Can the U.S. Attack Syria Without its British Ally?

UK parliament rejects joining the U.S. war party, 285-272

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Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, starting with Winston Churchill, have long spoken about the “special relationship” that exists between the United States and Britain when it comes to international affairs. They’ve been side by side in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Thursday’s rejection by the British House of Commons of Prime Minister David Cameron’s plea that the British join with the Americans in punishing Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons leaves the U.S.—at least at this moment—without its most steadfast ally.

Can the U.S. attack Syria without the Brits standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans? Of course, it can. But more importantly, should it?

British politicians made clear they felt the U.S. had dragged them into the war in Iraq a decade ago under false pretenses, and they are in no rush for a reprise. “We are determined to learn the lessons from Iraq,” Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said. “Evidence should precede decision, not decision precede evidence.”

(MORE: As U.K. Parliament Debates Syria, Prospect of British Military Support Dims)

Former senior U.S. military officers think the British vote should stay the President’s trigger finger. “Not having the Brits join any military strike by the U.S. on Syria could be a potential deal-breaker for the entire operation,” says David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded allied forces in Afghanistan in 2003-2005. “Having our closest long-term ally opt-out of the mission would make selling this idea here at home and around the world immeasurably harder for the President.”

Not only that, says Robert Scales, a retired Army major general and historian, it would show Obama to be less diplomatically adept than his predecessor: “This would mean that Bush has trumped Obama in collecting a consensus of the willing.”

Administration officials made it clear that the U.S. is consider hammering together an ad hoc alliance—perhaps including France and Turkey—without British participation. “If any action would be taken against Syria,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday in Brunei, “it would be an international collaboration”—without naming any nations. There is a chance Britain could still back a strike if its Parliament finds the UN inspectors’ report into the Aug. 21 chemical attack compelling, although fingering the guilty party isn’t part of its charter.

The broader the alliance, the more global and moral justification such a retaliatory strike has. If Britain remains on the sidelines, critics will seize on its absence to question the merit, and legitimacy, of any military action.

(MORE: How U.S. Strikes in Syria Could Make Things Worse)

The British no-vote is the latest brake on the push for a strike that earlier in the week appeared imminent. The Obama Administration has given up trying to win UN approval for an attack, in light of Russian opposition. But it’s important to recall that the U.S. led attacks in the Balkans and Libya without the UN’s blessing.

As another Tomahawk-laden destroyer, USS Stout, joins four U.S. warships already in the eastern Mediterranean, the Administration seemed more interested in the departure of the UN inspectors from Syria. They’re slated to leave Saturday, a day ahead before their agreed-upon departure date with Damascus. That could open the window for an attack, which would likely close late Tuesday, Washington time, when Obama leaves for a trip to Sweden and Russia.

The President looks increasingly like an infantryman walking the point—out in front of the allies, the Congress and the public. The stronger and more compelling the evidence, the easier it is to be out front. But over the course of this week, the Administration has pared away at the evidence it will need to convince the allies and others that war is warranted.

There are apparently no direct links between Assad and last week’s chemical-weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds, sparking this latest crisis. Can there be smoking missiles without a smoking gun?

The Obama Administration maintains it makes no difference whether Assad was “the one that pushes the button or says ‘go,’ on this,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. “The commander in chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership.”

Of course, she was speaking of Assad. But she could just have easily been speaking of Obama.

VIDEO: U.N.’s Syria Envoy Against U.S.-Led Military Intervention in Syria

76 comments
MidlandsUK
MidlandsUK

I think it started with the Canadians saying no to Iraq. Finally Britain has said no to intervention in Syria. There is a lot of talk here about the special relationship with the USA when in reality a Brit generally feels much more at home, more welcome and more akin with the Canadians than with the Americans.

I mean no disrespect but there are a lot of people here banging on about how weak the British government is in not supporting Obama etc etc but hold on lets take a little look back in history shall we? Why did it take the Pearl Harbour Attack for the USA to enter WWII? Where was the USA in Britain's desperate early hours of need as our pilots battled to take on the German Luftwaffe? Oh wait, then there was the Suez crisis - In that one they flatly turned against us. What about the Falklands? Did we get any military support or solidarity from the USA over the Falklands crisis?

To me this seems to be a very one sided special relationship. It seems to be a relationship where the USA expects the UK to follow it blindly into every fight it decides to pick just so that it can say to the world - look - we are not alone, we have our poodle pals the Brits to prove that we are in the right! 

I am glad that the UK has finally woken up to the fact that we were dragged into the Iraq war by a nut job claiming that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction only to find out conveniently after the event that they didn't exist. Look at Iraq now. Is it a better place to be? Not at all. What have we achieved? As if that wasn't enough of a lesson.

So as the world politics change and China starts to flex its muscles, Europe increasingly distances itself from any sabre rattling antics from the USA and we find that Obama's new kids on the block are yesterdays 'cheese eating monkeys' it is comforting to know that the wind of change is in the air and a new world order is starting to evolve. Hopefully in time we will live in a more peaceful world where religion and politics doesn't drag us kicking and screaming into wars that are non of our business. 

