BERLIN – US Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful push for European countries to join a coalition to strike Syria militarily, to deter its use of chemical weapons, is stumbling.
France remains the US’s only pro-strike ally among the 28 EU member countries. And even the tough French rhetoric is melting.
President François Hollande overruled his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s position that Paris would agree to military action before the release of the UN report on whether toxic agents were used in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21.
Hollande, who sought an accelerated track for military actions, now wants to wait on the report of the UN team, which is expected to be released in a few weeks.
Leading Israeli and international experts weighed in on the EU’s erratic and non-interventionist policies.
“The European fragmented and inconsistent response to the ongoing civil strife in Syria amounts to a moral bankruptcy. That a US secretary of state has to point out to Europeans that this is a ‘Munich Moment’ is a disgrace to what the European Union ought to stand for,” Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, wrote to The Jerusalem Post in an email on Sunday.
On the Middle East front, Europe and the US have turned inward.
Isolationist forces in the US and Europe have coalesced around a lack of appetite for intervention in the Syrian civil war.
“The entire Western take on Syria is not the finest moment in the history of the Transatlantic Community writ large. The public opinions of Europe and America are simply averse to the use of force. Their leaders have resorted to a new form of ‘leadership by public opinion polls,’” Steiner said.
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“The end result is that the free and liberal world is abdicating its global moral high ground. This dismal episode might well constitute a watershed in global politics with sobering and unsettling questions for Israel and for the other Western allies in the Middle East and around the world,” he continued.
The soggy EU support for a bare minimum statement calling for a “strong international response” was underscored at the G20 meeting in Russia on Saturday. Germany initially refused to approve the statement, but a day later added its signature to the document.
France, Britain, Italy and Spain signed the statement. However, Spain is not a member of the G20 group of major economies.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told the Post, “EU officials point to soft power based on moral principles and mobilization of public opinion, but their inaction on Syria highlights the moral and political failure of soft power. As the British Parliament vote [against authorizing a strike in principle] revealed, the rhetoric of support for human rights is not backed by a readiness to take risks and pay a price to implement these principles.”
Steinberg, who has written extensively about EU-Israel relations, added “For over a decade, officials from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) distributed tens of millions of euros to political NGOs that target Israel, while ignoring Syria and other Arab totalitarian regimes. As a result, the European public and their representatives are not prepared to take action in order to enforce moral principles.”
Josh Block, head of The Israel Project and a veteran Middle East commentator, told the Post, “Given the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah axis that threatens not only Europe’s Arab allies but international peace and security, as well as the global consensus banning the use of chemical weapons – not to mention the continent’s historical experience with gassing of innocent men, women and children – it would seem clearly to be in the EU’s security and moral interest to take a firm stand, and rally in support of President Obama’s policy.”
Tom Gross, a British-born political commentator with expertise on the Middle East, told the Post, “President Obama’s approach toward Syria has been so muddled, so weak, over the past three years, and particularly in recent weeks, that many have failed to notice that the EU’s approach has been even worse.”
He continued, “Over the Syria issue, as with other issues, the European Union is not showing itself to be much of a union. And yet if the Syria conflict isn’t brought to a resolution soon, its spillover effects, particularly in terms of refugees and as a potential training ground for terrorists, could have far worse repercussions for Europeans than for Americans. Yet the EU, with the exception of France, seems to want to absolve itself from playing a much-needed role in international affairs. The Americans can’t be expected to do everything alone.”
The momentum for military action could pick up speed. After all, Saudi Arabia and Qatar came out on Sunday in favor of strikes.
The US might very well not find itself alone.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on Europe for the Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.