Calling the use of chemical weapons “a moral obscenity,” Kerry said the implications of the attack in Damascus suburbs stretched “beyond Syria itself” to “the indiscriminate use of weapons the civilized world decided long ago should never be used.”
His words suggest that the US will not act alone, but will seek to create a large enough coalition in support of any action to argue that the “civilized world” supports it.
The US has not said whether it will seek United Nations backing for any action, but such a move seems unlikely because Russia has already made clear that it would stand in the way of Security Council approval. Russia has previously vetoed other Security Council resolutions on Syria that it fears might be used as a pretext for international intervention, so it would almost certainly veto a resolution that overtly seeks to legitimize US action.
The likelihood of bypassing the Security Council has led to speculation that the US will follow the example of the 1999 Kosovo war bombing campaign, which President Bill Clinton ordered and which was carried out under NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) authorization.
But the comparison to Kosovo is likely to stop at the way the Obama administration seeks to broaden international legitimacy for what will essentially be an American action, US foreign policy analysts say.
In the Kosovo case, NATO bombing continued for three months, until the Yugoslav army was compelled to withdraw from Kosovo. But any US action in Syria seems likely to be limited both in duration and scope: Speculation is settling on cruise missile attacks aimed at Syrian military installations, and they won’t be designed to topple Mr. Assad, analysts say.