The Syrian crisis is the most critical foreign policy challenge that President Barack Obama has faced. In these difficult situations, American presidents have been able to pull together coalitions especially when dealing with situations in the Middle East. President Barack Obama is moving forward unilaterally on the Syrian crisis without international support or backing from the United Nations – a surprising move for a president who once accused President George W. Bush of interventionist use of the military. Ironically, he also criticized the former president of failing to build international consensus and not giving a primary role to the United Nations.
While Obama did receive strong support from the French government, he lost the crucial backing of the British government to take military action in Syria. What started as a rallying war cry from British Prime Minister David Cameron has resulted in the combination of members from the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats voting against Britain’s military intervention in Syria.
Obama faces a similar reaction from many Democrats and Republican members of Congress who are not convinced that the United States should take unilateral military action in Syria. President Obama's aggressive move to forge ahead without building an international coalition that will assist with military assets and without American public support is a departure from his view that U.N. support is needed prior to any outside military action.
The talk of an imminent strike in Syria from the U.S. military has many on both sides of the political aisle asking questions whether the administration's position of a limited military intervention makes sense in the long term.
The small country of Syria is acting like the big bully, and a limited military response from the U.S. would simply be a slap on the hand for the Assad regime. It would not likely deter the Assad regime from further use of chemical weapons. With the full backing of Russia and Iran, the Assad government will forge ahead to continue destroying their enemy.
When I saw the image of the dead children murdered and poisoned by the Assad regime, my reaction was that the United States and the international community has an obligation to stop the ongoing slaughter that has led to the killing of over 100,000 people. However, as House Speaker John Boehner and others suggested, we need to determine what is in the best national security interest for the United States. Is it in America's best interest to have an aggressively destabilizing regime in Syria, which possesses and is using weapons of mass destruction and closely allied to the radicalized government in Iran?
However, the reality is that the Syrian civil war is complicated and messy. One is unable separate the good guys from the bad guys. They are both guilty of horrific war atrocities, and tragically innocent people are being brutally murdered everyday. We can stand by and watch as thousands more continue to die or take some sort of action. However, limited military intervention without international support is not enough to change the course of the Syrian civil war.
If the United States proceeds, President Obama not only needs congressional backing but the support of the American people, which will be an uphill battle. One recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos showed that 9 percent of respondents said that the Obama administration should intervene militarily in Syria, and the numbers only increased to 25 percent of respondents who would support U.S. intervention if chemical weapons were used.
President Obama has made it very clear that regime change is not the goal, but he wants to make the point that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any government. His reasoning for a limited bombing with the use of cruise missiles is quite hawkish, which is surprising considering that President Obama has stayed far away from the crisis thus far despite earlier allegations that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The bombing of targets and military installations in Syria may temporarily weaken the regime, but the U.S. potential military actions will not go far enough. The Assad government has full support from Russia and Iran to stay the course and beat down the rebels. [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]
President Obama also faces an uphill battle as he tries to make a convincing argument to Congress and the American people; otherwise, he will suffer the same defeat as his colleague U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.
The U.S. is making a statement that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. One goal should be to eliminate those chemical weapons and remove them from the hands of those who are using them. However, a limited military response will not likely stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons in the future. Starting the military intervention unilaterally will make it tougher to build an international coalition for a desired outcome if the war escalates. For the U.S. to intervene militarily alone without our allies would be a big mistake that could lead to a broader scale war for the U.S. that Americans simply do not want. President Obama should know that his first step into Syria will not be his last.