Britain is out. Germany is out. Turkey is talking tough but giving no indication that it's prepared to back up its words with action. With the Obama administration hinting that it's preparing to strike Syria within days, there's just one country that seems ready to take part in a military intervention: France, a country long mocked for perceived weakness.
White House officials insist that President Obama is still weighing whether to order limited U.S. missile or air strikes against targets within Syria and gave no indication of when he might reach a decision. One thing has become clear in recent days, however. The U.S., should Obama should to intervene, will be acting almost entirely alone.
On Thursday, the British parliament handed Prime Minister David Cameron a humiliating defeat by voting down a motion that would have authorized the use of military force in Syria. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper that Germany hadn't been asked to part in a strike "and neither are we contemplating it." Turkey, which had earlier expressed a willingness to intervene in Syria without UN approval, has been conspicuously silent in recent days as the prospect of a U.S.-led strike has drawn closer.
France has been the lone exception. On Friday, French President François Hollande told Le Monde that the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus "must not go unpunished" and that France was "prepared to punish" Assad for the strike. Hollande, unlike Cameron, could order a strike without parliamentary approval, and his muscular language suggested he was prepared to do just that.
French participation in a potential Syria strike would be the third time in recent years that Paris was the primary or sole U.S. ally in a military operation the Obama administration was wary of undertaking alone. France has effectively supplanted Britain as Washington's main partner in limited military interventions around the world. It's a far cry from 2003, when France's vocal opposition to the coming Iraq War led angry Republicans to force the House cafeteria to start serving "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" to remove any reference to France from its menu.
France's muscular new approach was first on display in Libya, when then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the push to establish a no-fly zone over Libya and later ordered French forces to fire the first shots of the military intervention there. The French air force, ultimately joined by Britain and the U.S., played a central role in destroying much of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi's military assets, leading to his ouster and death at the hands of rebel forces.
Mali was an even stronger example. An al Qaeda affiliate and a pair of Islamist allies took control of northern Mali in early 2012, imposing sharia law over cities like the ancient town of Timbuktu and turning the region into a training ground of sorts for militants from other neighboring countries. By the beginning of 2013, the Islamists had pushed so far south that some U.S. officials worried that they'd conquer the entire country. The Obama administration condemned the Islamist push but made clear it had no appetite for a military intervention to stop it.