A couple weeks ago I wrote about its dependence on multilateral support to international intervention would prevent the United States from intervening in the Syrian crisis. The Obama administration made sure to secure broad international support for an intervention in Libya via the UN, the Arab League, Libyan revolutionaries as well as requiring deep European participation. As the Libyan intervention turned from the protection of civilians to regime change, American interventionism lost legitimacy in the eyes of the world, particularly for the BRICS countries that opposed American proposals concerning Syria in the UN.
Greg Scoblete, at Real Clear World, uses this same line of logic to explain why he believes that Obama will refrain from attacking Iran:
Here’s why I don’t think it’s probable absent some dramatic development: there would be very little international support for the effort. If the lead-up to the Libyan intervention is instructive, it should tell us that the administration values multilateral cover – in the form of a UN Security Council resolutions and the sanction of the Arab League. It is difficult, at least today, to see either of those bodies signing onto a military campaign against Iran. Russia and China are likely to shield Iran in the Security Council and the Arab League is still smarting over Libya.
So yes, as David Rothkopf writes, the administration is not shy about using force, but it has only undertaken large-scale action against another state when the multilateral stars aligned. Picking off the odd pirate and terrorist via drones doesn’t really approach the magnitude of starting a major war with Iran.
The issues caused by the invasion of Iraq unilaterally are well documented. The Obama administration knows that if there is no agreement at the UN, an attack on Iran would be seen skeptically by many (though some Arab states, particularly the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, would potentially support the move.) It seems unlikely that Russia, who has already warned the attacking Iran would be a ‘serious mistake,‘ would vote in favor of or abstain from a UN vote authorizing an attack.
Without UN backing, the Obama administration backed down regarding Syria and — as Scoblete says, ‘absent some dramatic event’ — it is likely that the US president will do the same when it comes to attacking Iran. Fortunately, not attacking Iran is probably the better move as attacking Iran would likely cause regional chaos (unlike Iraq in 2003, Iran funds and arms proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) that would engulf the entire regions, send gas prices soaring and distract from the ongoing democratic movements in the surrounding Arab countries.
Photo from PPP