This kind of puts a cropper in the president’s plans for an attack on Syria. The EU gave its conditional blessing to action against the Assad regime, but qualified their support by urging the US government to wait for the UN report on the gas attack before acting.
The UN experts do not appear to be in any hurry as far as finishing their analysis of the gas attack outside of Damascus last month. And even when they complete that task, they are not expected to be able to give a definitive answer to who launched the strike.
But that apparently isn’t deterring Monsieur Kerry and his French amis.
French, it is said, is the language of love.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flaunted his fluency in the language on Saturday to deliver something of a love letter to France, one of the few world powers that seems likely to join the United States in any military action against Syria.
Following the British parliament’s August 29 vote to reject any British use of force against Syria, which the United States accuses of gassing its own people with sarin, France has made no secret of its desire to play Washington’s supporting partner.
Speaking in French for eight minutes beneath the gold-painted cherubs of one of the Quai d’Orsay’s elegant salons, Kerry traced the history of U.S.-French relations beginning from the American Revolution, while glossing over their many tiffs.
“When he visited General de Gaulle in Paris more than 50 years ago, President Kennedy said, and I quote, ‘The relationship between France and the United States is crucially important for the preservation of liberty in the whole world,'” Kerry said.
“Today, faced with the brutal chemical weapons attacks in Syria, that relationship evoked by President Kennedy is more crucial than ever,” he added.
Not to be outdone, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius broke a taboo by speaking in English at a news conference in the Foreign Ministry’s elegant building on the banks of the Seine, where he once chided a reporter, “Here, sir, we speak French.”
While Kerry’s performance might be seen as flattering a French government that is one of the few to back U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for air strikes to deter Syria from using chemical arms, it may help convince a skeptical French public.
An IFOP poll published on Saturday showed 68 percent of French were against an intervention in Syria.
“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace,” said Frederick the Great. Kerry seems to have taken that to heart as he flatters the French government by treating them as if they were something they are not; a world power.
Meanwhile, the EU wants to put the brakes on Obama’s strike plans:
The UN report is expected to be released this month, and perhaps within two weeks, so the timeline might not be too disruptive. If congressional approval comes, it should come around that time.
Yet the decision adds yet more variables to a situation already awash in them. What if the UN report comes back negative?
The White House appears utterly convinced that the attacks occurred and that the Assad regime is behind them. British tests on the victims have also confirmed the use of sarin gas, Prime Minister David Cameron said this week. But a negative UN test would raise the specter of the Iraq war all over again.
Would the US be so sure of its own analysis that it would launch a strike even if UN tests show no evidence of chemical weapons use? And would the US be willing to go it completely alone – as it surely would have to – if the UN report contradicts the White House’s own findings?
Obama could find himself in the unprecedented situation of telling isolationist Republicans to ignore what the United Nations is saying.
For all intents and purposes, it would appear that the Obama administration’s push for military action can now be vetoed in two different ways: by a vote from Congress, and by a negative UN report.
By the traditional calculus of Washington politics, this would seem to make Obama a weak president. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week said that Obama has completely botched his attempts at Syria intervention. “The leadup to this, I think, has been most unfortunate,” he said on Fox News.
But the delay could also be part of a new calculus that Mr. Rumsfeld himself played a part in creating. Standing beside Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris Saturday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “The United States and France are side by side … every time the cause is just and is essential,” notably dismissing “false comparisons to Iraq, which has absolutely nothing to do with this.”
It is doubtful a negative outcome in Congress of the vote for war would deter Obama from attacking — if he really wants to. And if it wasn’t sarin gas that hit those thousands of civilians, it’s hard to imagine what it was that would kill so many. I think both “vetoes” are not very strong impediments to military action if the president really wants to act.
That said, it’s still looking very bad for the president in the House and the vote in the Senate isn’t shaping up much better. The whip count as of Sunday morning is 226 House members opposed or leaning that way to just 25 in support. The Senate count shows 27 Senators leaning against or opposed while 23 are in support.In the Senate, Harry Reid will need 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster which means he will have to get the vast majority of currently undecided Senators to vote in favor of the resolution.
Whatever the president has planned for his speech to the nation on Tuesday night, it is going to have to be a game changer.