As the Obama Administration readies to respond to with force against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria for employing chemical weapons, it has been pretty clear that it plans to go in with a “coalition of the willing.” That is cold comfort.
The reality is—and everyone in the world knows it—these kinds of operations simply can’t be done by the West without U.S. support. Obama may have led from behind in Libya, but the operation would not have happened unless the American military was there to kick in the door and then provide the backbone for NATO forces to finish the job. The French could not even have deployed their force to Mali without American support. The reality is that if an operation like this happens anywhere in the world, it is an American operation.
As for the legitimacy provided by coalition backing, that does not count for much, either. There is an old military maxim that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” When everything goes well, coalitions seem like the world’s seal of approval. The first Gulf War is a good example. Every nation went home with a happy face. In the second Gulf War, the fact that the U.S. was backed by a coalition did not protect the Bush Administration from ridicule and derision after the occupation went bad.
Real military coalitions succeed when they provide real military utility. Coalitions for political cover are pretty useless.
There would be no problem with having a coalition of willing partners in Syria if the mission made sense. But in this case, it doesn’t.
There are better ways for the U.S. to look after its interests in the region, deal with the regional humanitarian crisis, thwart the resurgence of al-Qaeda, mitigate the influence of Iran and Hezbollah, and bring Assad to justice.