Isolated Barack Obama must decide if US should act alone over Syria strikes

After British Parliament  rejects military intervention, there is growing irritation in Washington with David Cameron’s inability to deliver support


With Britain no longer prepared to participate in a military strike on Syria and a growing number of the US Congress demanding a right of approval, an increasingly lonely Barack Obama was left last night confronted with an uncomfortable choice between either going it more or less alone or backing down.

The failure by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to shepherd an authorising motion through parliament, considerably complicates the position of Mr Obama, making him appear more isolated in the world and possibly emboldening his congressional critics to raise their voices in opposition to any military involvement in Syria.

The first indications from within the White House, however, were that Britain breaking away would not deter him from moving forward, however, and nor would the absence of any resolution at the United Nations. Indeed, because Mr Obama no longer has to wait for a second debate in London he could move more swiftly.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said yesterday that Obama believes there are core US interests at stake in the Syrian crisis and that is his main priority going forward. “President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” she said after Mr Cameron’s defeat.

Even before the London vote there were murmurs in Washington and New York of growing irritation with Mr Cameron’s inability to deliver on the statements he had made earlier in the week in support of Mr Obama and of action to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. The parliamentary revolt deals a damaging blow to the so-called special relationship that Britain in particular is always so anxious to emphasise and nurture.

Even as British MPs were voting, top national security officials, including including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, were laying out the justification for a military strike to congressional leaders by video-conference. A redacted version of that presentation, minus classified passages, will likely be unveiled to the wider American public, probably later today.

President Obama continues to assert that the regime ordered the use of chemical weapons killing 100 people, and that such an act cannot go by without punishment. “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” he told PBS on Wednesday night. Yet he faces headwinds selling that case with sources indicating that the intelligence dossier as it stands now falls far short of definitively linking the attacks to Assad. 

One source who is familiar with it told the Associated Press that it is “no slam dunk” that Assad or his top lieutenants ordered the attack, a choice of words that has clear undertones.  It was the then CIA director, George Tenet, who in 2002 boasted that it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Those weapons, of course, were never found.

Earlier, White House aides were continuing to put out the message that Mr Obama did not feel he had to have external backing form the UN or elsewhere to act. “We have been trying to get the UN Security Council to be more assertive on Syria even before this incident,” Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser told the New York Times in an interview. “The problem is that the Russians won’t vote for any accountability.”

By the most recent count, meanwhile, something over 150 members of Congress are now asking Mr Obama not to act without giving them an opportunity to debate the matter first. But most observers predict that were the issue to be put to a vote, Mr Obama would very likely suffer a similar humiliation to that of Mr Cameron and for that reason he may be grateful Congress is in recess for two more weeks.

Among those pushing for Mr Obama to defer to Congress is Barbara Lee, a Democrat congresswoman from California, who has a letter to that effect now signed by 50 of her colleagues, all members of Mr Obama’s own party. “While the use of chemical weapons is deeply troubling and unacceptable, I believe there is no military solution to the complex Syrian crisis,” she said. “Congress needs to have a full debate before the United States commits to any military force in Syria – or elsewhere.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'