For me the special relationship is over. Obama has done nothing to show us that he cares one bit about the UK in fact if anything he has done the opposite. Well Obama - it's pay back time. Enjoy.

omer.gillani58
omer.gillani58

We told  secretary of State, John Kerry in this web page time and time and times that these israeli jews are making fool of you and American people but never litsen. Now I hope they would listen and never follow these wilde dogs in israel.

These israelis has no care for US or any ione else, just themselves.only. May be that why they are the most hated people on earth.

They are branched our every organ of US governmnet and know very well how to make real fool of us in front of world .

I hope US would do what he promise to do that is to invade Syria that Iran would move in and finish the israeli jews misery for good.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Proper question should be would the Ditherer in Chief attack Syria without go signal from Putin. While he dithers Assad is probably hiding his WMDs in schools, mosques and hospitals. 

AhmadMalik169
AhmadMalik169

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Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

The US/UK breakup is a really a huge part of this story. A little history--

The US/UK marriage started with Woodrow Wilson, a deceptive US president who first meddled in Mexico and then took an unwilling US public into WWI in Europe. This was years after the sinking of the Lusitania, when 98 percent of Americans wanted no part of a European war. But Wilson secretly took the British side, which of course Germany found out. Wilson, like subsequent presidents,and McKinley before him with the Spanish-American War, believed that foreign intervention was necessary for profits and greatness. Then Roosevelt continued it.

There was no inherent reason (except language) for favoring the Brits over the Germans. There were roughly as many German immigrants in America as Brits. The great Irish immigrant wave of the 1840's hated the Brits for helping them starve, and the many Italian immigrants had no favorites. So the US/UK marriage included a bit of chance, and we can thank Wilson for it. Now, the marriage, militarily if not financially, is on the rocks.

A great source for both McKinley and Wilson and their shenanigans is Walter Karp's "The Politics of War."

poliphobic
poliphobic

From the moment he took office President Obama made no attempt to disguise his dislike of and contempt for Britain. 

There is no "special relationship" , nor should there be ,and many of us here just cringe when the likes of the hapless Cameron keep banging on about it.

squelchuk1
squelchuk1

TIME asks, Can the U.S. attack Syria without the Brits standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans? Of course, it can. But more importantly, should it?

Yes, it can. Yes, it should. But no, it shouldn't have to.  Following the debacle of Iraq and Afghanistan, our government seems to be gun shy when it needs to be.  Mistakes were made in the handling of Iraq and the lead-up to the deposition of Saddam Hussein.  Those mistakes haven't been learned from, but they weigh in on any military action the British government seem to make.


Our PM, David Cameron, has been right in stating that he thinks it is right to intervene in Syria, but has bowed to the decisions made in parliament.  The problem with this is that it is not the decisions of parliament that commit the UK's armed forces to action, but its government.  And the UK government should have had the balls to stand up and say that what is happening in Syria is wrong and something needs to be done.  I find it hard to understand how we can send part of the naval fleet to Gibraltar to flag/willy wave at the Spaniards - when we could kick their armed forces back to Asturia with one hand tied behind our back if we had to - and yet won't commit to stopping atrocities in Syria.

 “We are determined to learn the lessons from Iraq,” Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said. “Evidence should precede decision, not decision precede evidence.”

The problem with this is that Ed Miliband is not cut out to be our country's leader.  In domestic policy, he's too timid to lead and follows the unions, and his party's policies seem to basically be "not what the government is doing"; in foreign policy, he's determined to be not be another Tony Blair: the problem being, in this case, is that action is warranted and needed, yet he says hold back because of the 'sexed up' Iraq dossiere.

But I guess Syria doesn't have enough oil deposits for the UK government to worry about at the moment.

destor23
destor23

A more apt question is, can the U.S. attack Syria without the support of its own people?

RichHolland
RichHolland

The only thing we need to do in Syria is provide humanitarian aid, I think enough people have been slaughtered don't you?

raj_m
raj_m

The allegation standards are going down .. earlier nuclear weapons, now chemical weapons .. after few years will say .. this country has guns their govt used guns .. let's attack .. 

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

To repeat a Watergate metaphor, Obama is twisting slowly in the wind, trying to do a repeat of Bush without a "coalition of the willing."  

Obama will have to get real. The US administration including State has never mentioned military strikes. That has all come from Pentagon leaks. State has repeatedly said that Obama is considering all options including military. So a non-military "response" is a possibility as a US fall-back position.

JakobStagg
JakobStagg

American presidents seem to be Manchurian Candidates. They are brain washed into believing invasion is the first resort in every situation. The behavior is absolutely Pavlovian. Our foreign and domestic policies are becoming one and the same. If anyone disagrees, go blow them up.


Is there a leader anyplace in government with an IQ bigger than their hat size?

