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Obama Increasingly Isolated on Syria Military Action

Some analysts suggest that Obama’s failure to line up support from more G20 leaders suggests that the U.S.-created global order is no longer sustainable. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Some analysts suggest that Obama’s failure to line up support from more G20 leaders suggests that the U.S.-created global order is no longer sustainable. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

WASHINGTON, Sep 6 2013 (IPS) - With a week of intense lobbying behind him, U.S. President Barack Obama looks increasingly beleaguered – both at home and abroad – in his effort to rally support for a military strike against Syria to punish its government for its alleged Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack outside Damascus.

At home, most political observers say Obama faces a particularly difficult task in bringing a majority of the Republican-led House of Representatives, which begins debating his proposed Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) next week on return from its August recess, over to his side.

“The lack of consensus within G20 is confirmation of what we already knew, which is that there is limited support for military action in Syria within the international community." -- Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations

Congressional offices, even those whose bosses favour Obama’s position, are reporting overwhelming opposition in telephone calls and emails from their constituents, while public meetings held by lawmakers in their home districts have been dominated by anti-intervention forces from both the right and the left.

And polls released over the past week suggest that the administration has made little headway in moving public opinion its way.

A new Gallup poll taken at mid-week and released Friday found that support for U.S. military action “to reduce Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons” – 36 percent – was the lowest on the eve of any military intervention Washington has undertaken in the last 20 years. Fifty-one percent of respondents opposed a strike.

In a reflection of White House concern over opposition to military action, Obama himself announced Friday that he will address the nation about his intentions Tuesday. At a press conference at the Group of 20 (G20) meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, he acknowledged that getting both house of Congress to approve an authorisation was “going to be a heavy lift”.

He spoke just after his deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, told National Public Radio (NPR) that, even though Obama retained the constitutional authority to strike Syria without Congressional authorisation, “it’s neither his desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him.”

Meanwhile, on the international front, Obama also appeared to be faring poorly in his bid to gain support for military action.

In St. Petersburg, The White House released a “joint statement” signed by the leaders of only 10 members, including the U.S., of the G20 plus Spain voicing “support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons” and calling for “those who perpetrated these crimes (to be) held accountable.” The statement stopped short, however, of endorsing military action.

The signatories included the leaders of Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, as well as the U.S. Absent from the list, however, were all members of the BRICS bloc – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – as well as Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico, and Germany.

The European Union (EU), a G20 member in its own right, also did not sign due to a lack of consensus among its membership.

Independent observers described the statement as a serious setback not only to Washington’s efforts to rally international support.

“It seems to have been a remarkable investment of American diplomatic energy not to have achieved the support of even a majority of the G20, and they tried to give the appearance of half plus one through sleight of hand,” noted Daniel Levy, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), who pointed to larger problems caused by the way the administration has acted over the Syria issue.

“Look at the institutions they’ve weakened in this process: the U.N. Security Council itself; the European Union by implicitly underlining its failure to gain consensus; the Arab League where the three most populous Arab states – Egypt, Iraq and Algeria – have all come out against military action; and even the G20 – all in order to achieve a statement that is far from an unequivocal endorsement of American military action,” he told IPS.

Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), also suggested that the administration’s latest diplomatic move underscored its weakness on the issue.

“The lack of consensus within G20 is confirmation of what we already knew, which is that there is limited support for military action in Syria within the international community,” he said.

Back at home, advocates of military action, the most vocal of whom are pro-Israel activists and organisations worried that Congress’ failure to back up Obama’s threats against Syria will embolden Iran and its regional allies, are increasingly making the argument that both the president’s and Washington’s international credibility is at stake.

“This is not longer just about the conflict in Syria or even the Middle East,” wrote former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, co-chairmen of the American Internationalism Project of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neo-conservative think tank that played a leading role in championing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“It is about American credibility. Are we a country that our friends can trust and our enemies fear? Or are we perceived as a divided and dysfunctional superpower in retreat, whose words and warnings are no longer meaningful?” they asked in an op-ed entitled “Inaction on Syria Threatens U.S. Security” published by the Wall Street Journal Friday.

