British Prime Minister David Cameron has lost a vote endorsing military action against Syria by 13 votes, a stunning defeat for a government which had seemed days away from joining the U.S. in possible attacks to punish Bashar Assad’s regime over an alleged chemical weapons attack.
Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in practice the rejection of military strikes means Cameron’s hands are tied. In a terse statement to Parliament, Cameron said it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action.
In contrast, our gung ho, shoot from the hip jingoistic cowboy president, often wrong, never in doubt, is considering going it alone in the Middle East:
President Obama is willing to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria even while allies like Britain are debating whether to join the effort and without an endorsement from the United Nations Security Council, senior administration officials said Thursday.
Although the officials cautioned that Mr. Obama had not made a final decision, all indications suggest that the strike could occur as soon as United Nations inspectors, who are investigating the Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds of Syrians, leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus, the capital, on Saturday.
The White House is to present its case for military action against Syria to Congressional leaders on Thursday night. Administration officials assert that the intelligence will show that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus.
“We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict,” said a letter signed by 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Some analysts suspect the real reason Congress is not in session to address the Syria question is that leaders, as well as the White House, fear political chaos. Debate could be intense and ugly, and a vote on whether to back military action is not, as intelligence officials might say, a slam dunk.
“The administration doesn’t want a vote. It would be messy,” said Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Both parties could endure very public schisms. A solid core of Republicans have signaled their distaste for military action. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., noted there is “no threat to our homeland,” a view echoed by others. Obama also faces trouble from his own party. “Frankly, I’m skeptical about getting involved in another action in the Middle East. I don’t think it’s turned out well,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
The administration is similarly afraid a vote in Congress would not turn out well. Or as Jonah Goldberg mentioned yesterday on Fox’s Special Report, losing that vote would make Mr. Obama look “ineffectual and weak:”