Obama Seeks a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ on Syria

With blockages at the UN, NATO, EU and the Arab League, Obama must cobble together a patchwork of allies on Syria

  • Share
  • Read Later
ANDY RAIN / EPA

British Prime Minister David Cameron, right and US President Barack Obama at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, Britain. Obama and Cameron in a phonecall conferred about the alleged chemical attack in Syria and possible responses.

President Barack Obama has said the American response to the Syrian regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons must involve the international community.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it,” Obama told CNN last week. “Do we have the coalition to make it work? And, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.”

(MOREKerry: Obama Seeks “Accountability” for Syrian Chemical Weapons Use)

Unfortunately for Obama, a U.N. mandate — or support from almost any international institutions, for that matter — is looking unlikely.

No consensus this week can be found at the United Nations, within NATO or from the Arab League. Even the member states of the European Union can’t agree on what to do in Syria. Does this mean the U.S. won’t act? Given Secretary of State John Kerry’s impassioned comments Monday that the chemical attack in Syria was a “moral obscenity” that was “by any standard inexcusable,” the Obama administration seems poised to act.

(MORE: The Two Big Reasons Obama Might Strike Syria)

It will simply have to do so with a coalition of the willing.

What has so hobbled international institutions over Syria? In the case of the United Nations, Russia — which is allied with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad — holds veto power in the Security Council and would surely block any resolution authorizing military force. The Arab League is split, with Syria’s neighbors Iraq and Lebanon leery of allowing the Gulf States more sway in Syria. Europe and NATO are divided, with France and Britain pushing for action and Germany and the southern states eschewing it.

What the U.S. is looking to do, by all indications, isn’t a long-term engagement a la Afghanistan, or even Kosovo, but rather a “punitive” strike.

“My sense is the administration is trying to find something of a halfway house, something that is large enough to reinforce the norm on weapons of mass destruction use and to enforce the administration’s red lines,” said Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass. “But not something so large that it makes the United States a de facto protagonist in the Syrian civil war.”

(MOREU.N. Chemical-Weapons Experts Arrive in Syria: Are They on a Fool’s Errand?)

The idea of striking Assad over the use of weapons of mass destruction, but doing nothing to resolve Syria’s civil war — which has claimed more than 100,000 lives — will make coalition building easier but is also controversial.

“My biggest fear is that the current options for action being discussed are largely punitive, rather than part of a larger comprehensive strategy to achieve U.S. strategic interests in the region,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, a Syria export at the Institute for Understanding War. “If the U.S. does act in Syria, it should not be merely retaliatory, but part of a larger strategy capable of achieving U.S. objectives in Syria.”

The U.S. remains as divided as its international allies on what is best to do for Syria in the long term. Taking out Assad could affect U.S. relations with Iran, just as hopes are high for a rapprochement. It could also further destabilize the region as Iraq teeters on the brink of its own sectarian civil war.

The Syrian opposition has little fondness for the U.S. and could potentially be worse for American interests in the region, as noted by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey in a letter last week to Rep. Elliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee. For lack of good middle- and long-term strategies, a short-term punitive strike to show Assad he cannot use chemical weapons in this conflict restores the bloody balance of power and helps contain the growing conflict.

In practice, what is being considered here is a “surgical” exercise, according to Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Unlike in Iraq, where a “Coalition of the Willing” divvied up policing and training roles that lasted for years, the response in Syria would be brief and limited.

“There’s only a handful of countries, if that, that would have a capacity to get involved,” said Haas, pointing Britain and France as examples. Others might show support by allowing use of their military bases or fly-over rights in their airspace. But getting the support of dozens of countries only matters in proving the strike has international support, not in its execution.

(MORE1 Million Children Have Left Syria, U.N. Says)

So, is a military action not backed by any of the major international institutions legitimate? And does the lack of international cohesion, even in response to a chemical attack — weapons that almost every country on the planet has banned and condemned — mean that the international system is broken?

“[T]o the extent that you need unanimity or consensus, all it take is one outlier to block action and then you’ve got to ask yourself as a sovereign government whether you’re prepared to live with that, and in an many instances the answer is rightly no,” Haass said. “And so then you try to find other forms of legitimacy and other forms of multilateral support. This has been, is, and will be a fact of international life where the degree of consensus or agreement that we’d like to see internationally is a goal rather than a reality.”

Woodrow Wilson is crying in his grave.

