Obama Isolated at G20 on Syria, No ‘Coalition of the Willing’

President Obama
found himself isolated on the Syria issue at the G20 conference in St. Petersburg on Thursday. Among the world’s largest 20 economies, only France agreed with his plan for a military attack on Damascus.

China expressed fears that US military action in Syria would cause a spike in oil prices and slow the world’s economy.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are often anti-intervention. As rising world economies, they feel they suffered from imperial interventions themselves. They do not want the Syria attack by the US.

But the big surprise was that the European Union came out with position closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin than to Obama.

France24 Reports

56 Responses

  1. No surprise here. Most Europen governments know they will pay a price if they support the war. For Europe, Syria is a training ground of jihadists, sometimes local. You do not want radicals with military training in your streets. Then, an oil price spike does not help. And even before all that, Europeans are a lot more aware than Yanks about who is really craving for war and why. Many are fed up with Israely policies and actions in Palestine and know the US is hostage to Israeli influence. A surprise for Americans, but Europans have already been fooled, more than once.

    • Actually, the European governments sided with the US. Of the five European members of the G20 – France, UK, Germany, Turkey, Italy – four (all except Germany) cosponsored the US statement I quoted below.

      It’s the so-called BRICs that dissented.

      • The European Union issued a statement at the G20 that objected to the strike. The four you mentioned were isolated in the EU

      • I said “European,” not “EU” for a reason. Yes, the Europeans are looking down their noses at Turkey, but it is still a European country in addition to being a Middle Eastern one.

  2. I’m surprised they only mentioned China, especially as they showed Manmohan Singh walking in. India has the same concerns, but India’s concerns, unlike China’s also affects the US. Due to the Rupee increasing in recent weeks, they have had to turn to Iran for cheaper oil, something the US has been fighting against for the past few years.

  3. The evidence for war is, once again, sketchy and world leaders are not willing to fall for the same old, “We’re all going to die” rhetoric this country’s leaders are famous for. But our always reliable neocon Sunday morning talk show host are certainly ready for war. Here is an interesting article from a source that tracts the media. No surprises here that Wallace and Gregory seemed to be incensed Obama is asking congress for input, when all he really needs is Netanyahu’s word that Assad is responsible.

    link to fair.org

  4. There is another country strongly opposed to strikes on Syria: America.

    I looked for ANYONE arguing for the neocon-neolib position at the local town hall meeting. There wasn’t a single person!

    The President acknowledges that America is war weary, why would he jeopardize a reasonably strong economy with this misadventure? I actually believe that his “failing” here is purposeful.

    He gets to hang the neocons and neolibs out to dry while restoring the “red line” against the unitary executive from Article 1 section * of the Constitution. He effectively reverses the Libya Folly without seeming to go against the Beltway.

    Look at Hagel and Dempsey. Do they seem gung ho about this?

    • I confess I don’t understand this comment. Are you saying that the administration that would give the orders for the military attack doesn’t want to do it?

      Why did Obama say Assad had to go two years ago, and then create a red line, and then insist that the red line had been passed, if he were not supportive of the military action?

  5. “But the big surprise was that the European Union came out with position closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin than to Obama.”

    That the European Union’s position on syria was closer to Putin than to Obama is no surprise for one who has followed the European countries comprising the EU over the past few decades. As one who opposes US intervention on foreign policy and national interest grounds, I have to say that the EU position is based on a reluctance to expend resources on military matters, rather than on any principled position regarding “non-intervention.”

    For decades during the Cold War, the US subsidized European social spending by providing the defense umbrella. Even before the Cold War ended, Europeans (save Britain) had made the decision to concentrate public spending on social programs rather than defense. that carried on throughout the 1990s up to the present. They could do that because the US continued to carry the vast bulk of defense responsibilities, from manpower and armaments to logistical capability.

    The result was that during the Bosnian crisis in the early 1990s, Europeans dithered. Here was a crisis in their own backyard and they did nothing but wring their hands until the US intervened. Likewise during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. The Europeans were paralyzed until the US (and Britain) intervened and forced Milosevc to the negotiating table. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Europeans were by and large reluctant partners. The German government prevented their troops from assuming a combat role in Iraq. While Libya was a bit of an anomaly, it was the US by far that provided the logistical capability and intelligence that made that operation a relatively easy success (if that’s what the outcome can be called).

