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Syria Bombing Debate in UK Underscores 'Dereliction of Duty' in US

'As our allies in the UK prepare to debate and vote on their involvement in this battle, it is well past time that our own country do the same,' says U.S. senator

Signs and demonstrators at this weekend's anti-war march in London. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

As the debate over whether Britain should start bombing the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria reaches fever pitch in the UK, calls for similarly vigorous public deliberation in the U.S.—which has been conducting airstrikes within the war-torn country for more than a year—continue to fall on deaf ears.

The juxtaposition is an "embarrassing" reflection of how "the Brits have a much more robust debate than we have," CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin told Common Dreams on Monday.

"It is just so despicable of Congress to not weigh in one of the most significant issues that elected officials are supposed to weigh in on, which is waging war or peace."
—Medea Benjamin, CodePink

In a move that effectively gives hawkish Prime Minister David Cameron the go-ahead for expanded war, Labour Party leader and longtime anti-war voice Jeremy Corbyn announced Monday that he would grant Members of Parliament (MPs) a "free vote" on the government's proposal to authorize UK airstrikes in Syria.

With some Labour MPs backing such military action, the decision makes it more likely that Cameron's government will now feel sufficiently confident to bring forward a vote on the issue—a reality that was not lost on anti-war groups or elected officials.

Corbyn, who opposes the bombing campaign, has also written to Cameron to ask for a two-day debate on the issue so that "important contributions" are not cut short—suggesting the vote will take place next week at the earliest. In what the Huffington Post UK said was a "highly unusual move," Corbyn and his Shadow Foreign Secretary "will use the debate to set out their different interpretations of whether the government had met Labour's key tests for bombing."

Cameron, for his part, is expected to make a statement Monday on Syria after the evening news at 8 pm local time.

At least 5,000 people gathered in central London on Saturday carrying signs that read "Don't bomb Syria;" "Drop Cameron, not bombs;" and "Don't add fuel to the fire."

"It's a whole different level of involvement and awareness," Benjamin said, referring to public engagement as well as that of elected officials in the UK.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, calls for a congressional debate over the use of U.S. military force in the fight against ISIS have gone nowhere—despite the fact that, as of November 19, the U.S. had conducted 6,471 of the 8,289 coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State, according to the Pentagon. American warplanes carried out about two-thirds of the strikes on Iraqi territory and 95 percent of those on Syrian territory.

There has been no official authorization of war (Authorization of Military Force, or AUMF) against ISIS. The White House claims that the military campaign is legal under the umbrella of the 2001 AUMF that authorized the U.S. military to retaliate against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, particularly al-Qaeda. Attempts to pass an ISIS-related AUMF have stalled in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has strongly opposed deploying American troops to Syria, seized on the two countries' different approaches in a letter to his colleagues on Friday.

"Congress needs to put some skin in the game."
—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy

"We've taken dozens of votes to repeal Obamacare; we've held hours upon hours of hearings and multiple special investigations on Benghazi; we've devoted days of Senate floor time to blocking new administration rules on clean water and power," Murphy wrote.

"That is the majority's prerogative," he continued. "But this Congress has so far failed to take a single vote on the war that is currently being fought against ISIS, or to truly debate how we confront this evil. As our allies in the UK prepare to debate and vote on their involvement in this battle, it is well past time that our own country do the same."

"Congress needs to put some skin in the game," he added, noting that "[t]here are many, myself included, who suspect the means and scope of force authorized in a declaration of war will differ from their preferred course. But the possibility of being outnumbered is no excuse for refusing to fulfill our constitutional obligations. That wouldn’t make us legislators, but cowards."

Noting that President Barack Obama's 2013 decision not to attack Syria was based in part on a vote against military action in the British Parliament, CodePink's Benjamin called the lack of congressional debate a "total dereliction of duty."

"It is just so despicable of Congress to not weigh in one of the most significant issues that elected officials are supposed to weigh in on," she said, "which is waging war or peace."

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