America Unbound

Secretary of State lays out the case for war

August 30, 2013

An administration that has long championed the importance of international institutions and multilateral action made clear on Friday that the United States would take action in Syria with or without approval from the United Nations and other international organizations.

In a speech on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the United States would indeed launch punitive strikes against the Assad regime, even as the United Nations, NATO, and key allies such as Britain and Germany, have refused to sanction or participate in the telegraphed attacks.

Kerry’s remarks came just one week after Obama promised that any action would take into consideration the views of the international community and the precedent of international law.

"When we take action—let's just take the example of Syria, there are rules of international law, and you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a [United Nations] mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented then there are questions whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work and you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account," Obama said in an August 23 interview on CNN.

Obama vowed multiple times as a senator and presidential candidate that he would build international coalitions before engaging in action around the world.

However, on Friday Kerry said that U.S. action in Syria is a matter of the nation’s credibility and said that the United States would not be bound by international inaction in the face of crimes against humanity.

"President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions on our own timelines based on our values and our interests," Kerry said. "So let me be clear: We will continue talking to the Congress, talking to our allies and, most importantly, talking to the American people."

America has a responsibility to act following Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s likely use of chemical weapons, Kerry said.

"Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am too," he said. "But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about."

Kerry went on to outline key pieces of evidence that the administration believes proves Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

"Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack," Kerry said.

"We know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time. We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas, and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods," Kerry added.

At least 1,429 Syrians were killed in the attack, including 426 children, Kerry said.

"So the primary question is really no longer, what do we know. The question is what are we—we collectively—what are we in the world going to do about it," Kerry said, signaling that military action could come in the next days.

"It matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies. It matters because a lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching," Kerry said. "They are watching. They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we say."

Kerry also had some harsh words for Assad, who he billed a "thug" and "a murderer."

However, Kerry was once one of the Assad regime’s top America allies, preaching closer U.S. relations with the regime.

"As far as the policy debate goes: it would be rude to remind the administration that its top foreign diplomat was for many years the leading advocate for becoming friendly with the Assad family," one senior pro-Israel leader told the Free Beacon on Friday.

Secretary of State John Kerry, for instance, "condescendingly instructed Israel to cede the Golan Heights to Syria and he kneecapped [former President George W.] Bush’s efforts to isolate Assad, which might have weakened the regime and prevented the murder of 100,000 people," the official said. "Other than ‘I told you so,’ there’s not much to say."

Kerry said in 2011 that Assad has always been "very generous with me" and claimed that under the embattled leaders rule "Syria will move; Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also famously referred to Assad as "a reformer."

Former Bush administration national security adviser Elliott Abrams said the Obama administration should be apologizing to the former president.

"Anyone who served in the Bush Administration got bombarded with gibes, insinuations, and direct attacks about our so-called 'unilateralism.' But the fact is Bush got votes in Congress on Iraq and Afghanistan, and he got U.N. Security Council vote," Abrams said. "Obama has neither gone to Congress nor to the U.N., so he and his minions owe Bush a gigantic apology."

"Obama is now mired in a unilateralism that reflects not his principles but his simple inability to round up support. That's a hell of an indictment of his relations with Congress and with key allies," Abrams said. "All those Europeans were supposed to hate Bush and love Obama, but we had dozens of allies with us in Afghanistan and Iraq. He will end up with just one, France, in Syria. Pretty sad show."