Failure to authorise a strike will be a “green light” for Iran to “speed toward nuclear weapons” and “confirm the worst fears of our ally, Israel, and moderate Arab states like Jordan that the U.S. cannot be relied upon to stand by its commitments. This will dramatically raise the risks of a regional war that could upend the global economy,” they stressed.

But others have argued that the credibility argument is overdrawn in this case.

“We heard this argument many, many times before, and always when the objective case for war was weak,” according to Stephen Walt, a prominent international relations expert at Harvard University. “To refrain from using force when vital interests are not at stake and when bombing could make things worse is not weakness; it is good sense.

“The United States has fought five wars since the Cold War ended and is using drones and special forces in several countries already,” he told IPS. “Nobody is going to question U.S. credibility when its interests are genuinely engaged and it has a clear objective in mind.”

Some liberal interventionists, notably Secretary of State John Kerry in his various public remarks, have also stressed the credibility argument, arguing that Washington’s failure to act could have profound implications for world order.

“For better or worse…” William Galston of the Brookings Institution argued in the Journal earlier this week, “the United States is the guarantor of the global order, which we took the lead in creating.

“Mr. Obama will need to convey this idea to the American people …from the Oval office,” he wrote.  “He must be prepared to go all-in to win what is shaping up as a tough fight on Capitol Hill. One thing is clear: A loss would shatter his presidency, and a lot more.”

But Kupchan said Obama’s failure to line up support from more G20 leaders suggested that the U.S.-created global order was no longer sustainable in any case.

“It’s clear confirmation of the degree to which there is a fundamental difference in geopolitical perspective between developed and emerging powers,” he told IPS.

“That the BRICS countries voted as a bloc is a sign of how difficult it’s going to be to fashion international consensus as global power continues to diffuse.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

 
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  • JAP

    The US Government Stands Revealed to the World as a Collection of War Criminals and Liars

    Does the American public have the strength of character to face the fact that the US government stands before the entire world revealed as a collection of war criminals who lie every time that they open their mouth? Will Congress and the American public buy the White House lie that they must support war criminals and liars or “America will lose face”?

    The Obama regime’s lies are so transparent and blatant that the cautious, diplomatic President Putin of Russia lost his patience and stated the fact that we all already know: John Kerry is a liar. Putin said: “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them [the Americans], and we assume they are decent people, but he [Kerry] is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”

    When Secretary of State Colin Powell was sent by the criminal bush regime to lie to the UN, Powell and his chief of staff claim that Powell did not know he was lying. It did not occur to the Secretary of State that the White House would send him to the UN to start a war that killed, maimed, and dispossessed millions of Iraqis on the basis of total lies.

    The despicable John Kerry knows that he is lying. Here is the American Secretary of State, and Obama, the puppet president, knowingly lying to the world. There is not a shred of integrity in the US government. No respect for truth, justice, morality or human life. Here are two people so evil that they want to repeat in Syria what the bush war criminals did in Iraq.

  • lightweaver1213

    President Obama, this may be one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to face. However, you do not make this decision alone or in silence. We hear the cries of the Syrian people as we have with the Iraqii people and we have all felt the suffering in Africa. I know we cannot help all of the world, but if we walk in the faith of our forefathers to God, then we will have the strength of the Lord guiding our every step.

    Do not go along with someone else because you feel pressured, or because you allow fear to stand in your way of doing what is right. If these were our citizens, our children, our neighbors, we would take the hope of America to move a mountain in order to help.

    How does Pres. Putin think we are going to get rid of those sarin gas tanks in Syria? And what about the ones that Iran has? Yes, when they thought UN inspectors were going to come into their country, they moved sarin tanks into Syria because they are allies.

    You can’t dump them in the ocean, you can’t burn them off, you can’t bury them. So does Pres. Putin think the sarin gas fairy is going to whisk them away?

    I used to keep silent except with friends. But the stakes become very high when it comes to people of this world being mistreated. Jordan cannot do much more. Lebanon cannot do more. What does make sense would be President Netanyahu moving the Syrian refugees into settlement housing built recently.

    I don’t know how the US could handle that number of people, but leaders of our world need to come up with a solution that will help the Syrian people.

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