Not since Britain lost the American War of Independence has a Prime Minister suffered such a defeat in the Commons. The vote of no-confidence in Lord North that was passed after that historic loss was, until the need for an idyllic statistic to illustrate Cameron’s “failure”, almost forgotten. But in the face of a decision not to intervene in Syria (in a military sense), North’s failure was brought back from the depths of history.
But apart from the fact that both Prime Ministers lost their respective votes, there is little to compare. Opinions of David Cameron aside, those who claimed it was the end for his time at 10 Downing Street were very wrong. To respect democracy’s wishes in the aftermath of such military catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is (politically speaking) a welcome change. After an initial sulk, President Obama even inadvertently praised Cameron by not bypassing Congress in making his own decision. Now attention has turned to Obama and critics are talking about his ‘weakness’ and ‘indecision’ as he awaits such an agreement from Congress- one which is not guaranteed.
Does this also mean that Britain now admits what Harold Macmillan suggested back in 1960 after the Suez Crisis of 1956- that we’re no longer a top global player capable of intervening in global affairs, even when we include our ‘special relationship’ with the US? Or are we experiencing an historical period of reluctance to intervene in global affairs similar to the US post-Vietnam?
There are many aspects of the Syria crisis that are unknown, and often the end to these are long and drawn out (see Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few). But whilst I am proud of democracy, I’m morally numb. In the name of mortgages, savings, investments and economic growth, we’ve sanctioned the deaths of thousands of innocent people, whether we meant to or not. As an individual we can still help the situation, supporting NGOs and charities like the Red Cross in their work in Syria, but as a nation, the question (not for the first time in our history) of whether there is blood on our hands remains.