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Tread Carefully: The Perils of US Intervention

03/09/2013 13:06 BST | Updated 31/10/2013 09:12 GMT

"Humanitarian bombing: I couldn't concoct a nicer oxymoron." Edward S. Herman

Now, it is all but certain that President Obama is to conduct some form of military intervention in light of the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian population perpetrated by the Assad Regime. This week marks an important phase in the build up to a possible humanitarian intervention. The President, it seems, will conduct a unilateral attack on key Syrian military installations without any allied support or under the auspices of a UN Resolution. The Administration is both misguided and rash in this decision. Make no mistake, action is required, but as Deborah Avant succinctly put it: "Action is not synonymous with force." The international community has a responsibility to protect the Syrian population from heinous acts of murder but a unilateral response from the United States is not the response required.

Unilateral action is both ill-considered and legally troublesome. Acting alone, the United States is breaking with international norms on the conduct of intervention which according to the United Nations Charter must be only be carried out if there's an imminent threat to the United States. As David Kaye, stated at Foreign Affairs:

"A case for self-defense in Syria would break the concept of self-defense beyond recognition. What concerns the administration, according to official statements, is the "moral obscenity" of a chemical attack on one's own citizen. As awful as it is, there has been no attack (or the threat of attack) on the United States to justify individual self-defense or on allies to justify collective self-defense as a matter of law."

On Wednesday, in a surprise rebuke, the House of Commons voted against a motion proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron to support a military intervention in Syria if it were proved that chemical weapons had been utilised. Scarred from the perils of supporting the War in Iraq, a weary Parliament voted against military action, the first time a proposed military action has been voted down since 1782. Cameron's inchoate motion, lacked depth and vision, unlike Blair's demand for British involvement in Iraq who compared the conflict to historical battles of old. Lacking their usually dependable ally, this has hampered Obama's opportunity for any chance of a multilateral coalition to take on this complex geopolitical condition.

An ambivalent American public & Congress are also wearisome of another conflict where both the strategic goals and scope of the intervention remains blurred. Without clearly defined aims and objectives, the potential for mission creep is very high. The botched 1993 humanitarian intervention in Somalia underlines this predicament. A recent NBC Poll highlights this confusion. Of those polled, 58% believed that the use of chemical weapons was a 'red line' yet when asked whether a US military intervention would improve the situation, only a paltry 27% believed that US involvement would have any beneficial effect.

There is evidence to suggest that some forms of military intervention do work, but only when they are both multilateral and multidimensional in its application, take Libya & Kosovo respectively. The US would be better to channel their frustrations through the UN and strong-arm a resolution through on the matter than break with international norms and adopted customs. This is a test case for the influence and power of the UN in international relations.

Recent reports circulating through media sources suggest that UN weapons inspectors will take at least 2 weeks report on their findings of chemical weapon usage. The US Administration should err on the side of caution and wait for this report. It gives them both time and an opportunity to create a coalition of allied states & regional councils to support a US-led intervention. Action is required in Syria, the use of chemical weapons is an egregious act of violence which cannot not be tolerated as an international norm of war. But, if recent conflicts, such as Iraq, have taught the international community anything, it is that acting cautiously may in the long run save lives. As a State Senator from Illinois once eloquently argued:

"The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not -- we will not -- travel down that hellish path blindly."