by Mark N. Katz
President Obama has announced that he intends to launch a military strike against Syria in response to his strongly held conviction that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its people. It is not at all clear, though, when or even if he will receive approval from Congress or from many (indeed, any) other governments for his initiative.
Regardless of whether he receives domestic and international support for military action against Syria, there is a more modest but symbolically important step that the Obama administration could take that does not need congressional approval: breaking diplomatic relations with Syria.
Such a move, some might say, will do little to weaken Damascus. But so would, arguably, a military strike that leaves the Assad regime and its security forces intact.
Breaking diplomatic relations with Damascus has several advantages. First, such a move would not require congressional approval. Second, breaking diplomatic relations involves minimal costs. Third, this is something that other governments might be more willing to undertake than a military strike. Fourth, governments that do not join the U.S. in rupturing ties with Damascus will attract negative attention, and while this will not embarrass countries like Russia and Iran, it will weigh heavily upon others and may well influence their subsequent relations with Syria.
Besides all this, it’s simply odd that Washington is maintaining diplomatic relations with a government that it believes has used chemical weapons against its citizens when the U.S. does not have them with other governments (including Cuba and Iran), which — however awful they may be — have not done so.
Further, if the Obama administration believes that the Assad regime’s actions warrant the use of military force, then surely those same actions also warrant the lesser step of cutting diplomatic ties.
Last but not least: breaking diplomatic relations does not preclude launching a military strike against Syria. But since the former action is far more likely to gain domestic and international support than the latter, surely it’s worth undertaking.