On 29 August 2013, the British parliament voted against two motions to censure the Syrian government which were expected to lead to military action. The result was a shock to external commentators and quickly interpreted as a fiasco. This article charts the construction of the severity and agency involved in this fiasco and notes the extremely personal nature of efforts to attribute blame for the outcome. It argues that this process enabled policy-makers to ignore underlying trends impacting on foreign policy, including the breakdown of bipartisanship, increasing public scepticism about government use of intelligence and the utility of force, severe reductions in Britain's capacity to act, as well as a deeper identity crisis about what kind of actor Britain should be in the world. Constructing this event as a fiasco can be seen as a form of denial of Britain's loss of agency in global affairs.