Why Cameron lost the vote on Syria

For days, weeks, if not months ahead the reasons why David Cameron lost last night’s vote on Syria will be chewed over by everyone from academics to those at the Dog and Duck meeting for a Friday night pint.

For days, weeks, if not months ahead the reasons why David Cameron lost last night’s vote on Syria will be chewed over by everyone from academics to those at the Dog and Duck meeting for a Friday night pint.

The conference season will take on a new complexion as a result of last night’s decision by the Commons to put the brakes on the path to military engagement, whilst those with much more understanding of the Conservative Party will assess what it all says about Cameron’s ability to connect with and understand the mood of his own backbenchers.

That said, however, the government’s defeat yesterday can be put down ultimately to a muddled, incoherent and at times contradictory strategy adopted by Number 10.

The Evidence

One of the key areas of debate yesterday was around the evidence and the need to allow UN weapons inspectors to be allowed to inspect the site of last week’s attack and report back to the Security Council in New York.

What Cameron managed to do yesterday, however, was expose the muddled thinking and lack of enthusiasm he had for the UN process to continue, fatally undermining his assertion that ministers had learnt the lessons of Iraq.

The reality is that as he was standing at the dispatch box to propose a motion to MPs that called for the weapons inspectors to complete their work and publish the evidence, he was simultaneously pre-empting it by making clear that he felt chemical weapons had been used by the Assad regime.

Why then did Cameron bring forward a motion calling for the evidence to be gathered when he had already made up his mind?

Taking Sides

A further curious argument made by David Cameron was that if military action were to be taken it would be in no way about taking sides or another but about ‘simply’ punishing those culpable of the heart wrenching deaths of innocent men, women and children as a result of chemical warfare.

One wondered, however, whether Cameron really believed this. How could it be the case that the west could fire a tonne of cruise missiles to destroy Assad’s military facilities and think that it would have no impact whatsoever on the course of the rest of the conflict?

Where is the moral outrage against those elements of the rebel forces who believe that the rape of 15 year old girl, every day for 15 days by a different person each day, is a legitimate weapon of war.Why has no one publicly declared this, in the words of US secretary of state John Kerry, to be a moral obscenity that requires robust action?

Where is the action to prevent elements of rebel forces repeating their barbaric acts such as those who, having killed a Syrian solider then decided to cut out his heart and eat it?

The red line is flawed

Perhaps most seriously of all, Cameron’s problems can be traced back to his acceptance of Barack Obama’s red line, the US President’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of chemical weapons is despicable and it is beholden on us all to do all we can to prevent their use. But why is it that the West only felt compelled to intervene when we saw children killed as a result of chemical weapons being used?

Why is it that we have sent a message that using chemical weapons will lead to action whilst killing innocent civilians using conventional weapons, such as the massacre seen in Homs, provoked the condemnation but no action?

The chilling signal this gives to despots worldwide is that it is not the deaths of innocent people that matters but how they are killed. I am tempted to suggest that it is tantamount to dancing on the head of a pin since one has to ask what the difference really is between killing an innocent child using a gun and killing them with chemicals. Cold blooded murder is cold blooded murder whatever weapon is used.

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8 Responses to “Why Cameron lost the vote on Syria”

  1. JR

    His argument was muddled, and he did not prepare. He confused
    the issue for all of the reasons that you say.

    But Cameron also lost the vote because he has lost the respect
    of the Coalition, and his Party. Even with muddled views, a Prime Minister (for
    better or worse) should expect loyalty from his own on a matter of foreign policy.

    The Tory Rebels yesterday are the hard-core of a much wider
    group of MPs with no faith in Cameron. The surprise for me is that he did not
    see this coming. He has failed to sell his vision for the party and has reduced
    himself to a manager, letting Osborne lead his fights and speak for him. These ‘Cameron
    skeptics’ have been looking to wound him for a long time.

  2. Pankhurst

    Much like Margaret Thatcher lost the respect of her party so do you think he will/should resign?

  3. Stephen Wigmore

    Spare us the ridiculous whataboutery. Of course the chemical weapons line is arbitrary, but it is one of the few taboos there is any will to maintain in the world of war. As a result of this we may go from having one taboo to none. That may be a victory for consistency but it is not a victory for a more civilised world.

  4. JR

    Yes. But I would be surprised if he does.

    Political bias aside, the Coalition (perhaps because it is a coalition) has stretched the limits of convention, reaction to public opinion and the will of the House of Commons, particularly over resignations (vis. Jeremy Hunt).

    Again, political bias aside, Blair was more willing to punish ministers (for better or worse). Cameron punished Liam Fox for Adam Werritty, which angered backbench supporters, but has tolerated huge amounts of rebellion over issues of policy and performance.

    My view is that the current Coalition has made Clegg and Cameron less willing to act against their backbenchers. As a result Government authority is brittle, and likely to stumble on policy delivery.

  5. John

    Yet not scrutinizing these taboo’s inhibits the formation of new ones. International scrutiny on the international stage of domestic conflicts is relatively new, dating back only as far as the Cold War (or the Korean conflict if you wish an exact point).
    The reason Chemical weapons are ‘taboo’ and not, say, landmines, is due to the impact the sale of landmines has on the domestic markets of the US. Should we tolerate them merely because the line the pockets of businesses in the USA?
    And SHOULD we stand idly by as people are slaughtered and then defiled, or defiled and then slaughtered? Should we not protest that such treatment of civilians is immortal, unjust and (more to the point) wholly unnecessary?
    I think it clear we should indeed protest, and merely asserting that we should defend the taboo’s we have rather than seeking to further condemn lesser atrocities insufficient. Each conflict shows humans are more than capable of breaching moral boundaries so the further we set them the less heinous the transgressions will tend to be, or the greater the outcry when they are breached.
    We must never silently dissent; silence is never dissent.

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