Syria crisis: Vote raises questions about Britain’s credibility as a global big-hitter

 

Washington

The toughest job in Washington belongs to President Obama, seemingly obliged to embark on yet another military intervention in the Middle East, but this time without America’s most faithful ally. The second most uncomfortable moment today may well have belonged to Her Majesty’s diplomats here, as they tried to explain away to their US counterparts the shock Commons’ vote against UK participation in an attack on Syria.

And make no mistake. Shock was indeed the reaction. Militarily of course, the US is more than capable of handling any operation on its own, but the assumption had been that Britain would be at its shoulder, lending moral support and a veneer of international solidarity.

But not so. And not for the first time, obituaries are being written of that much-cherished old friend, the so-called “special relationship” between London and Washington. Reports of its final demise however are surely overdone.

For one, many of the doubts that produced David Cameron’s defeat at Westminster are present here. Americans are schizophrenic about Syria. They feel a moral outrage at a regime that turns sarin gas on its own people. On the other hand the last thing the US wants is involvement in another Middle East war. That view is widespread in the military establishment here and shared, for differing reasons, by many on the right and left. If Congress were recalled to deliberate the issue (it won’t be), the outcome might be close.

For a second, we have been here before. For Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher (as for Tony Blair), the transatlantic relationship was paramount. But Franklin Roosevelt did not always repay Churchill in kind, and Churchill’s successor, Anthony Eden, learnt the same thing over Suez. Harold Wilson earned LBJ’s ire by refusing to send forces to Vietnam. Nor did the “special relationship” prevent Ronald Reagan from enraging Thatcher with the US invasion of Grenada, the UK’s former colony, launched without warning to London. In each case, Washington acted without illusion, its focus on US interests, not British feelings.

And third, the “special relationship” is about more than military and diplomatic co-operation. It embraces history, language, literature and a shared common law heritage – bonds that will not be eradicated by a Commons vote against a war many Americans feel the same way about.

Reaction from around the world

Dr Alan Mendoza Executive director of think-tank  the Henry Jackson Society

“If not reversed, this vote means the UK will join the rank of third-rate nations, condemned to be the prisoner of events and with no power to shape them. We have essentially said ‘game on’ to a war criminal, giving him a green light to use appalling chemical weapons against his own people with impunity. This is a shameful result which will not be readily forgotten by our allies. We can be certain that more atrocities will follow in Syria.”

Professor Michael Clarke Director-general of the  Royal United Services Institute

“At a background level Britain will be cooperating in ways that the US will find marginally useful. But as it stands, we will not be there firing off our cruise missiles, if that happens, and there is big political symbolism in that. We lack the symbolism of joining in. I suspect we will patch this up quickly and it will be seen as a blip that is embarrassing for the UK but one has to be aware that it may become more difficult and may become the beginning of a more festering row.”

Lord Ashdown Former Liberal Democrat leader

“Maybe I am just an old war horse from the past but I think it has a profound implication for our country. I think it diminishes our country hugely. We now have a bunch of people – the same ones who voted against this last night – who want to get out of Europe and have smashed our relationship with the United States. To see my country draw back from a coalition in favour of international law and decide that the answer is to stand aside does not fill me with great joy. I’m forced to look at those images of burning schoolchildren... and say my country’s reaction to this is nothing to do with me.”

George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer

“I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that big, open and trading nation that I like us to be, or whether we turn our back on that... I hope this doesn’t become a moment where we turn our back on all of the world’s problems.”

Sarah Wollaston Conservative MP and rebel

“It’s not about us being a nation of appeasers or apologists. Britain isn’t turning its back:we are delivering enormous amounts of humanitarian aid. But we just do not feel that aid in this instance should come in the form of cruise missiles. We need to be consistent in our message to the Middle East because if we don’t we just fuel resentment.”

Dr Andrew Mumford Lecturer in politics and  international relations at the  University of Nottingham

“I don’t think  this is going to  prove a major ruction in the  so-called special relationship. The British and Americans still have incredibly close military and intelligence cooperation. Even if Britain doesn’t participate in any further military action against Syria that the US might lead, you can guarantee that the British will be giving as much support and help in an indirect capacity as possible.”

Francois Hollande President of France

“Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France. All the options are on the table... Few countries have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies.”

Richard Haas President of the Council on Foreign Relations

“The UK is in danger of separating itself from both the EU and the US, an undesirable status for a medium-sized country that wants to play a world role but has few independent options.”

Yuri Ushakov Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief foreign policy aide

“This reflects the opinion of the majority of British and Europeans. It seems to me that people are starting to understand how dangerous such scenarios are. It is not entirely clear why the [UN inspectors] should simultaneously return to The Hague when lots of questions remain unanswered.”

Syrian opposition spokesman

“It’s regrettable that the British lawmakers were not able to understand the true situation in Syria. We do not believe that this vote will prevent a recourse to air strikes. The US clearly said that Bashar crossed a red line and France has reiterated, through President Hollande, its intention to participate. Even without the involvement of Britain, a lesson will be given to Bashar al-Assad.”

Chuck Hagel US Defence Secretary

“Every nation has a responsibility to make its own decisions. The British have been very strong in condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and that vote in the Parliament doesn’t change that. And that’s a very significant position for any nation to take publicly. Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn