“I’ve shown consistently, my strong preference for multilateral action whenever possible,” Obama said on Friday.
Yet the US may also have to act alone if necessary, he said, to enshrine the principle that chemical weapons must not be used in a way that could endanger US allies and national security — and to side with civilians in the path of a war crime.
Benjamin Jensen, an American University political science academic, said US foreign policy since World War II had been dominated by the idea of building a multilateral international diplomatic and economic order.
“President Obama has multiple times indicated his commitment to that kind of liberal internationalist vision,” he said. “That’s where this becomes a real awkward moment if he decides to move forward [on Syria].”
Obama’s credibility is in question because he declared that the use of a “whole bunch” of chemical weapons by al-Assad in the civil war would cross a US red line.
Kerry appeared to implicitly acknowledge that view on Friday, saying the world was watching what the US would do in Syria.
However, he cast the argument wider, saying US foes were judging how Washington reacted to violations of international order.
“They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it ... it is about Iran ... it is about Hezbollah and North Korea,” Kerry said.
So, the ultimate irony may be that Obama may enter a war in Syria, so he does not have to fight one somewhere else.