NEW YORK – The G-20 has concluded its meetings and dinner discussions of what to do about charges that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used poison gas to kill more than 1,400 of his own people. France, Britain, Turkey, and Canada expressed varying degrees of support for US President Barack President Obama’s call for military action, while Russian President Vladimir Putin called US Secretary of State John Kerry a liar and claimed that the evidence against Assad is inconclusive. Russia and China insisted that the US cannot take action without approval from the United Nations Security Council, where they will veto any such move. From the sidelines, the European Union and Pope Francis warned that no “military solution” is possible in Syria.
In other words, it all went exactly as expected. The Americans, French, and others continue to push the Russians to accept that Syria’s government has used chemical weapons; the Russians, anxious to protect their Syrian ally, reject the evidence as inconclusive; and the carnage continues. The focus of the fight now moves to the US Congress, where a rare coalition of liberal Democrats and isolationist Republicans will try to block the president’s plans.
Those who would seek to halt the bloodshed have no good options. That is true for Obama, for Europeans preoccupied with domestic political headaches, and for Arab leaders eager to see Assad’s government collapse but unwilling to say so publicly.
British Prime Minister David Cameron says that his government has new evidence against Assad, while Parliament has voted to withhold support for a military response. France is ready to follow, but not to lead. The Arab League wants the “international community” to end the carnage, but without using force. Obama will ask Congress to approve limited air strikes that may deter the future use of chemical weapons, but will not shift the balance in Syria’s civil war.