LONDON — As Western powers build their case for possible military strikes in Syria, a still-forming coalition on Wednesday confronted a chorus of resistance at home, throwing up possible delays for what initially seemed like a rapid timetable for action.
In Britain, Washington’s staunchest military ally, the ghost of faulty intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq hung over Prime Minister David Cameron’s push to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad after last week’s alleged chemical attack near Damascus.
Cameron’s government presented a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday seeking to authorize “all necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians, after Foreign Secretary William Hague said the world had to act even if the United Nations didn’t.
But hours later, tepid domestic support in Parliament for fast action forced Cameron’s government to back down from a planned vote Thursday that would have effectively paved the way for the immediate use of military force. Instead, the prime minister compromised with critics who thought that London was acting too hastily, promising to offer a watered-down measure Thursday that called for a second vote before strikes would be undertaken. That vote is likely to come next week, after U.N. inspectors now in Syria have submitted their report.
Opponents of military strikes, including a substantial minority of Cameron’s own Conservative Party, described multiple issues clouding a military response. There was the difficulty in assessing blame for last week’s attack, they said, as well as what they described as a still-vague mission goal. They also cited the chance that a strike could heighten violence in the region and drag allies into a more protracted operation, and lingering concerns that a blow against Assad’s government could strengthen extremist groups fighting within the Syrian opposition.
“I’ve had 100 e-mails [from constituents] on this matter and not one of them was in favor,” said Adam Holloway, a Conservative member of Parliament. “This idea that we want to draw a line in the sand is ridiculous. There is already a feeling that [former prime minister] Tony Blair allowed George W. Bush to drive drunk into Iraq, and that we can’t trust everything we’re being told. And frankly, I can understand that.”
Cameron does not require the backing of Parliament to join what would likely be a limited military operation confined to missile assaults on selected targets. But analysts called parliamentary backing vital to boosting support for action in Britain and beyond. As of Wednesday night, the opposition Labor Party was still demanding conclusive evidence of the Assad government’s culpability before supporting any military strikes.
Fears of retaliation
Nations that have long resisted Western intervention in Syria, including Russia and Iran, were reasserting their opposition, saying the drumbeat was preempting the inspectors’ work. Any military action, they insisted, would only escalate violence in the region.