White House downplays role for Congress or the UN in Syrian strike

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House is downplaying the role of the United Nations in any potential strike against Syrian weapons, even though it also says U.S. intervention is justified by an international norm against the use of chemical weapons.

The anti-U.N. stance stands in sharp contrast to the policy maintained by President George H. Bush, who sought and won U.N. and congressional approval prior to removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

Similarly, President George W. Bush sought and won a favorable U.N. resolution against Iraq in 2002, titled U.N. Security Resolution 1441. Bush said that resolution endorsed action against Iraq’s government for not fully disarming itself of chemical weapons following the 1991 war.

George W. Bush also got congressional approval prior to forcefully removing Iraq’s dictatorial government in 2003.

In 2008, Obama ran for the presidency while saying U.S. government should work closely with the United Nations.

Since then, he has repeatedly endorsed a major role for the U.N. “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it,” Obama said in a CNN interview broadcast Aug. 23.

Monday, Carney downplayed any talk of a role for the United Nations in shaping or approving Obama’s possible decision to strike Syrian forces.

If Obama says the U.N. should have a role, he would effectively give a veto opportunity to Russia and China, both of which have veto power on the U.N.’s Supreme Council.

The use of chemical weapons is “a clear violation of an international norm,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

But the international norm was adopted by “a vast majority of nations … since World War I,” Carney said.

He did not say the norm was endorsed or enforced the U.N.

When asked by a reporter about the U.N.’s role, Carney punted.

“You’re getting in to a hypothetical about a decision that has not been made. … The president is consulting with the international community,” said Carney, pointedly omitting the U.N.

Carney also downplayed a role for Congress in reviewing or approving any strike plan. “I’m not going to speculate about a [presidential] decision that has not been made,” he said.

“I’m not going to itemize calls … [but] we are consulting with members of Congress,” he said.

However, even as he sidelined the U.N. and Congress, he argued that any intervention would be in the interest of other nations and states.

“It is profoundly in the interests of the United States and of the international community … that that violation [of the norm] be responded to,” he said.

“He takes action when he believes it is in the clear interest of the United States to do so,” he said.

“It is not just an incident that pertains only to Syria or the region. … It is a violation that pertains to the whole world,” Carney said.

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