In the last week, violence has escalated to new levels in Syria. According to activists, over 300 people have been killed in a single day in response to the bombing of a high-level security meeting on Wednesday, which killed four prominent members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. With chaos ensuing and all eyes on Syria, the UN Security Council has met to discuss possible next steps. However, Russia and China used their vetoes to kill a resolution drafted by the United Kingdom and sponsored by the United States, France, Germany and Portugal to threaten sanctions not involving the use of armed force against the Assad regime under article 41 of the UN Charter. With the United States in the middle of an election year and an untrustworthy history within the international community, President Obama and the country’s reputation has found itself in a lose-lose situation.
Syrians have been the victims of a 17-month crisis, which has dragged the country into civil war. Up to 30,000 Syrian refugees have spilt into neighboring Lebanon. Both sides have cited extensive human rights violations. The situation has already become intolerable by the international community. At home, voices call for action and criticize President Obama for his silence.
In response to China and Russia’s veto of UN support for action, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has said:
"The United States has not and will not pin its policy on an unarmed observer mission that is deployed in the midst of such widespread violence and that cannot even count on the most minimal support of this Security Council.
"Instead, we will intensify our work with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and to deliver assistance to those in need...We and others increasingly will have no choice but to look to partnerships and actions outside of this Council to protect the Syrian people."
Rice’s claims suggest U.S. involvement without the blessings of the Security Council. Though an American lead in the charge would appease those who call for U.S. action, these measures would sink the country’s reputation much as it did in 2003 through the invasion of Iraq. Though we have built up some diplomatic capital with our contribution to the international efforts in Libya, we are always at risk of appearing to only use the UN as a ploy to get what we want it as well as disregard it when diplomacy does not work to our favor.
Many may suggest using the international efforts in Libya as a model for our next steps but do not realize Libya cannot be compared to what has arisen in Syria.
Last year, France’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, led the international efforts in Libya and the United States was able to step back and contribute rather than lead. Now, there is no leader in the push for international action to help the Syrian people especially after Russia and China have vetoed proposed action for the third time.
In addition, Libya’s military force offered far fewer obstacles as Barak Barfi points out in his article Why Libya Isn’t a Model for Syria. The Syrian army is far more loyal, organized, professional, and powerful than Gaddafi’s forces. Therefore, a simple no-fly zone and deployment of a small number of arms and men may not come even close to the necessary commitment and of course, Americans would be far from thrilled to find themselves in the middle of another war.
Obama and the United States have been cornered. We must not tolerate the atrocities occurring in Syria but we cannot abandon diplomacy given our tattered reputation.