Yesterday, UK politicians voted against military intervention in the Syria conflict, although it was a close call: 272 votes for military action, 285 against. It’s the first time in modern history that MPs have voted against a Prime Minister’s call to war (here). This doesn’t mean that there won’t be military action, because under Britain’s antiquated form of governance the Prime Minister can still take the country to war with the consent of the monarch (the royal prerogative). This seems unlikely, though, because if David Cameron took this option he would be committing political suicide.
Last month, on the other side of the Atlantic, there was another extraordinary vote on what became known as the Amash amendment, so-named because its main author was Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican. The Amash amendment was a response to the early Edward Snowden revelations, which showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had for years been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, Americans unsuspected of any crime or foreign intelligence threat (here). The Amash amendment sought to end this blanket collection of phone records. It was defeated by 217 votes to 205. In effect, last month the House of Representatives voted to continue mass surveillance of Americans, albeit by a narrow margin.
But as the weeks went by, more and more Snowden revelations were published (principally by the Guardian newspaper) and it was shown that the NSA and GCHQ were quite illegally scooping-up just about everything in the digital realm, and it was all done with the collusion of the telecom and tech companies. In America there was much debate about it. In the UK there was almost complete silence, despite the fact that GCHQ were playing the biggest part in it all. As the clamour grew in America, the US Government tried a clumsy piece of propaganda: it closed its embassies in North Africa, the Middle East and south Asia, citing a terrorism threat (here). White House press briefings played heavily on the idea that it was the likes of the NSA and its surveillance programme that got wind of a “credible” threat. Of course, nothing happened. There was no attack and when everyone had forgotten about it the embassies quietly re-opened.
Then, on Sunday 18th August, David Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act for 9 hours in the transit area of Heathrow Airport. Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who’s breaking most of the Edward Snowden stories. The next day, Monday 19th August, the Guardian Editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, published an extraordinary piece about the harrassment that he and his newspaper were receiving from the British authorities (you can find my post about it all here). Miranda’s detention and Rusbridger’s article caused consternation worldwide and put the Snowden stuff right back up there in the headlines. A few days later, on Wednesday 21st August, the ‘chemical weapons attack’ happened in Syria (here). Syria has been in the headlines ever since, with barely a mention of the Snowden stuff.
Now, you know where I’m going with this, dear reader, and I’ll leave you to make up your own mind…