As the Obama administration mulls its choices for intervention in Syria, one possible choice has seemingly been taken off the table — an UN resolution authorizing the US to use force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made that clear yesterday:
The United States does not need the permission of the United Nations or any other international body for a military strike against Syria to retaliate for its use of chemical weapons against civilians, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.
“No nation, no group of nations is bound by only one dimension of whether they’d make a decision to respond to any self-defense or any other violation of the kind of humanitarian violations that we saw in Syria,” he told the BBC.
The reason for eschewing the UN Security Council is obvious enough. Neither Russia nor China will allow a resolution authorizing force against Syria, just as both nations have blocked any real action against Iran for secretly and then openly pursuing nuclear weapons, in violation of UN and IAEA treaties. The UNSC is nothing more than a debating society where nothing of any substance gets accomplished about true threats, while the General Assembly mostly acts as a hysterical echo chamber for anti-Israel despots and human-rights abusers.
The UN envoy to Syria says that’s just too bad. Only UN approval will give the US authority to respond to Syria’s use of WMDs:
“I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says,” [special UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi] told a press conference in Geneva.
“I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don’t know. But certainly international law is very clear.”
Brahimi isn’t the only UN official advising caution, either. ABC’s Jon Williams reports that inspectors haven’t even finished their inspection, and would like a little more time to complete it and determine what happened:
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) August 28, 2013
If the Obama administration won’t go to the UN, our ally will do so in our place, apparently. NPR’s Mark Memmott reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has drafted a resolution to authorize military action, and will propose it to the five veto-wielding members of the UNSC today:
Britain “has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad & authorising necessary measures to protect civilians,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced on its official Twitter page early Wednesday.
That resolution, Cameron’s office added, “will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council later today in New York.”
Now, as NPR’s Philip Reeves tells our Newscast Desk, attention will:
“Focus on what the options encompassed by the words ‘necessary measures.’ Cameron is trying to convince a skeptical parliament and public to support plans to join the U.S. in a military strike against President Assad’s regime. This faces resolute opposition from Russia and China — both permanent member of the Security Council. But by putting forward the resolution, Cameron can argue that he at least tried to get U.N. Security Council backing.”
In other words, Cameron needs the political cover, where Obama probably doesn’t. The UN isn’t held in nearly as much respect in the US, but in Europe it’s a different matter. If Cameron is seen as bypassing the UN in a similar manner as Obama, he and the Tories will reap a whirlwind of criticism. That may be true even if Cameron tries and fails to get the UNSC to act, though, and possibly might not make much difference in the intensity of the anger.
One way or another, the strikes will come. What will be the result? Marine General Anthony Zinni told the Washington Post that we don’t seem to learn much from recent history, and that we’re going to end up owning the Syrian civil war:
An imminent U.S. strike on Syrian government targets in response to the alleged gassing of civilians last week has the potential to draw the United States into the country’s civil war, former U.S. officials said Tuesday, warning that history doesn’t bode well for such limited retaliatory interventions.
The best historical parallels — the 1998 cruise missile strikes on targets in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan — are rife with unintended consequences and feature little success.
“The one thing we should learn is you can’t get a little bit pregnant,” said retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was at the helm of U.S. Central Command when the Pentagon launched cruise missiles at suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan and weapons facilities in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. “If you do a one-and-done and say you’re going to repeat it if unacceptable things happen, you might find these people keep doing unacceptable things. It will suck you in.”
Yes, but we taught them a lesson, right? Right? Well ….
Former U.S. officials said neither operation dealt much of a strategic setback to the targets. But they enraged many in the Muslim world, prompting angry demonstrations, including an attempted siege of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus by a mob that later ransacked the ambassador’s residence.
“We didn’t really gain anything,” said longtime U.S. diplomat Ryan C. Crocker, who was the ambassador in Damascus at the time. “The behavior of our adversaries did not change. A couple of cruise missiles are not going to change their way of thinking.”
The only way to change the behavior is to change the regime. And that takes a massive invasion, a commitment to long-term rebuilding, counter-insurgency fighting that could take a decade or more, and the perseverance to see it all the way through. We did the first three in Iraq, the middle two in Afghanistan, and couldn’t maintain the perseverance long enough. We tried the remote-control shortcut in Libya and ended up with instant disaster. That should teach us to stay out of these fights in the Middle East, especially between two sides that are both hostile to the US, and especially not to intervene on behalf of the side that’s openly conducting war against us. Instead, it looks like we prefer being a little bit pregnant.