The prospect of going alone in Syria


A few days ago, it was largely seen as a fait accompli – British Prime Minister David Cameron would get approval from the British Parliament for the use of force in Syria, and a coalition would move forward apace.

With these expectations in mind, last night’s developments were as stunning as they were dramatic. For the first time in generations, a British prime minister’s appeal for military authorization was rejected by members of Parliament, even after Cameron watered down the scope of his original request.

It’s safe to assume the White House, which appears eager to intervene in Syria and assumed the UK’s support was in hand, was rattled by Parliament’s decision. Indeed, it left President Obama in an unsettling global dynamic – he seems to support a mission that lacks the support of America’s closest ally, the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League, and a significant percentage of the American public. The U.S. Congress won’t cut short its summer break, but bipartisan skepticism appears broad.

It’s against this backdrop that the president is apparently prepared to act anyway.

President Obama is prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria, administration officials said Thursday, despite a stinging rejection of such action by America’s stalwart ally Britain and mounting questions from Congress. […]

[A]dministration officials made clear that the eroding support would not deter Mr. Obama in deciding to go ahead with a strike. Pentagon officials said that the Navy had now moved a fifth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Each ship carries dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles that would probably be the centerpiece of any attack on Syria.

According to the New York Times’ account, U.N. inspectors will leave Syria tomorrow, and U.S. strikes “could occur soon after.”

The need for such expedited action remains entirely unexplained.

If such a thing as an “Obama Doctrine” exists, it’s predicated on some basic tenets – military intervention abroad needs international legitimacy and should come alongside coalition partners. When the president intervened in Libya, for example, Congress and the American public were skeptical, but the mission enjoyed NATO backing and the United States clearly was not acting alone.

In this case, the opposite is true. There is no coalition. There is no backing from international institutions. There is no consistency between the apparent mission and the foreign policy principles the president has embraced in the recent past.

Foreign Policy and Syria

The prospect of going alone in Syria