MOREObama Blurs Red Line in Syria

67 comments
tata110359
tata110359

@TIME It's not a good Idea. let them solve their own problem. Don't Arabs think their better than everyone else?

mopteron
mopteron

A new cake walk in the making!!! With a new twist - the French & the Turks enlisted in the "coalition of the willing". This time it's not Powell showing proof of WMDs but Israel pretending to have intercepted communications about WMDs. And the propaganda machine totally ignores Saudi Arabia that has poured 100K jihadists into Syria for the Sunni vs Shia jihad. They have also sent multiple letters to DC asking for the overthrow of Assad... So, the new "coalition of the willing" are actually hired mercenaries for Saudi Arabia.. Weird isn't it? And people are even talking about something called legality.... The whims of the monarch  are now considered international law.

ParthaNeogy
ParthaNeogy

"The coalition of the willing" as used by the Bush administration was a pathetic euphemism applied to the protagonists of a war launched on false pretensions.  I have no idea how the Obama administration will react to the outrage in Syria.  But saddling its efforts in advance with the phraseology of a patently dishonest effort does not do it any favors.

JohnMoore
JohnMoore

The President should least *attempt* to provide a constitutional justification to the US people. Attacking a foreign country except in self defense requires a declaration of war (such as the AUMF authorizing the war on terror).

 That Obama is seeking approval from foreign countries, but not following the Constitution of the US is an insult to all Americans - yet one more act of unconstitutional arrogance.

lornerussell952
lornerussell952

Perhaps Canadian PM Harper will bring up the XL pipeline when Obama calls to enlist Canadian support of a 'coalition of the willing' on Syria.  Friends supporting friends and all that.  

StellaPierse
StellaPierse

Not only is Russia warning the U.S. not to interfere in Syria, Vladimir Putin has made it personal. According to a report this afternoon, President Obama became furious after Putin unfriended him on Facebook. I guess it's serious now. http://goo.gl/ijuiYz

JohnMalverne
JohnMalverne

Hopey - Changey!

Hey, where did all the war protests go?

reallife
reallife

Before the rooster crows there will be a dumbass liberal in the media(or in this comment section) saying this is all Bush's fault.

Mark my words.


kevino
kevino

All this bellicose saber-rattling from a person who won the Nobel Peace Prize? 

RenegadeProf
RenegadeProf

A few questions: 1) Has Chapter 2 of the UN charter been rescinded? 2) A coalition of the willing in the absence of a clear UN mandate: sound familiar? 3) Finally, when did the US military become the sole instrument of the Executive Branch and not employed as an expression of the will of the people by way of their representatives in Congress?

amira3561
amira3561

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Sending Missiles to kill innocent Syrians-PLEASE UN GO BOMB PUSH first businessmen selling weapons to Assad & Rebels

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay, especially for Wilson quote. Of course, some irony can be noted that Wilson wanted a world peace coalition but got thwarted at home (Congress), but now Obama seeks a coalition abroad with difficulties, but is more likely to get support at home. Heck, McCain can always be counted on support military action, he'll fight anybody. But we should exercise caution first and not just leap into fighting like Bush did in Iraq.

drudown
drudown

I have a novel idea. 

If our alleged Arab "allies" with EVERYTHING to lose (e.g., Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, et al.)- that is, if the Middle East falls into war-torn chaos, like the mythical dominos of Southeast Asia in the days of Vietnam, comes to pass- they should act as the surety to keep the bloodshed from their timeworn eyes.

Our government is one of Limited Powers.

Seems the special interests are ready to DIVERT tax revenue the (brace yourself) the GOP will "dry up" in October or even within the hour.

So which is it? Are we a Nation of laws that operates under a charter of precedent...or is our paid-for-Congress and Executive branch going to acquiesce to a foreseeable descent...not just here, in the chaos of the deluded confines of the "holy" Middle East- as Kings abroad and the 1% seem to think their own demise is not within reach.

Time to reorganize the World Community's debt- beginning with brokering a new Trade Agreement with Russia and the EU.

"Wait, what's that ghost written GOP plan 'hot off the press' from K Street? Despite our shared history in advancing Western Civilization, we should all slowly writhe and weaken in some illusory debt not unlike how starving, stranded members of an island might do.

Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their grave if they learned of our OWN CONGRESS threatening to default itself for no reason at all- as it acts as if Section I, Article 8 precludes same as a matter of law.

"Thy love afar is spite at home." - Emerson

therealdude
therealdude

I would never call Assad a prince, but we'd be a million miles ahead to stay out of this. Every time a dictator gets toppled and everyone cheers, a Muslim government is formed and instability ensues--just like in Egypt, Iraq, and so many other parts. If the US has a lick of sense, we'll stay out of it.

AND...We're also supposed to be broke. If we're that broke, how do we keep finding billions to put our noses in other countries business while screaming about how we need to cut down on spending on things that actually benefit American people who life here?

