. The paper asked its readers: British MPs ruled out military intervention in Syria in a dramatic vote on Thursday night. Did they make the right decision? Eighty-six percent answered YES. If ordinary people feel so strongly against an intervention, the reaction of MPs is understandable. “The shadow of Iraq hung over the debate but with realism that a military strike could escalate into a wider conflict with many hundreds of thousands more victims and no exit strategy. There was the sense that such action would be best led by others and with a wider consensus,” wrote Sarah Wollaston, explaining why she voted against a strike.
There is no doubt that the British vote is a huge setback for Barack Obama’s efforts to punish Assad for his crime against humanity. The British reaction generally reflects the European view, where most people are wary of a military involvement in Syria. And when the US takes action on its own, the lack of unswerving support from some of its trusted allies will only weaken Washington’s case. This means that any military action will have to be planned meticulously by the Obama administration to ensure that it doesn’t go off its stated objectives and boomerang on the president.
As Obama and John Kerry rightly argue, it would be insane not to punish Assad for unleashing chemical weapons on his own people, but the fact that Western powers can’t reach a consensus even on a limited punitive strike speaks of the ominous fate of the Syrian revolution. It will further complicate the revolution. The rebels, who have lost heavily against the forces of Assad and are finding themselves caught in a cul-de-sac, will find themselves in a dire and desperate situation.
At the same time, the House of Commons vote is a huge victory for British democracy. The only loser was Cameron. The media called the vote a humiliating defeat for the prime minister, who, despite his best efforts, failed to win support for aligning with Washington. With Iraq and Afghanistan wars fresh in their minds, the MPs were not ready to drag their country into another war when the economy was not in robust state. In that sense, it’s a vote against failed wars than one against Assad. Cameron had asked for a blank cheque, but parliament did not give him even the note of conditional willingness to pay in the future•