Europe’s cowardice, and the urgent need to build a coalition of NATO members for military action in Syria

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Europe’s memory and that of its politicians has proved quite short when considering whether to support an American military response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. There is, of course, the one notable exception of France–the one country in the world that has been prepared to act–and to lead others in acting–in support of its democratic ideals. It has done so magnificently, in Libya, in Mali, and is now prepared to step up to the plate in Syria.

But the rest of the countries of Europe? They have demonstrated no sense of their own responsibility for halting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.

To be sure, until quite recently, President Obama had for over two years dragged his feet in resisting military and other action to halt Bashar al-Assad’s massive commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the situation has changed now, as the United States prepares to launch military strikes against Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons.

For the Europeans, except France, it’s business as usual: “Leave it to the Americans (and the American taxpayers) to provide for our international security.” David Cameron made an ill-prepared effort to get parliamentary approval in England, but appears to have given up–for essentially domestic political reasons–following an initial setback in the House of Commons.

Despite this reversal, Europeans and the United States together need to launch a strong diplomatic campaign among NATO members for their active support and participation in military action against Syria in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

This is not about Barack Obama and the quality of his foreign policy leadership, which admittedly has been disappointing to date. Rather, it is about the response of the West and the civilized countries of the world to an existential threat to their deepest and most enduring values, and the great harm that will come to them if they fail to act now.

Syria is not America’s problem. It is the world’s problem, and engages the vital security interests of Europe even more than those of the United States.

Let’s consider for a moment a few countries in Europe, and what they owe the U.S. and the international community.

The United Kingdom

Britons should understand that military action against Syria is a difficult but absolutely essential task for not just this American president, but for the United States of America.

Twice in the last century America saved England and the democracies of Europe from tyranny.

When the United Kingdom moved to repel the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, despite initial hesitations, Britain had no truer or more steadfast ally than the United States.

Cannot David Cameron rise above party politics and take his case again to the British people and the House of Commons? This time he might make a stronger case, and be organized enough to count on the participation of the 10 or so ministers who couldn’t be bothered to interrupt their summer vacations in order to participate in the last vote in the Commons, which failed by 13 votes.

Does the Labor Party really want to be responsible for ending Britain’s special relationship with the United States? Shouldn’t American diplomats be holding the most urgent of meetings with Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, as well as with Cameron, to help forge a non-partisan consensus in support of action by the West and other civilized nations to halt the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria?


The United States and its allies liberated Italy from the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini during World War II. Many American families lost sons who died on the battlefields of Italy fighting to liberate that country from dictatorship, while Americans spent countless millions of dollars to assist Italy in emerging from the ruins of war and strengthening its fledgling democracy. Has Italy forgotten the historic debt it owes to the United States?

To its credit, Italy fought with the ISAF forces in Afghanistan. But was that the end of its efforts to assume its international responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security?

However unhappy Italy may be with its Afghan experience, or the CIA violating its territory to engage in a forced rendition of an accused terrorist to another country, the current issue of Syria must be considered on a deeper and more urgent level. This is not just another issue in the broad array of issues that constitute Italy’s relationship with America.

What is Italy’s response to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the al-Assad regime in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons?


No country should have a stronger interest in halting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including through the use of chemical weapons, than Germany. Germany under Adolf Hitler, it should not be forgotten, killed millions of Jews and others in its concentration camps through the use of poison gas during World War II, at places like Auschwitz.

How can Germany now turn its back on the gassing of civilian populations in Syria? Doesn’t Germany owe the world a special responsibility to be in the forefront of those nations willing to undertake effective military action to bring the commission of such atrocities to a halt?

The list could go on.

If Europe fails to act now, they will have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.