The 15-nation UN security council is not, traditionally, a place where decision are made based on morality and ethics. The august body has been split on the civil war in Syria since ir began, in 2011, with Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s ally and chief arms dealer, and China, eager for the Syrian oil, vetoing three resolutions condemning Assad and urging punitive measures to make him stop.
It is virtually certain that the same UN council will reject a call for moving troops against Assad’s army, even if the Syrian president is caught splashing anti-American graffiti with a spray can of sarin on the walls of Damascus.
“The experts in Syria have the mandate to determine if chemical weapons were used, and if so, which ones, but not who unleashed this attack” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that point for reporters in Moscow on Monday.
But the U.S. has intervened in at least one conflict in the recent past without security council support—when President Clinton threw the Airforce into the Kosovo War in 1999, some suggesting in order to divert attention from his troubles with a pesky special prosecutor.
U.S. and European officials have been referring to the Kosovo bombing campaign, which pressured Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. The beleaguered Clinton ignored the security council to avoid letting the Russians cast a veto, and got his backing from NATO, or, in other words, from himself.
It’s been done, and it can be done again, is the message in Washington this week.
Richard Haas, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations who served in the GW Bush administration, rejected the Russian argument that a Western attack on Syria would require UN approval, Reuters reported.
“The UN Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate, and, as many have pointed out, it was bypassed at the time of Kosovo,” Haas told reporters in a conference call, possibly while loading bullets into his personal firearm.
“To say only the UN Security Council can make something legitimate seems to me to be a position that cannot be supported because it would allow in this case a country like Russia to be the arbiter of international law and, more broadly, international relations,” said Haas, who probably recalls the time, in 2003, when he was a close advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell under President GW Bush, and his boss offered a shamefully deceitful presentation to the security council regarding the grounds for launching another war.
Will President Barack Obama want to associate himself with the unilateral strategies of both his predecessors? Barack the multilateralist, champion of the Arab Spring – resorting to hiring the services of an adviser straight out of the GW war room? Incidentally, Haas has had second thoughts on the invasion of Iraq, and in an interview with the Huff Post he said it was a wrong war and a war of choice.
Nevertheless, it looks like you can take the foreign policy expert out of the GW White House, but you can’t extract the GW White House out of expert:
Legitimacy for a strike on Syria, Haas said, could come from a “coalition of the willing” (when have we heard that one before?) of individual countries supporting retaliation against Assad, to demonstrate that the use of weapons of mass destruction (wait, that one is familiar, too!) will not be tolerated.
A furious Russia could launch the general assembly in an attempt to humiliate the U.S. and force it to abandon its attack on Syria, should Obama opt to strike.
Israel could only benefit from an American attack: for one thing, it is sure to wipe out the Syrian WMD reserves (which, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, the Syrians do possess, and then some); and then, once the U.S. is mired in international condemnations – it might go easy on the Netanyahu government when it issues a permit—as comedian Jacky mason put it so aptly—to add a toilet to some settlement.