With a Thursday night vote in Parliament restricting UK Prime Minister David Cameron from joining the U.S. in a military attack on Syria, the question now forefront is whether or not President Obama will ignore larger calls for caution against intervention and launch an unilateral military assault against the war-torn Middle East country.
If he does so—and the White House indicates the president remains undeterred—the U.S. will be proceeding without a mandate from the U.N., a war resolution from Congress, or even a NATO or broader international coalition designed to legitimatize such an attack.
As the Associated Press reports:
President Barack Obama on Thursday prepared for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days as Britain opted out in a stunning vote by Parliament. Facing skepticism at home, too, the administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people and must be punished.
Despite roadblocks in forming an international coalition, Obama appeared undeterred and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.
"The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Even before the vote in London, the U.S. was preparing to act without formal authorization from the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force, or from Capitol Hill. But the U.S. had expected Britain, a major ally, to join in the effort.
And the British aren't the only ones backing away from earlier statements about the urgency for military intervention, with McClatchy reporting:
Another European ally, France, also appeared to back off initial support for a speedy intervention, instead pushing for a delay on action pending the findings of the U.N. inspection team. The inspectors were expected to wrap up their work in Syria by Saturday and head back to New York to begin a reconstruction of the apparent poison gas attack on Aug. 21, which killed hundreds of civilians and injured thousands more in the suburbs of Damascus.
French President Francois Hollande had only days ago vowed to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons. By Thursday, however, he had eased his stance. A French government spokeswoman was quoted as saying, “Before acting, we need proof.”
Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, continuing a series of calls to leaders around the globe about the situation in Syria.
As Washington appeared to move closer to a decision about military action, the memory of the fallout from the faulty intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq a decade ago hovered over the current debate.
Also striking, especially in contrast to the Parliamentary action in the UK, is the continued absence of real debate inside the US Congress over the use of force against Syria. As The Nation's John Nichols wrote on Thursday:
As preparations are made for war with Syria—and, should anyone be confused on this point, missile strikes meet the definition of warmaking—Secretary of State John Kerry says that “the administration is actively consulting with members of Congress.”
But “actively consulting” is not the same as securing a clearly stated declaration of war.
And going further, author and peace activist Norman Solomon writes at Common Dreams that though consultation and a vote by Congress is key in terms of democratic process and constitutionality, no one should be fooled into thinking that congressional approval will somehow make an assault on Syria a just or wise course of action. Solomon writes:
During the next few days, a huge and historic battle will determine whether President Obama can continue the deadly record of presidential impunity to ignore Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution (“The Congress shall have Power … To declare War”) and the War Powers Act as well as public opinion, now strongly against an attack on Syria.
In recent days, perhaps as a tactical matter, some progressive groups and members of Congress have focused on urging that Congress get to vote—or at least play a role—in the decision on whether to bomb Syria. But we should not imply that we’ll be satisfied as long as the matter comes to a congressional vote. Time is very short; we should cut through the preliminaries and get to the point: No attack on Syria!