And then there were … none? A week ago, France sounded determined to provide a military response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons — but a week ago, so did the UK and the US. Parliament put an end to the UK military response, and now Barack Obama has reversed course and says he will seek Congressional authorization. All of a sudden, France feels pretty darned lonely:
A French official said his country would not act alone against Syria after President Barack Obama said he would seek approval from Congress before launching any military action to punish the government of Bashar Assad for a gas attack that killed hundreds, making Paris the last main ally in the coalition to back off an immediate attack.
“France cannot go in alone,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a radio interview amid growing pressure on President Francois Hollande to put the question of intervention to a vote in French parliament. “A coalition is necessary.”
“We are entering a new phase. We now have some time and with this time, we must put it to good use so that things move,” he added.
The statement followed several days of prevarication among supporters of Western military intervention.
Only hours after Secretary of State John Kerry called Assad “a thug and a murderer” and accused the government of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, President Barack Obama changed his mind about when and how to intervene.
This may be moot, of course. If Obama can win Congressional approval for military action, then France will almost certainly join the coalition — unless Hollande also puts the question to his Parliament. The fact that the French legislature is agitating for a voice in this decision suggests that won’t be a slam-dunk for Hollande.
Chuck Todd reports it won’t be for Obama, either:
Todd is wrong on one point, which is the idea that presidents have done this kind of thing for the last 30 years. The only time presidents did this in the past without Congressional authorization was when they could claim a “clear and present danger” to the national security of the US. Clinton invoked that with the missile strikes on al-Qaeda, for instance, as Reagan did in the invasion of Grenada nearly 30 years ago, using the safety of American students studying medicine as one justification for executive action, and the potential for Cuban/Soviet bombers to use the revamped airport to sortie against the US as another. And that intervention produced a Democratic impeachment attempt by Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY) and six other House members, which went nowhere.
Obama’s problem in this case is that he can’t argue that Assad’s chemical weapons represent an actual or imminent danger to the US. Obama tried to argue this week that a lack of response would give Assad a green light to attack American assets in the region, but that’s a very large and unbelievable stretch. There may well be a good argument for intervention in Syria, but not without Congressional approval. As Obama admitted yesterday, there’s no particular rush to respond in this instance, and every reason to think carefully about what our strategy should be moving forward.