President Obama, with Great Britain having rejected military action in Syria, finds himself on the verge of pursuing the very kind of go-it-alone approach that he accused his predecessor of using in Iraq.
Obama, though, may not even have a “coalition of the willing” at his back, as George W. Bush did, should he choose to pursue the military option in Syria. America’s most vital ally, Great Britain, effectively pulled out before the fireworks began, when the House of Commons voted against military action on Thursday evening.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was pushing for intervention in Syria, indicated he would not defy the will of Parliament.
“It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council has also refused thus far to give its consent to intervention in Syria.
Yet the White House remained undeterred, escalating an argument that any potential action on Syria, to punish the Assad regime for a chemical weapons attack last week and deter future attacks, would be in the U.S. interest.
“The U.S. will continue to consult with the U.K. Government – one of our closest allies and friends. As we’ve said, President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
The approach is a far cry from then-candidate Obama’s campaign-trail appeals for international cooperation.
During an April 2007 speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Obama said the U.S. cannot try to “bully [the world] into submission.”
In a 2007 essay in Foreign Affairs, he specifically warned about breaking off from European allies: “In the case of Europe, we dismissed European reservations about the wisdom and necessity of the Iraq war.”
During his July 2008 campaign speech in Berlin, Obama told Europeans that “no one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone.” He warned that “on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny” and that neither America nor Europe can “turn inward.”
Bush, asked by Fox News on Friday about Obama’s current choice in Syria, declined to comment on what the current commander-in-chief should do.
“The president has to make a tough call,” Bush said, adding that “I was not a fan of Mr. Assad.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. is still pushing for an international effort on Syria despite the vote in London. French President Francois Hollande reportedly said overnight that the Parliament vote would not affect his country’s willingness to act. The German government, though, says it still is not considering military action.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday rejected the notion that the current situation is in any way similar to the run-up to the Iraq war under the George W. Bush administration.
“I think that there are some very important differences. What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” he said.
Yet from the press corps and from the halls of Congress, the administration is already hearing echoes of Iraq.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among those in Congress criticizing a potential Syria mission, released a statement saying “we should have learned our lesson from the Iraq War.”
He said Obama “thinks he is the police chief of the world,” but “Americans have already paid too high a price for that grandiose notion.”
Still, after administration officials briefed top lawmakers on Thursday evening, some in Congress voiced a willingness to hear out the administration’s argument for intervention.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would support a “surgical, proportional military strikes” on Syria given the “strong evidence” that the regime used chemical weapons.
The administration is expected to release information from its intelligence reports on the alleged chemical weapons attack as early as Friday.