In an interview with CNN yesterday President Obama, using non-explicit language, hinted that the US, while being ‘gravely concerned’ about the gassing incident in Syria late last week, would unlikely be taking any action until the facts on the ground had been established. He further indicated that he would await the outcome of the UN mission to the affected area though did not expect the Syrian government to be co-operative in allowing UN inspectors into the area. However, the Syrian government has since indicated that it would be facilitating the UN into the area.
If UN inspectors are able to get into the area, it will take some time before they are able to provide a report the UN Security Council (UNSC). Obama is unlikely to launch any attacks against the Syrian government or its forces before having a report from the UN inspectors.
By the time the inspectors have been able to do their work and make their report Australia will have taken over the chair of the UNSC due on 1 September 2013 which is why Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has interrupted his election campaign to be briefed on the matter.
In the CNN interview Obama hinted the American people are reluctant to get into another war. He said:
…what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of, what is in our long-term national interests? And, you know, I -- you know, sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.
He also went on to indicate that he would prefer a UN mandate to take action saying:
…you know, 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, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.
Getting a UN mandate to attack is unlikely to be supported by the UNSC since Russia and China will likely both use their power of veto to block it.
There are also some serious doubts about who actually did launch the chemical weapons attack. Besides strenuously denying responsibility, Syria would have absolutely nothing to gain for launching a chemical weapons attack against civilians knowing that it would be ‘crossing a red line’ set by the US. Indeed, the reality is that it is far more likely to have been a false flag attack by extremist rebels anxious to get the US involved. Furthermore, as I recently wrote, US military intervention would not be in Israel’s interest either.