Friday, August 30, 2013

He who plays with himself goes solo





Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times) report, "A sharply divided British Parliament on Thursday rejected the immediate use of force as a response to suspected chemical attacks in Syria, putting Washington on notice that it would be deprived of the assistance of its most trusted ally if it launches a strike on Damascus in the next few days."  Robert Winnett (Telegraph of London) calls it "an embarrassing defeat" for UK Prime Minister David Cameron with the 285 votes against an attack on Syria and 272 for it. Winnett points out, "The Prime Minister had played a leading role in persuading President Obama of the need for action against Syria -- with Britain tabling a draft United Nations resolution – and the Parliamentary vote may also undermine Mr Cameron’s international reputation."  Annabelle Dickinson ( offers, "In what is thought to be an unprecedented parliamentary reverse over British military action, Tory rebels joined with Labour to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Prime Minister."

Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn (Reuters) report UK Prime Minister David Cameron is being forced to take the matter to Parliament, "After imploring the world not to stand idly by over Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons, Cameron was forced into an awkward climbdown on Wednesday when the opposition Labour party and lawmakers in his own party said they wanted more evidence before voting for military action."

The Labour and Conservative revolt was actually started by MP Diane Abbott who made clear her opposition earlier this week.   Rowena Mason (Guardian) reported:

 Diane Abbott may be forced to quit Labour's frontbench if Ed Miliband supports military action in Syria, as one of several MPs who are weighing up whether to support their party leaders over the anticipated intervention.
[. . .]
"I voted against the Iraq War. At the moment, I can't see anything that would make me vote for intervention in Syria," she said.
"Essentially it's a civil war. What Libya and Egypt have taught us is that these situations in the Middle East are complex. It's not good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats."

But this apparently isn't Tony Blair's Labour anymore.  Abbott was not ostracized, strong-armed or stigmatized.  Instead, as George Eaton (New Statesman) noted yesterday, Ed Miliband stood up and showed real leadership:

 He announced on Twitter that the party would table an amendment to the government's (then non-existent) motion requiring Cameron to return to the Commons to consult MPs after the UN team had reported on the Ghouta massacre. He added: "Parliament must tomorrow agree criteria for action, not write a blank cheque." Labour sources subsequently briefed that were the amendment not accepted, the party would vote against the motion.

As Ed knows,  the move also further draws a line between Labour and Tony Blair -- something desperately needed if Labour is going to return to power in the near future.  It draws a line because Iraq and Syria are tied together by comparisons and it draws a line because Tony Blair has mistakenly thought he had a voice the world need to hear and has spent the last days demanding an attack on Syria.

Melanie Hall (Telegraph of London) notes 'prophet' Tony sees a "nightmare scenario" coming.  Andy Wells (Daily Star) noted:

After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground.
But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work.

At his website, Blair has even posted a column he wrote this week for the Times of London calling for action on Syria:

  People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder: Syria mired in carnage between the brutality of Assad and various affiliates of al-Qaeda, a breeding ground of extremism infinitely more dangerous than Afghanistan in the 1990s; Egypt in chaos, with the West, however unfairly, looking as if it is giving succour to those who would turn it into a Sunni version of Iran. Iran still — despite its new president — a theocratic dictatorship, with a nuclear bomb. Our allies dismayed. Our enemies emboldened. Ourselves in confusion. This is a nightmare scenario but it is not far-fetched.

People wince, actually, at the thought of Tony Blair giving advice.  Even those who would not call for him to be tried for War Crimes re: Iraq remember his lie that Iraq had WMD and they could be launched on England within 45 minutes.  As Glenn Greenwald revealed in 2009 while at Salon:

The British are conducting an actual public investigation into the litany of false claims made by their government to justify the attack on Iraq.  Even for those who have long known it, the disclosures are underscoring just how truly criminal this deceit was:
An Iraqi taxi driver may have been the source of the discredited claim that Saddam Hussein could unleash weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, a Tory MP claimed today.
Adam Holloway, a defence specialist, said MI6 obtained information indirectly from a taxi driver who had overheard two Iraqi military commanders talking about Saddam’s weapons.
The 45-minute claim was a key feature of the dossier about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that was released by Tony Blair in September 2002. Blair published the information to bolster public support for war.
Other disclosures reveal that Blair was making claims that his own intelligence services were vehemently rejecting.