    For years the US has spent aroung 5 percent of its GDP on defense. The European Union members have spent an average of less than 2 percent of their GDP on defense. In effect, the US continues to subsidize European social spending, just as it did during the Cold War. Yet, although the Europeans by and large consider the US too militarily aggressive and (save France this time!) oppose military intervention in Syria, they have no qualms about calling on US military capacity when they see it in their interest to do so.

    • Bill, the EU member countries that are part of the G20 mainly sided with the US. Professor Cole is talking about the lone EU representative, and apparently trying to elide the difference between that representative and the constituent members.

      • I note that, Joe, but those EU countries that are part of the G-20 (France, UK, Germany, Turkey, and Italy) do not represent all members of the EU. Moreover, Germany declined to co-sponsor the statement, and the UK has already indicated that it will not take part in any military action. I seriously doubt that Turkey and italy will become militarily involved. To date, France is the only European country to demonstrate a serious intent to ally with the US in a military strike. To co-sponsor a statement is very different from committing military assets.

        The Europeans once again are demonstrating their willingness to have the US bear the burden of military action while they continue their social spending, in part subsidized by US defense spending that enables them to abdicate their own defense responsibilities. As I mentioned in my original post above, that has been the story for decades, and I expect it will be for decades to come.

        • Maybe Italy, but Turkey has already indicated its willingness to help out. They’ve been pushing the US to do more for the Syrian opposition for years.

    • The foolishness of the US spending almost one half (perhaps now it has achieved that lofty goal) of the globe’s military spending is here interpreted as a subsidy to Europe’s social programs.

      This is quite beyond Alice in Wonderland reasoning. If you really do feel this way and carry those resentments, then take your troops out of Europe: start with those in Germany.

      You will quickly discover that the American domestic economy, as currently structured, actually craves the military Keynesian strategy the US follows, and that the projection of US global military power is essential to maintain the fiat currency of a bankrupt nation.

      But don’t take my word for it. Openly support a policy of American non-intervention in European military affairs.

      • “The foolishness of the US spending almost one half (perhaps now it has achieved that lofty goal) of the globe’s military spending is here interpreted as a subsidy to Europe’s social programs.”

        It clearly subsidizes Europope’s spending on social programs, as it enables Europe to abdicate its own defense responsibilities. Since Europe has always been able to depend on the US to do the heavy defense lifting (Bosnia, Kosovo, Etc.) the Europeans can weight their budgets toward social spending rather than defense. That is a form of subsidy.

        • Bill, I do not believe it was the Europeans that were clamoring for the dismantling of Yugoslavia. Once it started they (especially Germany) took full advantage of it. The initiative was once again a strategic initiative of the usa to remove the last pro Russian government in the mainland of Europe, and as usual this was done under the guise of humanitarian intervention. This same pattern is being followed for the very same reasons; do not be fooled about some moral obligation (we have ignored and abetted too many of morally reprehensible situations).

          Let us get out of Europe they are big boys now!!

  6. Professor Cole,

    Having served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam, I have my fingers crossed Congress defeats President Obama’s tragic resolution to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

    And I would also like to tell you and compliment you that you really hit the nail on the head when in a previous post you compared the real dynamics of the Syrian civil war to the civil war in Vietnam. You were one of only a few bloggers that made such an astute historical allusion.

    And America has already had a proxy war with Russia in Vietnam. And as I distinctly remember, even after four decades, it didn’t turn out so well for us.

    • That “subsidy” notion only persists at all if one accepts the notion of some “necessity” for all the patently idiotic and expensive and self-promoting and self-defeating MIICcrap, like NATO and all those generals and the rest of the structure that takes all tat wealth that might be used for General Welfare rather than the welfare of the Generals…

  7. I’ve never thought that including Russia the category BRICS made sense.

    The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are often anti-intervention. As rising world economies, they feel they suffered from imperial interventions themselves.

    Russia isn’t a rising world economy, but a declining one. They were a global superpower a few years ago, and now they’ve dropped into the second tier, and are being surpassed by the other, actually-rising economies therein. Absent the recent high oil prices, Russia would be Belorus East.

    And Russia isn’t being driven by a sense of having suffered from imperial interventions, but by the pursuit of its own great-power interests (the benefits of its alliance with Syria, checking the US).

    It really doesn’t make sense, in this case or in most cases, to lump in Russia with the rising powers in that list.

