It's The UK Parliament's Perogative: Does The Vote Affect British–US Relations?
04 September 2013
By Amir Taheri
"The British parliament has given Bashar Al-Assad a
blank check to use chemical weapons!"
That is the tone of some media comments in the wake of
Prime Minister David Cameron's failure Thursday night
to get his resolution approved by the House of
Well, not so fast!
A closer look might offer a different picture.
To start with, the parallel debates in the Commons and
the House of Lords provided an opportunity for a rare
show of unity on the core questions regarding the
latest phase of the Syrian tragedy.
The first question was whether or not chemical weapons
had been used in Syria.
The response in both houses was an almost unanimous
yes. This was in sharp contrast with claims from
Moscow and Tehran, Assad's main backers, that there
had been no such attacks and that the whole thing was
a Cecil B. De Mille-style production by Western
intelligence services. Even George Galloway, the sole
House of Commons member speaking for Assad, admitted
that chemical weapons had been used.
The second question concerned responsibility for the
The debates enabled the British government to show
that Assad had been behind at least 14 such attacks
"beyond a reasonable doubt." Again, none of the
participants in the debate—not even Galloway—repeated
Syrian government claims that rebels had been
If anything, the debates showed a remarkable degree of
unity in expressing revulsion at Assad's strategy of
clinging to power by terror.
But will Britain participate in action to refrain
Cameron's hasty reaction after the debate was a
surprise. It was as if he never wanted intervention
and was now relieved to have an excuse for not doing
He said that the parliament had shown it did not
support military action against Syria.
However, that was not the question. Even the Labour
Party amendment was premised on the assumption that
action might become necessary. The debate was about a
timetable and the method of action, not about its
substance. Parliament rejected Cameron's proposed
timetable and approach. Legally speaking, he can
always come back with a different resolution and get a
Cameron seems to have realized this after a good
night's sleep. This is what he said Friday morning: "I
think it's important we have a robust response to the
use of chemical weapons and there are a series of
things we will continue to do."
He added: "We will continue to take a case to the
United Nations, we will continue to work in all the
organizations we are members of—whether the EU, or
NATO, or the G8 or the G20—to condemn what's happened
in Syria. It's important we uphold the international
taboo on the use of chemical weapons."
Has the British parliament become isolationist? No.
The same parliament approved intervention in Libya and
extended the mission in Afghanistan and—don't be
surprised—may endorse intervention in Syria at a later
Does the vote affect British–US
Not necessarily. The two allies have not always fought
together. The US opposed Britain in the 1956 Suez war.
Britain did not take part in the Vietnam War. The US
played no part in a series of British wars—from Malaya
to Aden to the Falklands. Nor did Britain join the US
in the Cuban quarantine or the invasion of Grenada.
Despite this, the two allies continue to enjoy close
cooperation through military and intelligence services
across the globe, and are doing just that on Syria
Britain and the US are founding members of NATO. The
treaty obligates signatories to respond to a
member-state's appeal for support in military
conflict. If the US calls on the UK for support, that
would be extended automatically.
However, the operation envisaged by President Barack
Obama is not yet aimed at regime change in Syria, and
thus does not require full British military
For 30 months, the Syrian tragedy has had many twists
and turns. Thursday night witnessed one of those
twists and turns, albeit on a minor scale. All along,
however, one thing has remained certain: Assad's
strategy of clinging to power through terror is doomed
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and
educated in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive
Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran (1972-79).
In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday
Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the
Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI).
Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the
Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York
Times, the London Times, the French magazine Politique
Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between
1989 and 2005, he was editorial writer for the German
daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11 books, some of
which have been translated into 20 languages. He has
been a columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987.
Taheri's latest book "The Persian Night" is published
by Encounter Books in London and New York.