But for many Labour voters Blair's greatest crime was the way he degraded and destroyed Labour.  That's his 'New Labour' neoliberal policies, his war crimes and so much more.  Gordon Brown's biggest problem as prime minister was attempting to fix a few of Blair's errors without calling them errors.

Simon Hoggart (Guardian) points out:

A spectre hung over the prime minister's speech. Like most phantoms, the spectre wasn't corporeally present – it has been holidaying on a millionaire's yacht – but Tony Blair was there in spirit all right. Cameron said carefully over and over again that this was different from Iraq. "I am deeply mindful of previous interventions," he said. Thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, the well of public confidence had been poisoned.

Had Brown broke with Blair publicly, Labour might have been able to start the rebuilding process that Ed Miliband has been stuck with.  Some wrongly assume Blair can be 'rehabbed' or note that his polling is not as awful as it could be.  Blair's inability to apologize for his actions(he still maintains he was right -- even with his lies revealed) make image rehab impossible.  And when you look at his polling, you find out just what a liability he is to the future of Labour -- the younger you go, the more he's hated.  40 and under have less tolerance for him.

Blair's support for an attack on Syria probably helped motivate protests like the one Sarah Ensor reported on in "'Don't Bomb Syria' protesters block Whitehall" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Up to 1,000 people blocked Whitehall and stopped traffic in central London yesterday evening, Wednesday, against David Cameron’s threat to bomb Syria.
The Stop the War Coalition (STW) called the protest at short notice once the British and US governments looked set for an immediate attack Syria. The current crisis began with a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last week.

The British parliament has been recalled for today, Thursday, to discuss an attack. The degree of hostility to intervention is so high that Cameron has had to retreat from voting on an immediate attack.

Obi, a student from London, was on her first demonstration. She told Socialist Worker, “This is a very flammable situation and the West could escalate it. Intervention won’t help the situation—we’ll just add fuel to the fire.”

Front bench Labour MP Diane Abbott addressed the crowd, saying she wanted to put it “beyond doubt” that she would vote against an attack.

Stop the War chair Jeremy Corbyn MP also spoke. Other speakers included Steve Hedley from RMT the transport union—who called for civil disobedience—and Mark Campbell, chair of Kurdish Federation in Britain.

This does not mean US President Barack Obama will not still launch an attack on Syria.  It does mean he has lost the fig leaf he needed.  The United Nations Security Council is very unlikely to approve an attack.  This would make a US attack illegal.  By having England (again) stand side-by-side (as they did with the attack on Iraq) would give the appearance to many that the attack was legitimate (as with Iraq, this crowd would dismiss international law).   Without England at his side (at least currently), Barack is left stranded.  France (as noted this morning when I discussed what 2 White House friends were saying) is not thought to have the same impression for Americans that England would carry -- in part because 2002 and 2003 saw US officials and the US press attacking France publicly and repeatedly.

He is also facing a Congressional critique has been led by Senator Rand Paul.  Alex Pappas (Daily Caller) notes that Paul has argued an attack on Syria is without any US "national security" rationale. And as in England, it's taking only one person to stand (and survive a flurry of attacks) for others to start questioning.  Michael O'Brien and Tom Curry (NBC News) report:

A growing minority of lawmakers in both parties are demanding that President Barack Obama seek approval from Congress before launching an attack against Syria.
Most senior leaders in Congress appear content with the administration’s efforts to keep lawmakers abreast of what appears to be a fast-approaching military response to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against opponents in that country’s protracted civil war.
But ahead of any possible military action, a chorus of voices is calling for at least a Congressional debate, if not an explicit vote authorizing the use of force. 

David Lightman and William Douglas (McClatchy) add, "House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on Wednesday wrote a lengthy letter to the president, asking about the administration’s objectives. It came after a day of mounting concern among lawmakers anxious for an explanation for the possible action against Syria."  And Rebecca Shabad (The Hill) reports, "More than 100 lawmakers, including 18 Democrats, have signed a letter that says President Obama would violate the Constitution by striking Syria without first getting authorization from Congress.  A total of 116 lawmakers had signed the letter as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, highlighting bipartisan interest and growing momentum in ensuring a role for Congress in any decision to use force in Syria."  AP reports that Iraq War veteran and US House Rep Tammy Duckworth has come out today against a US strike on Syria.  Speaking in Thailand at a Bangkok college, Duckworth voiced her concerns about US military being used to assist people who may be part of al Qaeda.


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