  8. Many Europeans are rightly skeptical about the intelligence provided by US officials about who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta:
    link to informationclearinghouse.info
    They also see who is mainly pushing for this war:
    link to washingtonpost.com
    On a separate note, today the EU court threw out Iran sanctions, saying that there was not sufficient evidence to justify sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Iranian banks. This will embarrass many European countries that blindly followed America’s lead on sanctions on Iran:
    link to informationclearinghouse.info

  9. Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom joined the United States, which is contemplating a missile strike in Syria, in issuing the statement:

    The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal. The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere. Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.

    We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children. The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.

    We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.

    Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council’s responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years. The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability. We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

    Wow. That’s pretty isolated.

      • Nor in this one: “President Obama found himself isolated on the Syria issue at the G20 conference in St. Petersburg on Thursday.”

        In fact, President Obama found himself enjoying the support of a majority of the G20 for the position on the Syria issue that he articulated at the meeting.

        Meanwhile, that majority of the G20 isolated – actual, non-imaginary meaning – Russia and China with the statement: Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council’s responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years.The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability. We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

        • Joe, you’re being unusually propagandistic.

          Please name G20 countries supporting a US cruise missile strike on Syria.

          Yes, countries that abhor chemical weapons use are there, but that is a separate issue.

        • “The authoritarian war monger will probably NOT note that.”

          “The authoritarian war monger” has been opposed to military action in Syria for the past two years, before chemical warfare reared its ugly head.

          There is one of us in this conversation who is basing his opinion on his ideological preferences and psychiatric attributes, rather than the facts on the ground, and it’s not me, El Guapo.

    • Joe,

      The countries verbally backing Obama on Syria are all acting like cowards.

      Canada’s Harper and Baird are the biggest cowards of the lot. They have point-blank refused to participate in a Syrian War, but they are paying lip service to Obama.

      Not hard to understand what such supposed allies of yours are doing. They really disapprove of joining the war, but for various reasons do not want to appear opposed to the USA.

      Let us be clear: these men are cowards. Poltroons. Sycophants. Useless! Those are Obama’s friends on the Syrian issue.

      Don’t delude yourself that Harper is merely waiting for US leadership on the issue. Canada is out, regardless of what the USA decides to do.

      Harper and Baird’s cheerleading act has a lot more to do with US energy and environmental policies than anything else.

      • “Not hard to understand what such supposed allies of yours are doing. They really disapprove of joining the war, but for various reasons do not want to appear opposed to the USA.”

        Or vice-versa: they want “somebody” to take care of the situation for them, but want to maintain their own plausible deniability.

        A situation that describes a whole lot of public anti-war voices, who want to live in a world without chemical warfare, while also maintaining their self-image as holier-than-thou pacifists.

    • Thanks, Joe from Lowell.

      I didn’t read the actual statement.
      Did it say anything about horrific violations of international norms against torture or indefinite detention ?
      Did it mention International norms in the form of treaties against cluster bombs, which are more hazardous to civilians than chem weapons ?
      Or international norms against proliferation of small arms ? (another international treaty the US hasn’t yet signed.)
      The norms associated with the international treaty banning landmines ?

      …………….

      What I see from this isolated corner is a whole slew of international norms that are flouted by the USA.

      .

      Do you realize when the USA signed and ratified the Chem Weapons Convention ? I know pretty specifically, because OPCW flew me to Den Haag for an interview, anticipating the US joining the civilized world on the issue of chem weapons, and I might have been hired if the US became a signatory. It wasn’t very long ago that the USA developed a conscience on this matter, and we joined OPCW not primarily because we opposed this category of weapons, but for other unrelated political considerations.

      See how the USA is somewhat isolated from the rest of the industrialized world on far more weapons issues than Syria, or even North Korea ?

      Our real connection to civilized values, and arenas in which we provide true leadership, is not in the realm of weapons and military might. It is in science, culture, trade, and human rights.
      .

      • RANDOM BAD STUFF ‘BOUT AMERICA is a dodge, a self-congratulatory pat on the back by people who don’t want to trouble their pretty little heads with the real questions.

  10. As a European, the biggest surprise for me comes from the socialst François Hollande’s, not from the fact that the EU isn’t supporting a US intervention in Syria : we are all fed up from US interventionism.

    As for the humanitarian pretexts used by the US : well the US concerns are always very selective. They didn’t have any when the bombed Falluja and used depleted uranium in Iraq. Or napalm in Vietnam.

