The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

August 31, 2013

Scant foreign support for U.S. strikes on Syria

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is poised to become the first U.S. leader in three decades to attack a foreign nation without mustering broad international support or acting in direct defense of Americans.

Not since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, has the U.S. been so alone in pursuing major lethal military action beyond a few attacks responding to strikes or threats against its citizens.

It’s a policy turnabout for Obama, a Democrat who took office promising to limit U.S. military intervention and, as a candidate, said the president “does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

But over the last year Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his government’s use of chemical weapons in its two-year civil war would be a “red line” that would provoke a strong U.S. response.

So far, only France has indicated it would join a U.S. strike on Syria.

Without widespread backing from allies, “the nature of the threat to the American national security has to be very, very clear,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Charles Brower, an international studies professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

“It’s the urgency of that threat that would justify the exploitation of that power as commander in chief — you have to make a very, very strong case for the clear and gathering danger argument to be able to go so aggressively,” Brower said Friday.

Obama is expected to launch what officials have described as a limited strike — probably with Tomahawk cruise missiles — against Assad’s forces.

Two days after the suspected chemicals weapons attack in Damascus suburbs, Obama told CNN, “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; do we have the coalition to make it work?” He said: “Those are considerations that we have to take into account.”

Lawmakers briefed on the plans have indicated an attack is all but certain. And Obama advisers said the president was prepared to strike unilaterally, though France has said it is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria because the use of chemical weapons cannot go unpunished.

The U.S. does not have United Nations support to strike Syria, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged restraint. “Diplomacy should be given a chance and peace given a chance,” he said Thursday.

Expected support from Britain, a key ally, evaporated as Parliament rejected a vote Thursday endorsing military action in Syria. And diplomats with the 22-nation Arab League said the organization does not support military action without U.N. consent, an action that Russia would almost certainly block. The diplomats spoke anonymously because of rules preventing them from being identified.

“Presidents always need to be prepared to go at it alone,” said Rudy deLeon, who was a senior Defense Department official in the Clinton administration.

“The uninhibited use of the chemical weapons is out there, and that’s a real problem,” said deLeon, now senior vice president of security and international policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington. “It can’t be ignored, and it certainly creates a dilemma. I think (Obama) had to make the red-line comment, and so Syria has acted in a very irresponsible way.”

The nearly nine-year war in Iraq that began in 2003, which Obama termed “dumb” because it was based on false intelligence, has encouraged global skittishness about Western military intervention in the Mideast. “There’s no doubt that the intelligence on Iraq is still on everybody’s mind,” deLeon said.

Both Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton had U.N. approval for nearly all of their attacks on Iraq years earlier. Even in the 2003 invasion, which was ordered by Republican George W. Bush, 48 nations supported the military campaign as a so-called coalition of the willing. Four nations — the U.S., Britain, Australia and Poland — participated in the invasion.

The U.S. has relied on NATO at least three times to give it broad foreign support for military missions: in bombarding Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, attacking Kosovo with airstrikes in 1999 and invading Afghanistan in 2001.

Only a few times has the U.S. acted unilaterally — and only then to respond to attacks or direct threats against Americans.

In 1986, Reagan joined ordered airstrikes on Libya to punish then-leader Moammar Gadhafi for the bombing of a Berlin dance club that killed two U.S soldiers and wounded 79 other Americans.

Three years later, George H.W. Bush invaded Panama after dictator Manuel Noriega declared war on the U.S. when his drug-trafficking regime was slapped with crippling American sanctions. The invasion began four days after a U.S. Marine was killed in a shooting in Panama City.

Clinton ordered a missile strike against Iraq in 1993 as payback for an assassination plot against the elder Bush. And in 1998, Clinton attacked al-Qaida bases in Sudan and Afghanistan to retaliate against U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.

Obama approved the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, who had been considered a threat potentially going back to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. troops living there. Additionally, the U.S. has launched hundreds of deadly drone strikes on suspected al-Qaida havens, mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen during the presidencies of Obama and George W. Bush.

All other major U.S. military attacks since the 1983 Grenada invasion have been sanctioned by the United Nations. That includes the 2011 missile strikes that Obama ordered against Libya as part of a coalition to protect that nation’s citizens by enforcing a no-fly zone against Gadhafi forces.

Even the Grenada invasion had some international support. Six Caribbean island countries asked for U.S. intervention, which the Reagan administration said was legal under the charter of the Organization of American States. But the invasion was roundly criticized by Britain, Canada and the U.N.

Making the case Friday for the strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that Turkey, France and Australia have condemned the suspected chemical attacks and said “we are not alone in our will to do something about it and to act.”

“As previous storms in history have gathered, when unspeakable crimes were within our power to stop them, we have been warned against the temptations of looking the other way,” Kerry said. “History is full of leaders who have warned against inaction, indifference and especially against silence when it mattered most.”

He added: “It matters here if nothing is done. It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”

Some lawmakers in Obama’s party hedged in supporting an attack with little foreign backup.

“The impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations,” Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, said Friday.

 

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r072414msw.jpg VIDEO: Carterville company expands to third generation

    What began as Ray “Mac” McCoy’s side job in his home 55 years ago has grown not only in square footage and reach, but in generations. This summer, a third generation took over the reins of MSW — Mac’s Specialty Woodwork — that now exceeds 90,000 square feet and creates custom furniture for chain restaurants coast to coast.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • r072314techcenter4.jpg Southeast Kansas schools, businesses get behind new technical center

    When Galena Superintendent Brian Smith looks at the millions of dollars of construction projects going on in his district, not to mention similar projects underway in Joplin, Carthage and elsewhere, he sees the need to train masons.

    July 24, 2014 4 Photos

  • Landfill opponents seek answers

    The Baxter Springs High School auditorium was filled with hundreds of Cherokee County residents Thursday night as Galena city officials answered questions and listened to comments regarding a proposed landfill at Riverton.

    July 24, 2014

  • Neosho athletes bring home silver

    For 19-year-old Dominque Dechant, it was the trip of a lifetime. She and three other athletes from Neosho traveled last month to Newark, New Jersey, as part of the Missouri Special Olympics girls basketball team.

    July 24, 2014

  • Hospital Shooting_Cast.jpg Doctor fired back at gunman in hospital attack

    A doctor grazed by gunfire from a patient who had entered his office in a suburban hospital’s psychiatric unit stopped him by returning fire with his own gun and injuring him, authorities said.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Three things coming your way in Friday’s Joplin Globe.

    July 24, 2014

  • APTOPIX Vatican Pope.jpg Pope meets Sudanese woman sentenced to death

    Pope Francis met privately Thursday with a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant daughter born just weeks ago in prison.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Box Turtle.jpg Getting reacquainted with garden dwellers

    Visitors to my garden this week find me covered in dust and dirt with bits of wood, leaves and who knows what else caught in my hair; stinky, sweaty gloves; grimy sweat pants and rivulets of dirty perspiration running down my face.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • mug_sarah-coyne-112613-c.jpg Sarah Coyne: Older kids still find joy in toys

    When she crawled under her covers, she buried her head in her pillow. Then she looked up at me and whispered, "But what if I can't stop thinking about that spider?"

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 072414_annie1.JPG Child's play: Kids comprise the cast of 'Annie Jr.'

    The kids are getting a kick out of playing adults. While most of the main characters in "Annie Jr." are orphan children, some, such as Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan and President Roosevelt, are squarely past adulthood.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo