Why the Stakes Are So High for Syria Mission

Today brings news, once again, that the monitoring mission in Syria is fraying. Over the weekend, several civillians were killed in mortar attacks against the city of Rastan. Rebels in city fought back and killed 23 soldiers. Word today is that the city is once again under siege. Meanwhile, Russia has vowed to supply Syria with weapons to defend its self against bombing attacks like the one in central Damascus last week that killed 55 people. Russia blamed al Qaeda.

After a few weeks of relative lull, violence is starting to pick up again.  This is predictably leading for calls to abandon the Annan-plan in favor of militarizing the conflict. Here in the USA, the militarization of the Syria conflict is much becoming a bi-partisan cause. Senators McCain and Lieberman are outspoken advocates of arming the Syrian opposition. Senator Kerry and former top State Department official Ann-Marie Slaughter are kicking around is the idea of creating “safe-zones” inside Syria to protect besieged populations. That would require some sort of American support for the invasion and occupation of Syrian territory.

If the Obama administration comes to the same conclusion as Anne Marie Slaughter or John McCain, this will inevitably lead to a USA v Russia (and China) confrontation at the Security Council. A resolution will be vetoed and the USA would be forced to bypass the Security Council.

At that point, the most pro-UN president in recent years would have directly contravened the most basic tenant of the United Nations charter.

President Obama, so far, has eschewed this route. Productive engagement with the Security Council has been a centerpiece of his foreign policy. When the Libya crisis erupted, his team famously “lead from behind” to secure the necessary Security Council resolution to intervene militarily. Obama even personally chaired a Security Council meeting, becoming the first American president to do so.

If Obama–even Obama! — bypasses the Security Council, it could dilute confidence in the whole UN system.  The goal, then, is to avoid a confrontation at the Security Council, while also providing some hope for the besieged Syrian population. Right now, that means supporting the Annan mission.