While a U.S. Carrier Strike Group makes its way to the Mediterranean, and amid reports of US and French fighter jets buzzing around the skies over Syria, the BBC reports that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is "ready to join military action against the Assad regime in Syria without first seeking Parliamentary consent."
The prime minister is said by government insiders to see the need for a response as urgent.
She wants to prevent a repeat of the apparent chemical attack near Damascus, which she described as "abhorrent". -BBC
Today's hawkish tone comes on the heels of a report that May told President Trump on Tuesday that Britain would require more evidence in last weekend's suspected chemical attack before committing to a military strike against Syria, reports The Times. Guess not?
Perhaps the notion of the UK "sitting this one out" didn't exactly play well with the rest of the coalition...
The prime minister rejected a swift retaliation as inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) prepared to visit the Damascus suburb where at least 40 people were reported to have been killed by chlorine gas on Saturday. -The Times
May chaired a meeting of the national security council in London this week, where she spoke with Presidents Trump and Macron for the first time since the Douma chemical attack. It is reported that Trump, who's had a remarkable change of heart on U.S. involvement in Syria since the election, did not ask the UK to join military strikes.
A No 10 read-out of her call with the US president stated that they agreed the international community “needed to respond” but stopped short of blaming the Syrian regime. “They agreed that reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were utterly reprehensible and if confirmed, represented further evidence of the Assad regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people and total disregard for its legal obligations not to use these weapons,” it said. -The Times
Recall just days ago President Trump saying that Syria would "pay a big price," and that the U.S. response would be decided by Wednesday. Trump reportedly canceled travel plans after reports emerged that Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria would complicate matters in the region. Theresa May, however, initially used very cautious language - noting that the UK would be working with allies to "make an assessment of what has happened," before the BBC reported that her tone changed dramatically overnight.
Mrs May had said earlier: “We’ll be working with our allies . . . crucially, to make an assessment of what has happened.” Her tone contrasted with some American rhetoric. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US permanent representative to Nato, accused Assad of genocide and said a military response was appropriate. -The Times
UK Politicians are reportedly engaged in a fierce internal debate over the situation in Syria - with foreign secretary Boris Johnson arguing that the use of chemical weapons must not go unpunished, and that the UK should be part of the military response alongside the United States and France.
May, however, is said to have raised doubts over military action - pointing to last year's strikes following the Kahn Sheikhoun chemical attack.
With no plans to a recall parliament, Tory MPs said that Mrs May should not to take action without Commons approval. Julian Lewis, chairman of the defence select committee, said: “When our country comes under attack, the government may have to act first and seek parliament’s approval afterwards. But when we are contemplating military intervention in other people’s conflicts, parliament ought to be consulted first.” -The Times
That almost sounds like common sense... Perhaps something even candidate Trump might say!
Here's where things stand at present:
- March 22; H.R. McMaster is out as National Security Advisor. John Bolton is named as his replacement. Bolton's first day on the job was Monday.
- Also on Monday, and what a coincidence - Israel bombs Syria's T-4 airbase in response to last weekend's alleged chemical atack, killing 14 people. Here are official pictures from Iranian state television purporting to be the aftermath:
- President Trump parks the USS Donald Cook off of Syrian waters, which has been buzzed by Russian pilots.
- The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) was deployed to the Mediterranean Tuesday, where it will join the USS Donald Cook off Syrian territorial waters.
[Fun fact: Saudi Arabia and other Clinton Foundation donors received a 143% increase in completed weapons sales vs. what the Bush administration previously sold to the same countries (IB Times).
Then again, the 143% increase to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an already stunning 80% increase in arms sales to all countries over the same time period by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama.]
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- Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution for the OPCW to investigate the chemical attack. Recall that Russia was recently denied a request to join the OPCW's investigation into the poisoning of former double-agent Sergei Skripal.
Russia's UN envoy says the draft was designed to fail, which would thus "justify" unauthorized action in Syria.
Moscow denounced the vote as a trick to justify military intervention. “The authors are being driven by very different priorities. They never wanted the resolution to pass,” Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador, said. “They will use it to justify the use of force against Syria. If you decide to carry out an illegal military venture, and we hope you’ll come to your senses, you’ll have to bear responsibility for it yourself.” -The Times
As The Times notes, "Two Russian resolutions calling for investigation without apportioning blame were rejected by the council."
In response, British ambassador Karen Pierce said that "Russia's credibility as a member of the security council was now in question," while US ambassador Nikki Haley ruled out further negotiations over the investigation - saying the decision could not be delayed further.
- Russian warships have left a Syrian port to conduct drills.
- A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon "submarine killer" is flying off the Syrian coast
- Trump warns Russia that "missiles are coming" after the Kremlin vowed to shoot them down
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has outright said that the chemical attack was fabricated by the Syrian White Helmets, an NGO lauded by mainstream media for their humanitarian work, while long-suspected of performing less-than humanitarian deeds behind the curtain.
Speaking with EuroNews, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizov, said "Russian military specialists have visited this region, walked on those streets, entered those houses, talked to local doctors and visited the only functioning hospital in Douma, including its basement where reportedly the mountains of corpses pile up. There was not a single corpse and even not a single person who came in for treatment after the attack."
While Russia is obviously far from unbiased when it comes to the investigation - so are reports coming exclusively from anti-Assad groups "on the ground." At minimum, perhaps we should put the brakes on things until the chemical attack is sorted out. After all, one can't exactly claim there is zero precedent for heightened scrutiny when faced with the potential steamrolling of yet another enemy of the West based on flimsy evidence.