U.S. ready to go it alone in Syria

The White House statement comes as a Western coalition advocating joint military action crumbles.

TRIBUNE WASHINGTON BUREAUAugust 30, 2013 

President Barack Obama appeared increasingly isolated after British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote Thursday in the House of Commons on endorsing military action. It was a stunning defeat for a government that days ago called for punishing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces for alleged use of chemical weapons against rebel-held neighborhoods last week.

Britain “will not be involved” in any military strikes on Syria, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said after the vote. However, he added, “I don’t expect that the lack of British participation will stop any action.”

Obama administration officials made their case for armed intervention in a conference call with congressional leaders Thursday night.

“As we’ve said, President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

“He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.”

As the Pentagon moved a fifth destroyer armed with cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean for possible action against Syria, other major allies also appeared to pull back.

French President Francois Hollande, whose government was the first Western advocate for a military response, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also had offered support, called for delaying any military operation until the United Nations Security Council can review evidence collected by chemical weapons experts now in Syria.

The 20-member team is scheduled to leave Damascus, the Syrian capital, by Saturday, but its final report may be days or weeks away. The team will try to determine whether sarin nerve gas or other toxic chemical agents were used, but not who used them.

In a TV interview Wednesday, Obama said the American security interest in Syria included deterring further use of chemical weapons, stopping terrorists from obtaining such weapons, and protecting nearby allies such as Israel and Turkey as well as U.S. military bases in the region.

Administration officials said Obama had no interest in getting bogged down at the U.N., especially since Russia almost certainly would block any resolution condemning Syria, a close ally.

China also would be likely to object.

“We will make our own decisions, with our own timelines,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman. She said the administration had not decided what course it would take.

The fracturing of the coalition was driven in part by growing questions about the intelligence the White House has cited but has yet to make public. Western intelligence agencies appear to have compiled only a circumstantial case — not proof — that Assad or his commanders authorized use of poison gas.

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