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Why Obama, when moving to punish Syria, is unlikely to go it alone (+video)

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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.

US action “should not be used to … affect the outcome in Syria,” says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The point, he adds, should be to make it clear to Assad and to the world that “you cannot use these weapons and get off scot-free.”

Still, the US will need "international legitimacy” for any action, but Mr. Haass says the US has options beyond the UN. “The Security Council is not the sole custodian of what is legitimate,” he says.

The US could turn to NATO, as it did in Kosovo, or it could simply seek to cobble together a “coalition of the willing” of supportive Western and regional powers. Among likely candidates are NATO members Great Britain, France, and Turkey, and Arab countries including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, regional experts say.

Obama spoke over the weekend with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande. Mr. Cameron is expected to decide Tuesday whether to recall members of Parliament from summer holiday this week to debate military intervention in Syria. If he does, it could be a signal that intervention is imminent.

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