[UPDATED with reports of Arab leage action!]
One day after Mr. Obama stunned the world by halting what had seemed an inexorable push toward a cruise missile attack, Mr. Kerry, who has been the administration’s most forceful advocate for intervention, was left to defend the surprising reversal in a string of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows. The appearances — Mr. Kerry was a guest on five morning shows — underscored the administration’s tenuous position after a week of fits and starts over Syria.
Kerry has a special challenge teed up with the Arab League:
Securing Arab League support for a potential American attack has become an important element of the Obama administration’s plan to try to win Congressional support. Mr. Kerry has been in touch with his Saudi counterpart and the leader of the Syrian opposition regarding a meeting scheduled for Sunday night in Cairo.
The American administration’s hope is that a statement of support from the Arab League can make up for the British Parliament’s decision on Thursday not to join any American-led attack. Such a statement would enable the administration to argue to Congress that it has strong regional support for a potential strike.
Uh huh. Kerry has to explain to his Arab league counterparts that they need to put their names on a resolution advocating force against a neighbor, risking the ire of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, even though the US may ultimately decide not to use force and is not at all committed to decisive force or regime change. Can he promise that an Arab League resolution will assure Congressional approval and eventual Obama action? Of course not. Can he promise they won't be left out to dry? No.
Good luck to him.
UPDATE: Progress but not success, says the Times:
Ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo, Mr. Kerry sought to mobilize backing for American-led military action at a meeting the group held on Sunday night.
A statement that was issued by the league asserted that the Syrian government was “fully responsible” for the chemical weapons attack and asked the United Nations and the international community “to take the necessary measures against those who committed this crime.”
To the satisfaction of American officials, the statement did not explicitly mention the United Nations Security Council or assert that military action could be taken only with its approval. But it stopped short of a direct call for Western military action against Syria.
More in this story:
CAIRO — The Arab League on Sunday urged international action against the Syrian government to deter what it called the “ugly crime” of using chemical weapons. It was a major step toward supporting Western military strikes but short of the explicit endorsement that the United States and some Persian Gulf allies had hoped for.
The League moved beyond the more cautious stance it took just a few days ago, when it asked the United Nations Security Council to overcome its internal differences on the Syrian conflict — an outcome that was extremely unlikely given Russia’s strong support for Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
This time, the League called for the United Nations and “the international community” at large to exercise their responsibilities under international law “to take the necessary measures” against the Syrian government. But aside from calling for trials of the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, the resolution — adopted at a meeting in Cairo late Sunday night — did not specify what kind of international measures might be needed or justified.
President Obama’s last-minute pullback to seek a vote in Congress on military intervention put some of his Arab allies in a bind, analysts meeting with Arab diplomats said. Hoping to produce a strong Arab League statement to provide cover for Washington, Arab leaders had new cause to wonder if Mr. Obama would follow through.
“He is seen as feckless and weak, and this will only give further rise to conspiracy theories that Obama doesn’t really want Assad out and it is all a big game,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center and a former United Nations envoy in the region. “Many Arab leaders already think that Obama’s word cannot be trusted — I am talking about his friends and allies — and I am afraid this will reinforce that belief.”
Alphonse and Gaston met with Obama and Kerry:
Morocco, a North African kingdom newly embraced by the Gulf monarchies as an ally after the Arab Spring revolts, also issued a strongly worded statement demanding the Assad government be held accountable for its use of chemical weapons. But in an interview, its foreign minister, Youssef Amrani, declined to say whether the kingdom would support a Western airstrike. “When the American government will make a decision on this, we will respond,” he said.
Just think how bad this could be if we weren't using the smart diplomacy.