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

Solid idea...let's go into a country...without international support...without support from the people you actually claim to be helping...and without a solid plan of what exactly you are trying to accomplish short of saving face. Super....Super Idea...you f**king idiots.

Perez210Juan
Perez210Juan

@TIME: Can the U.S. attack Syria now that the U.K. parliament has rejected the U.S. war party? | WE MUST THAT WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER ???!!!.

Disqus666
Disqus666

Pass it along!  One of the signs of the end of the WORLD is that a "King from the North" will begin to LOSE all of his friends and find himself all alone.  Forced to take unilateral positions and go at it all by himself.  Eventually he organizes an all out assault because of the prosperity or devotion to "Israel." Along with the great crowd of other sheep who are no longer part of his world.

Galatians 6:16; Revelation 7:9; John 10:16:17:15, 16; 1 John 5:19

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Being a UK citizen I will go to war PROVIDING the UK government are ALL in the front line so they perish first .

billorights
billorights

This latest (phony) accusation of chemical weapons is at least the THIRD time the administration have accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons. Each time, the evidence has always led back to the rebels. Last time (In May or June), rather than trouble anyone with a lengthy investigation, the administration saw fit to going public with their call for arming the rebels, despite having providing arms to them for nearly a year.

So the Assad regime is well aware of Washington’s agenda here. The LAST thing they would do is actually use them, especially after the Russians sat down with Assad in December and made him LOCK THAT 5H1T UP.

The story we are to believe this time is that the Assad regime fired chemical weapons into a rebel-controlled neighborhood, just as U.N. weapons inspectors were arriving in Damascus, with no indication of a larger military objective…i.e. no troop movements suggesting an attempt at flanking escaping rebels, no advances, no nothing.

Just a bunch of dead civilians, and the rebels STILL in control of the area.

Equally curious, Assad was pushing back the rebels. He was gaining ground. What possible motivation would he have to use chemical weapons?

This crisis is about Russia, not Syria. It is about economic and geopolitical encirclement, because Russia is standing in the way of Globalism.

Among other things, Russia is facing an imminent population crisis due, mainly, to the Soviets’ Frankenstein monster–alcoholism. While it kept the general population from rising up under Soviet rule, it has become a major Achille's heel.  We are flooding their with their worst nightmare…crazed Sunnis.

But there are several other issues here. The Globalists are redefining the ‘Eastern Question’. Is it any coincidence that the British and the French are barking so loudly?

Google:

wikipedia wiki/Eastern_Question

(see: Great Eastern Crisis)

Furthermore, the Globalists are trying to reshape geopolitical lines in order to reflect what they believe to be the economy of the future.

Like Afghanistan (also along Russia’s sphere of influence), Syria is one of the world’s largest lithium suppliers. And, while not a big oil producer themselves, there are a few VERY strategic pipelines running across the country.

In short, the Obama administration is chomping at the bit to move into Syria, and has been for quite some time.


Ivener
Ivener

@TIME @TIMEPolitics There r "GREAT COUNTRIES" & "RICH" countries out there.Will even 1 country would even TRY to b d GREATEST? Help .

HomedogWinn
HomedogWinn

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Have you seen the size of U.S. compared to UK? We're not a soldier producing machine you know. Different worlds.

billorights
billorights

In other news, CNN reports:

"In a spirited press conference Thursday, Representative Pelosi claimed, 'We must fight the Assad regime, in order to understand why we are fighting it.'"

Leyaquette
Leyaquette

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Sir, may I thank d mature British Parliamentarians 4 prevailing a purposeful sense of detente upon d Tory war mongering?

PeterKellyATO
PeterKellyATO

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Yes, there is absolutely no reason the US would be limited by a lack of UK involvement, especiall with France allied

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@Heizzzenberg Um. The goal, Heizzzenberg, would be to use these anti-WMD weapons we've been developing over the last 25 years to neutralize as much of their remaining stockpiles of WMD as possible. Oh. Another goal is to knock out a decent amount of their fixed wing and rotary aircraft that makes it so easy for the Assad military to attack civilians. Oh and let's not forget targets such as tanks and large artillery.

But you're too stupid to realize that there's an actual plan that has merits if Obama says go.

Moreover, this has an extremely low chance of becoming a quagmire. We're not sending in ground troops. The whole operation would be over in 1, 3, possibly five days. And it's exceedingly unlikely that the Iranians are going to step out of line.

But sure. Let's all sit around acting like sending in some cruise missiles, planes and bomber sorties for some brush up training is really going to be that big of a deal. Is it going to push Assad out over the near-term? No. But it sure as hell will go along way to ensure he doesn't use WMD any time soon, certainly a worthy goal of very modest U.S. intervention on the behalf of the Syrian civilian population.

ErosBonazzi
ErosBonazzi

@raqibc visted Syria in 2001, a peaceful, happy, wealthy country. Attack s/b against rebel not against Assad