Last week, David Cameron was criticised for his handling of the parliamentary debate on military intervention in Syria.
It was said that Britain had been made to look weak and isolationist by refusing to join America in punishing Bashar al Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons against his own people. The former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, said he was ashamed of Britain. But Mr Cameron was surely right to listen to Parliament and not resort to royal prerogative to take Britain into a conflict the vast majority of voters want no part of.
And this week, Mr Cameron's caution appears in an even better light. He listened to Parliament, and now it appears President Barack Obama has listened to him. The leader of the world's greatest military power was forced by that Commons debate to reflect on the wisdom of early intervention and he has now decided, rightly in our view, to consult Congress before sending cruise missiles into Syria. This will give time for UN weapons inspectors to do their job of confirming the use of chemical weapons in Damascus. It will also give Mr Obama space to apply diplomatic pressure on the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, and others this week to disown the Syrian leader.
It is clear to everyone now that, last week, Parliament was not in a position to take a reasoned and informed view on the wisdom of military action in Syria. The intelligence was inconclusive, and it was not clear what purpose would be served merely by hurling a few missiles at Mr Assad's forces. Nor did the PM give a sound reason for pre-empting the work of the weapons inspectors. Recalling the bitter experience of Iraq 10 years ago, when Britain went to war in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist, MPs were determined not to hand out any more blank cheques.
However the motion before the House of Commons on Thursday called for a delay, not the abandonment of the military option altogether. It is therefor puzzling Mr Cameron has now ruled out any future vote on the use of force in Syria. While there may be no enthusiasm among the public for intervention now, that could change if atrocities continue to be inflicted on the Syrian people, and further images of killed and injured children appear on domestic television news bulletins. It is not inconceivable that, after the weapons inspectors report, the United Nations could authorise a form of military intervention to prevent further chemical attacks. But Mr Cameron has ruled out any further vote. This leaves the PM in the uncomfortable position of having lost a Commons motion that could not succeed and having decided not to present one that might.
Mr Cameron has accused Ed Miliband of opportunism, but the Labour leader was only expressing the widespread opposition to war among the public. The lesson of this whole affair is that Parliament is the proper place to decide when and where military intervention is necessary, and that Parliament must be allowed the time to review.
Last week was a triumph for parliamentary democracy, but MPs did not vote to wash their hands entirely of the Syrian atrocity. It is absolutely right for the UN leader, Ban Ki-moon to call for giving peace a chance. But if that does not work, might a time still come to give military force a chance? First, appropriate authorisation must be achieved.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.