    Will the US imperial madness never cease ? How many wars do you need ? Why does a Democrate president look for new wars instead of financing a better education system, more health care, innovation in green energy, etc. ? I don’t get it. I thought the US foreign policy won’t change much with Obamma, didn’t have much illusions.. But I wasn’t expecting he would start new wars. I thought he would just try to end the ones started by Bush.

    What a deception .. On all counts.. François Hollande included. I don’t get it.

    • They didn’t have any when the bombed Falluja and used depleted uranium in Iraq. Or napalm in Vietnam.

      Perhaps that’s because none of those things are chemical weapons. Or because none of the Presidents when those things happened were Barack Obama.

      Why does a Democrate president look for new wars

      In point of fact, this President spent two years pushing back against intervention in Syria before the chemical warfare massacre. Look, you don’t have to agree that chemical warfare warrants a forceful response, but it would be nice if people would actually address the issue instead of ignoring it because they are more comfortable talking about something else.

      instead of financing a better education system, more health care, innovation in green energy, etc. ?

      This President has done every single one of those things.

      • okay, Joe…we are back to calling things chemical weapons only when we want them such. So agent orange used in vietnam, white phosphorus in iraq, and depleted uranium which is still resulting in deformed children being born in Iraq are not banned! BTW, white phosphorus and napalm are banned items, but only for ohers. Great Powers can not be encumbered by such minor rules, laws, norms (pick your word). Finally,we did not attack saddam when he attacked iran with CW or gassed the kurds, in fact we gave a helping hand by providing saddam with target information.

        Now, if you want to be legal, there is NO International legal basis for attacking Syria, that is why our Orwellian president now calls it ‘international norms’. This morning I heard another variation (on NPR)…’cultural norms being violated hence we need to act’!

        • No, Spiral, “we,” meaning me, are calling things chemical weapons when they meet the definitions on the Chemical Weapons Convention, or are found on Schedules 1, 2, or 3 of the Convention.

          This is a not a matter of opinion. The Convention and the schedules are easily googled. I didn’t write them, so don’t shoot the messenger.

          “BTW, white phosphorus and napalm are banned items, but only for ohers.”

          No, they are not. Please stop checking your gut, and making statements that are flat-out factually incorrect.

          “Finally,we did not attack saddam when he attacked iran with CW or gassed the kurds, in fact we gave a helping hand by providing saddam with target information.”

          Yes, Ronald Reagan sucked. I propose we do exactly the opposite of Ronald Reagan. “Ronald Reagan did this, so who are we to do differently?” must be the worse argument in the history of the internet.

          Oh, and the term ‘international norms’ goes back a great deal further than President Obama. Really, this would be a better conversation if it was being conducted with some level of factual and historical knowledge.

      • Joe from Lowell said above:
        “… this President spent two years pushing back against intervention in Syria before the chemical warfare massacre.”

        ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

        That is what most folks seem to think.
        As a reliable T-Party crackpot conspiracy theorist, I don’t believe it.

        I believe that the USA has been helping organize and fund the recruitment, training, payroll and operations of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” since late 2010.
        I believe they have training and support facilities in Jordan and Turkey.

        I believe our CIA actually exercises more control over the FSA and Mercenary rebels in general than the umbrella group the CIA set up, or andy al-Qaeda-ish high command. Writing pay checks can do that.

        I believe MOSSAD is a full partner in these endeavors.

        ”””’

        My sources for this nonsense, besides an overactive imagination ?
        RT, Press TV and such. Propaganda organs.
        Much like the US MSM.
        .

        • “My sources for this nonsense, besides an overactive imagination ?
          RT, Press TV and such.”

          Wow. Good for you.

          Now, the quality of your information aside, your entire argument is based on eliding the difference between providing material support for the rebels (something we are, indeed, doing, but only since the June 2012 chemical attacks), and direct military intervention, something this President has not done, despite there being organized, powerful interests that have been pushing for it since early 2011.

    • Follow the money. And which careers get the big rewards. “National security” is a great career path these days. Look how teachers and social workers and nurses are treated in the US. Those items, and the general bloody-mindedness of an unfortunately tenacious and destructive fraction of humanity. “Allahu Akhbar!” “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

      “Nous sommes fous…”

    • Europeans were certainly happy enough to have the US intervene in Bosnia in 1995, after 7,000 Muslims were slaughtered in Srebrinica while European governments dithered, wringing their hands in helpless despair. It took US intervention before anything was done. Likewise in the Kosovo crisis in 1999. The Europeans were paralyzed until the US invoked NATO and prodded the European governments to action. It’s great sport to criticize the US until Europe needs it to settle problems in its own backyard that it apparently is incapable of settling on its own.

