Syria

Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in The New York Times reassuring Americans that he is on their side. Its cuddliness brought to mind the west’s wartime image of another Russian leader. I am surprised this one did not sign the piece Uncle Vlad. 

In the UK, the House of Commons vote to reject action revealed these gaps through a baroque display of incompetence. In the US, the House of Representatives could be set to affirm these divisions. And given that the House is inherently more attuned to US public opinion, it might show us something about American society, too. That is unless Mr Obama can persuade Congress otherwise. 

On Thursday night, a British government lost a vote on military action for the first time in at least 100 years. The House of Commons voted 285 to 272 against the UK government’s non-binding motion for possible military action in Syria. David Cameron said that: “It’s clear to me that the British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly.” Phillip Hammond later confirmed that there would be no UK participation in any US intervention. 

In foreign policy, legality is often an afterthought. It is no different in the case of Syria. International law – a mix of treaties, customs, norms, standards, resolutions and rules without a universally accepted third party enforcement mechanism – should come second to questions of morality and strategy. Ordinary Syrians probably care little for esoteric debates about jus ad bellum. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the UK government’s legal position on military intervention against the Assad regime. By resting its case on humanitarian intervention, Britain is making a flimsy and bold legal argument. 

“Illegal, yet legitimate”, was the Independent International Commission on Kosovo’s verdict concerning Nato’s military intervention in 1999 against the Serbian government. As the US, UK and others discuss action against Syria, the war in Iraq inevitably looms large. However, it is the case of Kosovo that is being studied by lawyers inside the Obama administration (according to the New York Times) and debated on legal blogs.