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The Monitor's View

Moral mantle for action in Syria slips from UN to Obama

The Obama administration has all but given up on the UN acting on Syria. It's beefing up aid to rebels taking other steps. But China and Russia can still save the UN's moral leadership by backing tougher sanctions on Assad.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / July 25, 2012

In this image made from amateur video released July 24, a Free Syrian Army solider drives a Syrian military tank in Aleppo, Syria.

Ugarit News/AP Photo

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Americans have long been ambivalent about ceding global leadership to the United Nations. Bill Clinton didn’t have UN approval to attack Serbia in 1999 just as George W. Bush didn’t for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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Yet President Obama, who took office vowing respect for the UN, did wait for Security Council approval in the 2011 war on Libya.

Now Mr. Obama may also be turning his back on the UN as the civil war in Syria poses three ominous threats: the prospect of more civilian massacres, the rise of Al Qaeda in Syria, and the possible use of chemical weapons.

An administration breach with the UN came to the surface last Thursday just after Russia and China vetoed yet another resolution in the Security Council aimed at toughening sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the Council had “utterly failed” Syria. Ms. Rice then said Washington would work with “a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council” (read: coalition of the willing) to take action against the Assad government.

Those US actions so far fall short of direct military intervention. But the effect may be similar.

The CIA is monitoring the flow of weapons to anti-Assad rebels from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is also providing vital communications training and equipment to rebel groups, and perhaps intelligence support. And the United States is trying to hinder flights and ships believed to be carrying fuel or arms to Syria.

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