      • But, Bill, you are discounting the horrific legacy European nations experienced during the Second World War. They have been through literally hundreds of attacks that would equal our 9/11 attacks. I’m not offering this point as an apology for what you interpret as their usual hand wringing. But it would help to understand them better if you could nurture at least a modicum of empathy for them. Despite the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks Americans have avoided the massive death and destruction reined down upon the Europeans in the Second World War.

        • I am well aware of what Europeans experienced in World War II. I am pointing out the hypocricy of Europeans criticizing the US for “imperial madness” (see the original comment above) on the one hand, while relying on the US to pull their irons out of the fire in places like the Balkans on the other.

    • Christiane,
      Israeli influence is the answer. Obama is being dragged into a war he -and American people and servicemen- would rather dodge. Problem is, this one will be much tougher than Libya, a large part of the Syrians know many in the rebel camp don’t want them in the country to the point of ethnic cleansing. And Assad has allies. Russia,and Iran know Damascus is not the end of the road, they have to put up a fight or they will have problems closer to or even within their borders. There will be a price to pay, not just by the Syrian people.

      • Problem is, this one will be much tougher than Libya

        And effort with the same aims as Libya would be much harder than Libya, because Syria is larger, better armed, has tougher terrain, has a better military, and is backed by Russia and China.

        However, the administration doesn’t have the same aims as in Libya. Remember, the planes were flying over Libya just a few weeks after Gadhaffi’s forces starting shooting the Arab Spring protesters. In Syria, they’ve been doing so, and the opposition shooting back, for more than 30 months.

        This is about chemical warfare, and the outcome of the Syrian Civil War is a secondary issue.

    • Christiane, I agree with you and I am equally disappointed as you are with President Obama, whom I voted for in the last election based on the naive assumption he would somehow avoid another war in the region. But he has become another imperial president in his second term just as LBJ,a fellow liberal Democrat, did during the Vietnam War.
      It seems Obama wants Hollande on board after the British ministers in parliament voted Cameron down in his plea where he failed to convince them join the US in this war. Syria was under French occupation from 1920 to 1946. There are strong cultural ties between the French and the Syrians. French is the required second language taught in schools, and many Syrians among the elites are Christians and feel just as threatened as the Alawite minority does when it comes to the Sunni rebels taking over the government if the Assad regime collapses. And to the victors go the spoils for France as an American ally. It could increase its business with Syria. After all, France had been working with Saddam Hussein to construct a nuclear reactor in Iraq which Israeli jet fighters bombed on 7 June 1981.

  11. The US does seem pretty isolated on pushing for military action.

    That the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable is surely not even part of the debate – even Putin has agreed that. They just don’t agree on what the first response should be to those who used them. As far as I am aware any actions on crossing Obama’s “red line” have never been internationally agreed.

  12. “China expressed fears that US military action in Syria would cause a spike in oil prices and slow the world’s economy.”

    Following questions about attacking Syria if Congress does not support him, we should all fear for the chances of US military action judging by Obama’s responses suggesting he still appears to believe he has a responsibility to act.

    If he does act without the approval of Congress, then it would appear impeachment should be on the table. If Congress does support him, then impeachment should extend to all those senators and representatives who voted for an illegal war.

    • “If Congress does support him, then impeachment should extend to all those senators and representatives who voted for an illegal war.”

      Since Congressional support for President Obama would require a majority of senators and representatives, and since impeachment requires a majority voting affirmatively in the House and conviction requires a two-thirds majority voting affirmatively in the senate, the above-cited quote suggests that many House and Senate members would vote to impeach and convict themselves. That seems like a good line for Stephen Colbert or David Letterman.

  13. I do remember during President Obama’s campaign for his first term, he said he would restore world trust and confidence in America. I do remember during Obama’s campaign for his second term he said things are better now they would have been if he had not won the. I am sure he was honest with us. Didn’t Russian President Putin have some words to say about the Honesty of our Secretary of State Kerry?

  14. Juan, I don’t think Obama is as isolated as you think, when the overall question of opposition to Syrian use of gas is considered instead of US military strike per se. As I gather, 10 nations wanted to do more to pressure Assad altho I confess to not being clear on details.

    • With all due respect, the issue is not putting pressure on al-Assad because of use of chemical weapons. The issue is support of a cruise missile strike, which is what Obama wants and for which he cannot gather support.

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