2 Sep 2013

‘Isolationist spring’: future votes and Congress

There seems to be a bit of buyer’s remorse in the air over Syria in some quarters but it won’t be enough to change the government’s position.

Some may regret that the UK will not be involved in any possible action on Syria but that’s where things are.

The three party leaders got ahead of their MPs and members at the beginning of last week but Ed Miliband, being in opposition, had the easiest scope to retreat and used it.

It looks more and more as if the three party leaders had opened the shutters to see unexpected protests filling the street – a sort of “isolationist spring.”

None quite expected it, though I hear David Cameron was warned that bringing back parliament early would be unwise.

Even if Mr Cameron wanted to bring a motion in front of the Commons that had “Britain,” “Syria” and “military intervention” mentioned in the same breath, Nick Clegg wouldn’t let him.

Mr Clegg has made it abundantly clear in private and in public that the whole idea of UK involvement is dead.

Not that he is particularly proud of his party’s lurch towards isolationism.

‘False memory syndrome’

He and others close to him think that some Lib Dems they’ve been listening to in the past few days inside and outside parliament are in danger of false memory syndrome about what kind of party they’re in.

Back in 2003, Lib Dems said the case against Iraqi involvement was “not proven” not that it was out of the question.

Lib Dems were at the forefront of calls for action on Kosovo and turned out to vote for the involvement in Afghanistan.

In the short term, this gets Nick Clegg off a very uncomfortable hook with his conference, which had enough flashpoints in it already.

This past week may end up best remembered for President Obama’s reference to Congress.

Congress to vote on Syria strike

It’s not completely without precedent but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t added to precedent.

President Clinton didn’t get Congress to vote on attacks on the Sudan and Afghanistan nor on his eventual involvement in Kosovo.

President Reagan struck Libya and invaded Grenada without asking Congress first.

There were votes authorising President Bush Senior’s action on Kuwait and President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

But the type of action President Obama was contemplating has not normally been referenced to Congress and it’s hard to see how it doesn’t tie the hands of this and future presidents, particularly if the “isolationist spring” gains strength.

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