No, the U.S. isn’t ruling out using force against Syria

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
U.S. President Barack Obama meets Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Kuwait's emir, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 13, 2013. Obama said on Friday that he hopes talks on a plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons are successful, but said that he will insist any deal is "verifiable and enforceable." REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT)

The White House called a small group of reporters for behind-the-scenes briefing on Friday and let it be known that the United States doesn’t expect a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria to include the explicit threat of force to compel Bashar Assad’s cooperation.

In effect, senior administration officials let it be known that President Barack Obama was OK with giving up something that was never really on the table to begin with, according to news reports.

Russia, which has the power to veto any Security Council resolution, has been saying for days that Obama must take back his threat to go to war — only then will Assad agree to put his chemical weapons under international control.

It’s not like Moscow was going to turn around and green light the threat of force in a U.N. resolution.

At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the threat of unilateral American military action isn’t going away. And a senior administration official told Yahoo News that’s not up for negotiation with the Russians.

So how would a resolution be enforced? The measure could include a threat of sanctions. It could also include a trigger referring the matter back to the Security Council.

The U.S. official told Yahoo News that early signs of Russo-American cooperation are solid — chemical weapons experts from both sides have met, for instance — but that Obama is looking carefully at progress on drafting the resolution for any signs that President Vladimir Putin is double-dealing.

Russia may be treading carefully on the language of the Syria proposal in part because Moscow feels burned by the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya.

The measure won approval without support from Russia and China, which abstained. Neither country is particularly keen to set a precedent for international involvement to punish a central government taking military action against an armed insurrection.

In that conflict, NATO-led forces ended up serving as the de facto air force for rebel forces that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadhafi.

But the resolution did not explicitly envision that role. Instead, it called for “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

And it also green-lighted “all necessary measures to enforce compliance” with a no-fly zone over Libya.

Moscow is Assad’s patron and stands to lose influence in the Middle East if he meets the same fate as Gadhafi.