Surprise: UK parliament revolts on Syria

Huge news from Britain as a massive parliamentary revolt blocks British intervention in Syria. David Cameron’s plans in shambles as his own party (even in the House of Lords) goes rogue and joins Labour rebels in unexpectedly voting down military action completely. Cameron already promised not to use force without Commons authorization, which he then failed to get.

White House delays Syria air strikes

The U.S. White House is delaying the start of Western air strikes on Syria until the British parliament can vote on it during a special session this week, but it has no plans of asking for a special session of the U.S. Congress. So if I understand this correctly, major policy decisions affecting America get a vote in the British parliament but not here at home? Didn’t we stop that with the American Revolution?

Would bombing Syria solve much?

A Guardian commentator critiques Tony Blair’s call to arms against Syria, arguing that it won’t make any difference.

“I am not saying that armed intervention is always mistaken. If it could help fix things, or even improve them, all well and good. And that is where a plan comes in. But if the logic is simply that Assad is a 24-carat wrong-un, that his use of chemical weapons against his own people is a moral outrage, therefore we need to act – then we are doing little more than satisfying our own sense of retributive morality, and one that has become blurred with a large dollop of action-hero crap.”

I’m actually a Blair Doctrine person myself, but I have various common-sense qualifiers the man himself never applies to situations. When applied to Syria, it’s very clear we shouldn’t intervene, in my opinion. And I think if you’re broadly pro-intervention along the lines of the Blair Doctrine, you have to also exercise restraint in some cases (picking your battles literally) or else you won’t be able to intervene in other situations where you can do some good. We can’t intervene everywhere so we shouldn’t try or we’ll be able to intervene nowhere. 

U.S. still shouldn’t intervene in Syria

Stephen Walt provides a key comment on Syria (in an interesting NYT discussion):

“The brutal nature of the Assad regime has been apparent for decades, and its forces have already killed thousands with conventional means. Does it really matter whether Assad is killing his opponents using 500-pound bombs, mortar shells, cluster munitions, machine guns, icepicks or sarin gas? Dead is dead, no matter how it is done.”

tomahawk-missile-launch-200I agree with that. There are international norms and laws against using chemical weapons, but unfortunately the calculus still shouldn’t change because the consequences of a U.S. intervention and the ability to execute the goal of the intervention haven’t changed just because chemical weapons are in use now. Intervention will either fail to achieve anything or it will drag the U.S. into a fresh catastrophe we can ill afford by any measurement. Or both. And without UN authorization (or a provocation against a NATO member such as Turkey), a Western military operation would be illegal.

Massive chemical attack in Syria reported

I was listening to a radio interview with a spokesman for Médecins sans Frontières this afternoon. Same info they provided here: >350 dead, with 3600 more treated. Symptoms as seen and as described by eyewitnesses are “fully consistent” with neurotoxin effects and there has been little to no variation in eyewitness accounts. Thus with over 4,000 affect people, it’s almost certain this was a chemical attack and not some conspiracy theory (as the Russians are suggesting). A former national security council member said this development means the United States is likely to conduct punitive air strikes, at a minimum, on the units directly responsible for the attack, if identified definitively.

Sudan & China arms appearing in Syria war

This is astonishing: Sudan — an ally of Iran and China — is selling Sudanese-made and Chinese-made weapons to Qatar, the major supplier of rebel weapons in Syria for use against the Syrian government, which is strongly backed by Iran and China. The New York Times did some hyper-intensive journalistic digging to piece together the story:

Mr. Ahmad, the Sudanese presidential spokesman, suggested that if Sudan’s weapons were seen with Syria’s rebels, perhaps Libya had provided them.

Sudan, he said, has admitted sending arms during the 2011 war to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Libya’s new leaders have publicly thanked Sudan. Libya has since been a busy supplier of the weapons to rebels in Syria.

However, that would not explain the Sudanese-made 7.62×39-millimeter ammunition documented by The New York Times this year in rebel possession near the Syrian city of Idlib.

The ammunition, according to its stamped markings, was made in Sudan in 2012 — after the war in Libya had ended. It was used by Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist group that recognizes the Western-supported Syrian National Coalition’s military command.

When told that the newly produced Sudanese cartridges were photographed with Syrian rebels, Mr. Saad, the Sudanese military spokesman, was dismissive. “Pictures can be fabricated,” he said. “That is not evidence.”

Granted, it’s not so astonishing in the context that Sudan’s regime historically supports Sunni Islamist movements and also needs money badly after South Sudan got the oil fields in the divorce. But still. Crossing Iran & China is a big step for Omar al-Bashir.