30 August 2013, NYT: Britain's Rejection of Syrian Response Reflects Fear of Rushing to Act
SEPT. 26, 2014
3 Nations Offer Limited Support to Attack on ISIS
By STEPHEN CASTLE and STEVEN ERLANGER
LONDON -- Britain, Belgium and Denmark lined up Friday behind the United States in its fight against the Islamic State group, agreeing to military operations in Iraq -- but drawing a line for now against direct intervention in Syria.
Even the half-step of support, however, offered a boost to President Obama's effort to cast the fight as a global campaign to beat back a jihadist force that has assembled thousands of radical fighters and seized territory straddling Iraq and Syria.
The entry of the British into the coalition -- which now includes five Arab states, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark -- provides Washington with a broader consensus for what is described as an extended campaign waged without a resolution authorizing the use of military force by the United Nations Security Council.
But Europe's resolve stopped at the border with Syria, where the Islamic State has built the foundations of its self-declared caliphate. Europeans have been reluctant to take military action inside Syria, in part out of concern about fueling a larger regional conflict, in part because of public opinion in their own nations and in part because of a desire to avoid helping the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, to survive the rebellion against him by a wide array of opposition groups, including the Islamic State.
For now, the attacks within Syria have been carried out only by the United States and five Arab nations that consider the Islamic State to be a threat to them and to regional stability.
European leaders asserted that failing to confront the Sunni radicals would leave their own nations vulnerable to attack by fighters, including European citizens, who have been trained by the radical group and can travel relatively easily from the battlefield to Western Europe.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron called Parliament back from recess to approve British participation. But his policy was limited by what the opposition Labour Party was willing to support. And Labour, itself divided, refused to countenance the idea of attacking Syria.
"In military terms, the vote has no significance whatsoever, but politically it has more importance," said James Strong, a foreign policy expert at the London School of Economics, of the British vote. "There is a sense in the United States that if even Britain thinks it is a bad idea, then it probably is."
The parliamentary motion specifically rules out the deployment of any British ground troops in Iraq, although the British are active in training and equipping the Iraqis, mostly Kurds, who are fighting the Islamic State.
While Mr. Cameron argued that there is "a strong case" for carrying the air war to Syria, as Washington is doing, he also promised that any British military involvement in Syria would require another parliamentary debate and vote, which is considered unlikely before the general election next May.
Friday's motion was approved 524 to 43, and essentially means that six British Tornado fighter jets that have been flying reconnaissance missions over Iraq can now be ordered to drop bombs as well.
Mr. Cameron was desperate to avoid the humiliation of August 2013, when his motion to authorize the bombing of Syria alongside the United States, to punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons, was defeated in Parliament.  Then, the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, opposed the government motion, and both he and Mr. Cameron were considered to have mismanaged the vote.
In the end, President Obama, too, decided last year not to bomb Syria and instead accepted a Russian proposal to oversee the elimination of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons, and dismantling its production facilities.
This time, with one British hostage executed  by the Islamic State and two more threatened, Mr. Cameron did his homework, consulting his backbenchers and working out a deal with Mr. Miliband, who has argued that bombing in Syria would help Mr. Assad and would be "better" with a Security Council resolution, which Russia and China are considered unlikely to allow.
The other main European military power, France, is also wary of participating in airstrikes in Syria. President François Hollande on Tuesday said France joined the coalition in bombing Iraq because the government in Baghdad had asked, sidestepping a question on Syria by saying that every country in the coalition needed to share the burden of required tasks.
One French official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the French position was that no action should be taken that would have the effect of aiding Mr. Assad.
"That is a crucial point for us because we think that his stubbornness is a major factor in the crisis, as well as an essential driving force in the crisis," the diplomat said. "So what we don't want is that airstrikes allow al-Assad forces to redeploy themselves on the ground."
Belgium's Parliament on Friday approved the deployment of fighter jets, cargo planes and military support to help with the fight in Iraq. In Denmark, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said her nation would contribute seven fighter jets to the coalition in Iraq.
Germany has not taken part in the conflict militarily but has agreed to supply aid and provide training to Kurdish forces and Iraqi security forces.
Britain is still dealing with the trauma of 2003, when the country felt that Prime Minister Tony Blair, too eager to stand alongside Washington, pushed Britain into war in Iraq with false intelligence about Saddam Hussein supposedly having weapons of mass destruction. Only since then have prime ministers thought it wise to get parliamentary authorization before military action.
The vote last year, which some considered the first time a British prime minister had been defeated on a major military issue since the American War of Independence, dented Britain's reputation as America's closest ally in the fight against terrorism. The debate on Friday was seen as a test of Britain's stomach for further military intervention alongside the United States after Iraq and the hardly more popular war in Afghanistan.
As he outlined his case for intervention, Mr. Cameron faced persistent questioning from lawmakers about the campaign's objectives, the risk that the mission could expand beyond its initial scope and the readiness of Iraqi forces to take advantage of air support. But some lawmakers also argued that the motion did not go far enough.
"We would want to see a stable Iraq and -- over time -- a stable Syria too; ISIL degraded and then destroyed as a serious terrorist organization," Mr. Cameron said in Parliament, using another name for the Islamic State. "But let me be frank: We should not expect this to happen quickly. The hallmarks of this campaign will be patience and persistence, not shock and awe."
Mr. Cameron said the militant group had "already murdered one British hostage and is threatening the lives of two more," adding that, for Britain, there "isn't a walk-on-by option."
Supporting the call for airstrikes, Mr. Miliband was nonetheless careful to present himself as even more cautious than Mr. Cameron. Mr. Miliband said that he understood the unease in parts of Britain about another military engagement. "Let us be clear at the outset what is the proposition: airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq," Mr. Miliband said. "Not about ground troops, nor about U.K. military action elsewhere. And it is a mission specifically aimed at ISIL."
He said that a "dismembered Iraq" would be more dangerous to Britain than taking military action now, and that Britain should pride itself on its "tradition of internationalism."
At the United Nations on Friday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told reporters that the American-led airstrikes should be done with the "cooperation" of the Syrian authorities, without which, he said, airstrikes would be against the law. Asked if Russia would play a role in the future, Mr. Lavrov said, "We are fighting against terrorism consistently, constantly, not just when someone announces a coalition. It's not some pop-up idea for us."
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London, Somini Sengupta from the United Nations, and Maia de la Baume from Paris.