The U.N. has officially left the building, and now the rest of the world waits while the U.S. weighs whether or not to attack Syria as a retaliation for a chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by the Assad regime that killed hundreds of civilians.
The U.N. team of inspectors left Damascus around 4 a.m. Saturday morning local time. They arrived in Lebanon safely and will now report directly to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and submit their findings for analysis. It will take roughly two weeks to process everything and release the results.
Many suspect the decision whether or not to strike will come before that, probably some time this weekend. Secretary of State John Kerry presented his case Friday, Congress has been consulted, and the Senate is getting briefed Saturday afternoon. But behind the scenes, the U.S. is facing pressure to attack. Representatives from South Korea, Israel and Turkey, are privately worrying, according to the Wall Street Journal, that North Korea, Iran, Russia and China will all feel some sense of security should the U.S. not strike Syria. They can do whatever they want, the thinking goes, without worrying about a U.S. response.
At least Turkey is publicly supporting Obama's proposed plan for a "limited" retaliation against Syria. "The Americans, like us, are sure that a response should be given to the use of chemical weapons. We are of the opinion that the U.S. will go into action following internal deliberations," a Turkish foreign ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday. The U.K. remains opposed, bur France is still pressing for an attack.
For now, the U.S. is realizing that maybe, just maybe, they bungled the drive for support from international allies:
Privately, some American officials acknowledged mistakes over the past week in their buildup for a strike, leading British lawmakers to reject participation on Thursday. It is unclear when Mr. Obama realized that the British vote would go against him, but it was not until Friday afternoon that the White House released what it said was evidence of chemical weapons use by the Assad forces — nearly 24 hours after Parliament had voted rather than beforehand, when it might have been used to build a coalition against Mr. Assad.
That could have been organized a little better, yeah.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly called for the U.S. to make a definitive case showing the hard evidence that Syria was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. The U.S. believes the attack, carried out in a Damascus suburb last week, killed 1,429 people. "Regarding the position of our American colleagues, who affirm that government troops used... chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council," Putin told journalists Saturday. "If they don't show it, that means there is none." He also said the Assad "has used chemical weapons is utter nonsense." In related news, Reuters reports Assad has begun to pay the $1 billion bill he's rung up with Russia's arms industry over the last two years.
The White House's four page report, released while Kerry spoke Friday, explaining how surveillance, intercepted communications, and witness reports make a case showing Assad coordinated the chemical attacks was apparently not enough for Putin.
No new signs of an impending attack have appeared yet: no button has been pushed, no senior officials have announced a forthcoming attack, nothing is certain. There is only a waiting game being played now.