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Cameron’s Defeat

Iain Martin marvels [1] at Cameron’s decision to recall the House of Commons for today’s vote:

It remains baffling. Why on earth did the Conservative leader and his aides not war-game this properly? Their strategy was predicated on the Labour leadership falling in to line behind intervention [bold mine-DL]. It was always a daft presumption, after Iraq and with public opinion so sceptical of more involvement in foreign wars. And Cameron’s team overlooked or ignored that many Tory MPs were equally sceptical.

If I had to guess, I would say that Cameron and his aides must have assumed that the opposition would submit to whatever the government wanted just as every Tory leader did when Blair was Prime Minister. It may never have occurred to them that Miliband would take advantage of the extraordinary unpopularity of going to war in Syria to embarrass the government, because that is the sort of thing that they never did and would never do while in opposition (and that’s definitely not a compliment). Because of that, they dismissed dissension in the government ranks as irrelevant, and they expected that the public’s opposition to another war would never enter into it. Cameron gambled on the assumption that enough Members of Parliament would have as little respect for public opinion as he does, and it backfired on him in what Fraser Nelson has called [2] “one of the most spectacular parliamentary defeats in modern political history.”

Nelson continued:

It looked like an Iraqi Groundhog Day – and all for what? So Britain could piggyback on an American military strike on Syria, to help an America that doesn’t need our help anyway?

That is what makes Cameron’s gamble harder to explain. He originally positioned himself as a Tory leader that wanted to be less reflexively supportive of whatever the U.S. wanted to do overseas, but since he has been in office that isn’t the way that he has governed at all. It is fitting that he should suffer one of his biggest political setbacks as a result.

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22 Comments To "Cameron’s Defeat"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 29, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

Toffs just aren’t what they used to be. Smarmy and flaccid, an English Marco Rubio.

#2 Comment By James Canning On August 29, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

Cameron promised Britain would not provide military supplies to the insurgents in Syria without prior approval from Parliament. I think he did the honourable thing by having the vote.

#3 Comment By JB On August 29, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

Any prime minister, of any party, should have asked Parliament for their consent before getting involved in Syria at all. Good that Cameron did so, whether it was “politically savvy” or not. It’s more than Bush or Obama have done before getting us entangled in every foreign conflict that comes along.

#4 Comment By Roddy On August 29, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

Makes Angela Merkel look like she knows what she’s talking about, or at least has a healthy respect for German popular opinion.

Cameron deserves this rebuke. British politicians never look more craven then when they’re taking their cues from some thoroughly unrepresentative, unwholesome (and un-American) melange of DC hot house flowers and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which they somehow take for the Will of the Great American People.

#5 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 29, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

Gotta give Cameron some credit for asking Parliament. Let’s see what the One will do. Maybe this will give him an out.

#6 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 29, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

Ed Milliband is, ironically, the Rand Paul of Great Britain. Maybe the imperial scoundrals will get the message when it comes from both ends.

#7 Comment By David Lindsay On August 29, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

It is perfectly clear: if a Prime Minister cannot persuade the House of Commons that he would be right to exercise the Royal Prerogative to take this country to war, then he has lost the confidence of that House in him as Prime Minister.

He ought therefore to resign.

That this particular Prime Minister recalled Parliament for this, is just a bonus.

#8 Comment By Bert On August 29, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

Cameron has been a pitiful leader who has managed to squander almost all of the advantages the Tories acquired after 13 years of Labour.

Vote UKIP.

#9 Comment By tbraton On August 30, 2013 @ 12:59 am

Two points from the Daily Beast account of the vote in Parliament:

“Crestfallen, he[Cameron]admitted that he would not be able to proceed alongside the U.S. “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,” he said.

Richard Ottaway, chairman of the House of Commons’ foreign-affairs committee and a member of Cameron’s Conservative Party, had conceded that any military intervention would not have been legal without action at the U.N. “There is no legal precedent whatsoever for an intervention of this nature without a U.N. resolution,” he told The Daily Beast.”

Imagine that. A Parliament reflecting the will of the people and rejecting an attack on Syria. Plus an acknowledgement from the chair of the foreign policy committee that, without UN authorization, there is no legal basis for an “intervention of this nature.” Will miracles never cease? I don’t know about “God save the Queen,” but a cheer for the British Parliament is in order. Now back to the depressing reality that our President, a former lecturer in constitutional law and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, will proceed to launch strikes against Syria without a vote by Congress and without a UN resolution.

#10 Comment By Jim Dooley On August 30, 2013 @ 9:42 am

“Now back to the depressing reality…’

Yes. The depressing reality is that the grossly overstaffed White House has become the domain of academics and think tankers with no understanding of the world. We live one thought experiment away from catastrophe.

#11 Comment By balconesfault On August 30, 2013 @ 9:52 am

Let’s see what the One will do.

Who is “The One”? Sounds like a line from some paranoid fantasy 1960’s TV show.

But personally, I would love to see the American President call on Congress to pass a resolution granting him authority to intervene militarily in Syria before taking any action. That would set a healthy precedent indeed.

#12 Comment By BenSix On August 30, 2013 @ 9:55 am

According to British commentators, this is a dreadful as we will no longer be a “shaper” of world events. Degrading as it is, we may have to join the lowly ranks of Sweden, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, South Korea…

#13 Comment By icarusr On August 30, 2013 @ 10:03 am

There is the story of the Canadian prime minister who, going into a budget vote, forgot how to count. (Minority government, he lost the vote, resigned and lost the election.) Cameron might have gambled. Then again, he might have counted. After the vote, the dominoes fell. The Canadian prime minister followed to say no military action. (It helps that Parliament is prorogued and he had no intention of recalling it.)