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

The IDF can handle any threat to Israel that comes out of Syria. Other than that I don't care if  they kill each other for the next thousand years. 

ahandout
ahandout

“If the U.S. does act in Syria, it should not be merely retaliatory, but part of a larger strategy capable of achieving U.S. objectives in Syria.”

And what are the objectives?  Anybody?  Bueler?

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

How about we bow out on this one and let the Middle easterners settle it?

Seriously no one other then a few random chicken hawks and AIPAC wants America to intervene.

robert3242
robert3242

What he's really looking for is a coalition of those who stand to gain financially from a US intervention, or at least who have important political supporters who do.

morgancountian
morgancountian

@TIME Muslim charities raise money for terrorists while IRS targets small town American Legions. Its Obamaworld. Syria a bump in road.

RohintonIrani
RohintonIrani

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday condemned the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, calling it a "moral obscenity".
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Really ? Well Sec. Kerry let's TALK about " MORAL OBSCENITY " !

It was a " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! when Pres. ' Chuckle Nuts ', and Darth Cheney LIED this Country into ...INVADING a SOVERIGN Country, that did NOTHING to us !

And had NOTHING to Do with 9/11 !

It was a " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! when we let Pres. Chuckle Nuts INVADE a SOVERIGN Country ! Just so he coulld SETTLE a PERSONAL VENDETTA against Saddam !

It was a " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! when Pres. Chuckle Nuts, IGNORNED WARNINGS from over 10 COUNTRIES ! in The Summer of 2001,when they said : " SOMETHING BIG was COMING ! ".

It was a " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! when CITIZENS of Our Country in New Orleans were YELLING : " HELP US ! ", for DAYS ! after Hurricane Katrina....While YOU were on Vacation !

It was a " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! when The C.I.A. ( and The British ),OVERTHREW The DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED Goverment of Iran in 1953 !

I could go ON ! and ON ! Sec. Kerry,but I'll Tell YOU The BIGGEST " MORAL OBSCENITY " ! in Our Country's HISTORY ? :

And that was on December 12,2000.....when 5 FASCIST ( in Judges Robes ), TOLD 50.5 MILLION CITIZENS to GO F**K THEMSELVES !

WE WILL ILLEGALLY and UNCONSTITUTIONALLY SELECT ' Chuckle Nuts ' President !

And set the Course of HUMAN HISTORY for The Worst !

GOOD LUCK to US ALL !

RaulAGuzman1
RaulAGuzman1

@TIME Obama is sending us to a war, when there are so many things at home we have to worry about; perhaps to distract The People?

RaulAGuzman1
RaulAGuzman1

@TIME Obama wants to send the whole world to fight in Syria, when he hasn't even seen the results of the UN chemical weapons investigation.

JdReader
JdReader

Just tell me we are not doing this because the Israeli government is pressuring us to act.

purilaw_sf
purilaw_sf

@TIME "1h Obama Seeks a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ on Syria | ti.me/16Mr3SC" It's GW all over again... It's Iraq all over again...

tommyudo
tommyudo

@reallife 


Bush/Cheney and Iraq was just another way to help American biz in the Middle  East. Foreign military ventures by their nature  have an economic basis. Governments always use "threats" to their soil whether it' s Mother Russia, Viva La France, or the good old USA to get the deluded public to enlist and fight. Where do you think the term "rich man's war and a poor man's fight came from? It's an historical con job, and the US is fair from immune from the malady.

kevino
kevino

@RenegadeProf 

Yes, This all sounds VERY familiar.

And yes, Chapter 2 has been rescinded for the same reason the US for the same reason that the Executive branch can declare war without the Peoples representatives voting for it: because there is a Democrat in the White House. Like President Clinton's actions in Kosovo, the rules don't apply to Democrats. 

drudown
drudown


While tragic, the presence of chemical weapons hardly creates a "reason" for the US to imprudently DIVERT our precious fiscal resources to enforce an illusory Police Power over Arab sovereigns- how can any RATIONAL person credibly theorize our military occupying ANY OTHER SOVEREIGN in the Middle East is going to “serve” the People on account of some BOGUS threat a war-torn Syria or Egypt actually presents a Superpower like the US or Russia. Nuclear power works and is.

What, we are going to next “read in the news” about how stupid Snowden “only escalates” the fabricated tension with Russia, our long term strategic partner? Maybe Putin and Russia are tired of dealing with the “global warming is a hoax” factions within the US government that want to make ALL the decisions for the world based on who pays the most via K Street. That is a recipe for disaster. Say, like Iraq.

The “Coalition Force” is just going to provide the reason for indigenous young men a pretext to make IEDs and kill our collective troops on a fool's errand.

