Washington, Aug 31 — Failing to find support at home and abroad, a’lonely president’ Barack Obama hinted at an imminent unilateral US military strike to punish Syria for its alleged use of banned chemical weapons.
In what the influential New York Times called “an aggressive and coordinated push to justify a military intervention” Obama even as he Friday declared himself “war-weary” vowed to hold Syria accountable for its actions.
“It is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations” of what he called an “international norm” banning the use of chemical weapons, Obama said.
He called the Syrian attack a “challenge to the world” that threatens US allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan while increasing the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
“So, I have said before, and I meant what I said that, the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons,” Obama said.
Obama’s statement to reporters at a meeting with visiting heads of Baltic nations, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia came shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry released a declassified US intelligence report expressing “high confidence” about Syrian use of chemical weapons.
Even as United Nations weapons inspectors headed home with evidence and witness accounts collected from the sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks, the US report declared that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s Aug 21 attack on rebel controlled areas had killed 1429 people.
Many of Obama’s allies and critics want him to wait for the release of the report UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to present to the UN Security Council sometime next week.
But Obama Friday cited “the inability of the Security Council to move in the face of a clear violation of international norms” as justification for the hinted strike.
“My preference would have been that the international community already would have acted,” he said expressing frustration with the lack of international support. “A lot of people think something should be done, but
nobody seems willing to do it.”
CNN citing sources and experts said that a military strike hinted at Obama would entail cruise missiles fired from US Navy ships at Syrian command targets — but not at any chemical weapons stockpiles.
In an editorial titled “Absent on Syria” the Times said Obama was moving toward unilateral military action “without legal justification and without the backing of two key institutions,” Congress and the UN Security Council.
“Both have abdicated their roles in dealing with this crisis,” it said.
“Even in the best of circumstances, military action could go wrong in so many ways; the lack of strong domestic and international support will make it even more difficult,” the Times opined
However, the Washington Post editorially exhorted that “US must act against crimes against humanity.”
“A line has been crossed; if there are no consequences, it will be crossed again, it said suggesting “the US response should be strong enough to prevent Mr. Assad from committing further atrocities.”
Calling Obama “the lonely president”, Politico, an influential Washington news site noted he “had hoped for a quick, convincing strike on Syria, but growing opposition and Great Britain’s stunning rejection of the attack has thrust him into the uncomfortable position of go-it-alone hawk.”
There were few takers for the limited strike option hinted at by Obama at home too.
More than 160 legislators, including 63 of Obama’s fellow Democrats, signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a “full debate” before any US action.
An NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday found 50 percent of the public against US military action with 42 percent saying military action would be appropriate.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])