LONDON, UK — As the United States moves toward armed military intervention in Syria, President Barack Obama may find himself working with some unexpected partners in Europe.
With Britain having bowed out of participating in direct action following a surprise vote in parliament and Germany confirming that is it “not considering” military action, France has tentatively stepped forward as America’s lead European partner on military intervention.
President Francois Hollande has said that France is ready to act, even without Security Council approval.
“If the Security Council is prevented from acting, a coalition will be formed. It must be as broad as possible,” he said in an interview in Le Monde.
It’s not clear how solid Hollande’s support is, however. Although 55 percent of French people support military action in Syria, only 45 percent believe France should be part of it, according to a poll cited in the Times.
They may now have to face the uncomfortable prospect of being the lone US partner in another armed strike on the Arab world.
Despite his track record as one of the most vocal proponents of action against Assad, British Prime Minister David Cameron was left reeling from parliament’s close but decisive decision to block the UK from becoming involved in Syria.
A league of Conservative backbenchers defied Cameron’s press for military intervention in the 285 to 272 vote Thursday night, which followed an eight-hour debate.
The prime minister sat stony-faced as the votes were read out, then angrily conceded that he would not pursue war. It was the first time in modern British history that parliament has overruled a government’s wish for military action.
Across the Atlantic on Friday, although US Secretary of State John Kerry gave strong indication Washington will act without British support, some grappled with the loss of a presumed coalition partner. “The British Aren’t Coming! The British Aren’t Coming!” crowed the New York Daily News.
In Britain, political watchers turned their attention from the welfare of Syrians to dissecting what the vote means for Cameron’s future as well as the country's standing in the world.
The vote will prompt “national soul searching” over Britain’s role in this and future international crises, Chancellor George Osborne said.
“I hope this doesn’t become a moment where we turn our back on all of the world’s problems,” Osbourne told BBC radio.
Other Conservatives expressed anger at lawmakers’ refusal to engage in military action against a regime suspected of using chemical weapons against its own people.
“You’re a disgrace!” Education Secretary Michael Gove shouted at Tories who defied Cameron.
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Still others saw the vote as a referendum on the government’s competency.
“I think that was less a vote specifically against any possible military intervention in Syria as an expression of a lack of confidence in the ability or willingness of the Government to think through the consequences of its policies,” Conservative peer Norman Tebbit wrote in the Telegraph.
“Indeed I begin to think that if Mr. Cameron is ousted from No. 10, it will not be by [Labour leader Ed] Milliband or [UK Independence Party leader Nigel] Farage, but by his own hand.”