"gee, even if it means the US goes bankrupt fighting wars that have no end?"

"The 'angst' in young Arab men is spawned from an inequitable distribution of wealth in Arab states that the Allied Powers once carved up...and is now hoarded by the few...why pretend?"

/s/ ghost of Bin Laden

Just this: if the "no new taxes, ever" GOP policy means in reality there is NO MEANS to justify even the most humanitarian impulses abroad to, say, stave off civil war in the Middle East, nor apparently even subsidize Food Stamps at home, why doesn't our GOP Congress move to print a 50 trillion coin?

Duh.

LogicalSC
LogicalSC

@therealdude   People never learn....we are broke, but like the criminals in Detroit that will not stop the politicians from keeping to spend money until the very day of the implosion.

If you did not notice the very day that the great messiah was squealing against the "evil" of Republicans and his sesquestion cuts, he had no problem at all jetting off on a 50 million dollar vacation\visit to Africa. 

16 trillion dollars in debt means that these criminals are now in the process of spending the tax receipts of your grandchildren and their children...they long ago burned thru every single dollar your generation will ever have taken from you in taxes. 

ahandout
ahandout

@RohintonIrani  The all cap, conspiracy, nut job has spoken. 

It was a moral obscenity when the Democrats shoved Obamacare down our throats.

ahandout
ahandout

@DavidStrayer  No.  So when there are no good options, and the president has known that there are no good options for, what? 3-4 years...You don't draw lines in the sand.  You do have a plan.

What is the plan?  How's that reset with Russia going?  How's that Cairo speech working out for ya?

You reap what you sow.  Sow BS, and reap the international rewards.

jmac
jmac

@purilaw_sf @TIME Considering that GW pushed his war by saying Saddam used chemicals weapons on his own people and expected you not to notice that it was done 15 years before using chemicals we gave him to fight Iran and GW expected you not to know that after Saddam used those chemicals on the Kurds, Cheney went over there and shook Saddam's hand in an oil meeting -

It could be suggested that this is NOT GW/Iraq all over again.  GW and Cheney deliberately manipulated cherry picked info to feed to Fox news and the press was too afraid to tell the American people because they wanted to play Fair and Balanced. 

reallife
reallife

@tommyudo @reallife thanks for the "historical lesson" there bud, but what the hell does that have to do with what I said?

drudown
drudown

Wait. No, I got it.

We also give one $50 trillion coin to Russia and one to the EU to divide per their agreed-upo terms. 

"no, we would rather just bake in the hot sun and have the People slowly die...like worms."

/s/ the "new" GOP

kevino
kevino

@jmac @jiggliemon @TIME 

Not weak kneed at all. I think that my conservative friends have accepted the new realities. We went all in in Iraq. It was our opportunity to show the Islamic radicals that the West has resolve and toughness. We failed because the Democrats made political points by offering the insurgents a clear way to win: hang tough, plant a few IEDs, injure or kill American soldiers, and the Democrats will get weak and wobbly. It basically worked, and they took their show on the road to Afghanistan, and it's working well there. It's very sad. Our soldiers performed brilliantly, by many (most) of the public undermined them.

Islamic hardliners are convinced that the US is a paper tiger -- much to casualty averse to stand up to them. Certainly too timid to put boots on the ground ever again. If so, there will be plenty of EIDs coming our way.

If you're going to fight this enemy, then you have play dirty and you have to be willing to fight them until you kill them all. If you're not willing to do that, stay out. The other options don't work. You can bomb them into the Stone Age, but many of these pathetic countries are already there. Even if you do, it's a replay of Libya: support Islamic hard-liners, destroy the government, destroy the infrastructure, create a failed state, and watch it become a training ground for terrorists. (The 9/11 Report warned about this.)

I'm truly amazed that liberals at Time want military action for 100,000 dead. OK, what was Time's position when Saddam had killed 1.2-1.4 million over ten years? As I recall, their position was that Saddam was safely "contained". Do the math: he was killing more than 100,00 every year, and there was no end in sight.

Bottom line: Don't do it. We are entering a new post-Vietnam era.

jmac
jmac

@jiggliemon @jmac @TIME LOL.  You think they're not.  

I'm also laughing at all the knee-jerk conservatives who followed Bush (Andrew Sullivan, Rod Dreher) and are now going weak-kneed.  Where's the Eagle landing now, Dreher?  Where's your American flag?   After falling for the Swift-boating of Kerry, some are all too eager to throw him in with Colin Powell.  Fool them once, they're not going to get fooled again - wait, that's not what Bush said!  Yes, I'm laughing.