I tend not to ascribe too much strategic thinking to politicians and bureaucrats; I do not believe in conspiracies precisely because I think much of what goes on in government, or what goes wrong, or indeed in large business can be explained by sheer incompetence. (cf. Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bremer & Iraq.) And yet. The series of unfortunate circumstances (lost vote! in a minority parliament! who could have predicted that?); the public Hamlet-like musings by leaders who not only ought to know better, but actually do know better, suggests to me that perhaps – perhaps – much of what we see as gambling or indecision is or might not be incompetence.

Was watching BBC and these three lines in the banner struck me: “Congressmen asking how will be paid for? What is the legal rationale? Who else will support the US?” Now, I don’t know if these were questions raised by Democrats or Republicans. Peu importe. Reflect on that for one second.

If you are a president who came in with the avowed intent of changing not just wrong-headed wars (Iraq) but also how we go to war (“freedom fried”), what is the best way to do it? Here is a cause even the oikiest Republican gets: WMD. And it is a country and a people that, by all accounts, most Republican leaders have been wanting to bomb bomb bomb for at least a year. But you have an anticolonial Muslim Kenyan socialist terrorist-palling impeachable president in office – can’t let HIM make those decisions all by himself, can we now? So you ask questions that you could not ordinarily ask a Republican President – not just that, if anyone did ask, you would tell them to fork off and call them traitors.

And if you are Cameron, your toff heart is in the right place, but you see what’s happened to Blair and his legacy. You want to be seen to be doing SOMETHING, but you have neither the money, nor the resources, nor indeed the gall to do it. So you recall Parliament knowing, or at least guessing, or at least not closing yourself off to the possibility, that this time, you will not get a blank check.

I am not saying this is all what happened. And the Obama administration, between Power and Kerry, is peopled by people who really do think you can save a civilian population by bombing their country. And yet, I do wonder. Meep meep?

#14 Comment By scottinnj On August 30, 2013 @ 10:15 am

From a purely political/cynical perspective (leaving aside the, you know, constitutional perspective) I don’t see any downside for Obama putting this to a vote. If it passes (which I think would be likely even in the House), he then has bipartisan cover for the inevitable FUBAR in Syria. If it fails he can spin the inevitable FUBAR on the GOP because the GOP chose to side with the guy who killed 100’s with chemical weapons.

Oh sure the GOP will castigate the guy if he puts it to a vote for lacking ‘leadership’ or something like that. Though I think I’m sure that had Obama sucessfully led the D-Day invasion and been the 1st off the landing boat, John McCain and Lindsay Graham would be saying he did not show ‘resolve’ or something like that.

#15 Comment By sglover On August 30, 2013 @ 10:44 am

Who is “The One”? Sounds like a line from some paranoid fantasy 1960′s TV show.

It’s originally from “The Matrix”, but Oprah Winfrey anointed Obama with the title during the 2008 campaign.

Maybe it was professional courtesy. Oprah’s been bamboozling blacks for decades, so she’s probably got a keen appreciation for Obama’s “gifts”.

#16 Comment By Rob in CT On August 30, 2013 @ 11:05 am

This really is excellent news.

Anyone who is against this intervention really needs to contact their representatives. It’s not hard to do – send in an email. Every little bit of nudging we can give Congress is potentially helpful.

The core problem here is that Congress has for a long time refused to challenge Presidents when they want to get into wars. It goes beyond Obama’s current attempt. If we want to keep our country out of wars, the best thing we can do is encourage our congresscritters to push back.

Do it. At worst, it’s a waste of 30 seconds of your time.

#17 Comment By balconesfault On August 30, 2013 @ 11:15 am

@sglover: Winfrey’s quote: “We need a president who can bring us all together, I know he is the one.”

In that context, if we looked at every Presidential candidate who has been called “The One” … my guess is that it would be just about every Presidential candidate, in one way or another.

Decontextualizing the phrase simply makes you seem petty.

#18 Comment By balconesfault On August 30, 2013 @ 11:16 am

@Rob in CT: Anyone who is against this intervention really needs to contact their representatives. It’s not hard to do – send in an email.

Exactly. Or for one-stop shopping, go here:


#19 Comment By Derek Leaberry On August 30, 2013 @ 11:29 am

Cameron will be out only after the next General Election, probably in 2015. He and the Lib-Dems made a pact to stick together for five years. Cameron and Clegg have made their bed and can only hope for some sort of groundbreaking event to stir the political scene. They’re like a husband and wife stuck in a bad marriage they can’t get out of. As for 2015, Labour looks to win a 375+ seat majority with the Tories dropping to 200 and the Lib-Dems losing about half their seats.

#20 Comment By Myron Hudson On August 30, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

As icarusr said “…the Obama administration, between Power and Kerry, is peopled by people who really do think you can save a civilian population by bombing their country.” Right. Ironically, Kerry himself is a veteran of the war in which we had to destroy a village in order to save it.

Unfortunately Congress is of the same very small caliber.

That said, I’m thrilled with events in the UK.

#21 Comment By W.E.B. Dupree On August 30, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Pretty sure balconesfault was referring to British TV show The Prisoner, as in the question frequently posed to whoever was Number Two in that week’s episode: “Who is Number One?!”

#22 Comment By Wile E. Quixote On August 30, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

I wonder if perhaps Cameron was displaying some intelligence and a degree of self-preservation by calling Parliament into session. Now he’s got cover and can say to Obama “Look, you know that I’d love to help you out with your latest wog-bashing adventure in Syria but Parliament has completely tied my hands. Maybe next time?”