The U.K. House of Commons voted against military action in Syria on Thursday, after a difficult political fight by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who struggled to convince many members of Parliament in recent days that there was enough evidence on the table to justify a strike against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The government's motion on military action in Syria failed by 13 votes. Earlier today, the government there released the first intelligence reports outlining the case for Assad's culpability in a deadly chemical strike last week.
Following the vote, David Cameron gave his assurance that he would not attempt to circumvent Parliament and attempt to find another way to authorize a British military response to Syria.
In an emergency session Thursday evening, a first motion, an amendment by the opposition Labour party, would have demanded compelling evidence from the U.N. before approval of British military action. It failed to pass by 112 votes in the House of Commons. While the U.S. has made their intention to move forward with limited military retaliation against the regime without U.N. support, the issue was more divisive in the U.K.. Cameron's motion on military action lost by a slim margin, 285 to 272, so it's possible that he could try again to pass something supporting U.S. military retaliation against Syria, but it's not clear what, exactly, that would be. The bottom line, here, is that a direct British response towards Syria is off the table.
UK defence secretary Hammond to BBC now: There will be no British military intervention in #Syria.— Reidar Visser (@reidarvisser) August 29, 2013
For now, however, the failure in Parliament doesn't look good for the leader:
Tomorrow's Daily Telegraph front page: 'It is our duty to attack Syria' pic.twitter.com/gKqwpusFm8— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) August 29, 2013
Defence secretary tells #newsnight the defeat in commons will put "strain" on the special relationship with America— Neil Breakwell (@BreakwellNeil) August 29, 2013
In a statement, Cameron responded to the vote:
I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.
Meanwhile, the U.S. reportedly prepared itself to act without the U.K's help, anyway.
A senior US official tells CNN unilateral action against Syria may be necessary following the vote in Britain.— Jim Acosta (@JimAcostaCNN) August 29, 2013
After earlier reports indicating that the U.S. had delayed a possible strike until Tuesday, the U.S. now appears ready to act as soon as Saturday, when the U.N. inspectors in the country leave. Here's the New York Times, with more:
The decision not to wait for the British Parliament to endorse a strike is notable, however. Mr. Bush relied on what he called a “coalition of the willing,” led by Britain. Mr. Obama has made clear that the initiative here would come from the United States, and that while he welcomes international participation, he is not depending on the involvement of foreign forces for what will essentially be an operation conducted entirely by the United States, from naval vessels off the Syrian coast.
The White House will reportedly meet with Congressional leaders on Thursday evening to lay out the case for a retaliation on Syria. While the President has said that he's not yet made a decision on a Syrian strike, all signs point to a limited air strike against strategic targets in the country. The U.S. believes it has evidence connecting the Syrian government to the chemical attack that killed hundreds last week, including an intercepted phone call between Syrian officials. But that evidence doesn't directly connect President Assad to the decision to carry out the chemical attacks, and U.S. intelligence officials have yet to establish a motivation for the regime for such an attack, on the scale seen near Damascus.
Update, 8:12 p.m.: On Thursday evening, the White House shared intelligence on the chemical attacks with lawmakers. The administration faces bipartisan pressure to elaborate on its legal argument for going ahead with limited attacks as legislators disagree on whether the President needs congressional approval to go forward with military retaliation. During the briefing, Obama indicated that he's still undecided on how to proceed.
Rep. Engel, Ranking D on Fgn Affairs: "The President's national security team said that he is still weighing his options."— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) August 30, 2013
Engel's statement continues: "The White House made very clear that it is beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime. I agree with the President that the use of these weapons not only violates international norms, but is a national security threat to the United States."
Update; 9:52 p.m.: The list of congresspeople on the briefing on the U.S. intelligence related to the chemical strikes in Syria last week is out. It doesn't include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, or the leadership of congressional homeland security panels. Also among those omitted? Senator John McCain, who went on CNN on Thursday to discuss the proposed Syrian intervention. Essentially, McCain doesn't think we're reacting strongly enough. He'd like us to arm the rebels:
"We should be helping them attain the goal of freeing themselves from one of the most brutal dictators in history," he said, "To announce that any action we take would not be a regime change to me is incomprehensible."
According to the Hill, the congress members on the call seemed convinced by the administration's evidence, but disagree on how, and when to take action. Here's the full list:
Speaker John Boehner, R-OH
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA
Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, Assistant Majority Leader and Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX, Republican Whip
Representative Eric Cantor, R-VA, Majority Leader
Representative Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, Majority Whip
Representative Steny Hoyer, D-MD, Democratic Whip
Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, Democratic Conference Committee Vice Chair
Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, Chair, Appropriations Committee
Senator Carl Levin, D-MI, Chairman, Armed Services Committee
Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Chair, Select Committee on Intelligence
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK, Ranking Member, Armed Services Committee
Senator Bob Corker, R-TN, Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, Ranking Member, Select Committee on Intelligence
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Ranking Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS, Ranking Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense
Representative Bill Young, R-FL, Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense
Representative Ed Royce, R-CA, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee
Representative Mike Rogers, R-MI, Chairman, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Representative Nita Lowey, D-NY, Ranking Member Appropriations Committee and Ranking Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Representative Buck McKeon, R-CA, Chairman, Armed Services Committee
Representative Eliot Engel, D-NY, Ranking Member, Foreign Affairs Committee
Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, Ranking Member, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Representative Kay Granger, R-TX, Chair, Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs