This is how democracy works

If you know anything about the difference between the US and the UK constitutions, you probably know that a parliamentary system, as in the UK, is more dynamic and effective: No separation of powers to hamstring the government. The Prime Minister stands on a parliamentary majority, and parliament answers to no one, so he (or sometimes she — that’s another difference), so the PM gets to make decisions and have them carried out.

That’s how it works for legislation, more or less, but not, apparently, in matters of war and peace. Parliament is now actually debating the decision to attack Syria. Labour has submitted an amendment to the government motion, requiring that military action proceed through an orderly process, including a vote by the UN security council. And it appears that there are enough disaffected coalition MPs to make it likely that it would succeed. This forced the government to back down yesterday on holding an immediate vote on a measure authorising the use of force. Now, they are debating a non-binding resolution of support.

I don’t know where I stand on the merits of this, but I’m fascinated by the process, and grateful for Ed Miliband — not someone I had previously thought of as a courageous leader — for being willing to ask some difficult questions. Presidents and prime ministers have a natural bias toward moralising with bombs. It makes them look strong and decisive, and like they’re accomplishing something important. Democracies need other forces that can ask difficult questions, and restrain the march to war.

I wonder if the the US Constitution could be amended to give the Congress a role in declarations of war? Nah, it’d never pass. Too utopian.

But this does spare the Obama administration from the frustration that leads to this sort of invective:

[A government] source was claimed to have said: “No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party.”

I’m not sure what the “copper-bottomed” part means, but it sure sounds colourful.

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