By Hugh Ash


O Dave’s a dead duck, Britain is sidelined, Barack’s best buddies are now the French – a stunning rehabilitation by Washington from their pre-Iraq War tag of being ‘cheese-eating, surrender-monkeys’ – and it’s barbaric business as usual in downtown Damascus.

Harold Wilson famously quipped ‘A week is a long time in politics’. But, never in seven days, has there been such a flurry of monumental follies to equal what has been witnessed on both sides of the Atlantic this past week. The dithering peacenik, Obama suddenly discovered he had a backbone and ballsy Cameron, aiming to show Bashar al-Assad he couldn’t gas his own people with impunity, is now hamstrung, after many of his Coalition allies – including some Tories – colluded with the Opposition.

Humbling of Cameron

But let’s deal first with the humbling of Britain’s Prime Minister. In truth, there was no urgent need to recall Parliament four days before it was due to reconvene and place the nation on a premature war footing. And the diluted motion cobbled together by Cameron – after a stronger one had to be ditched after Red Ed’s Milibandits stabbed him in the back – and Labour’s late, nit-picking counter-proposal were pretty much the same document. Each promised adherence to international law, (however that may be interpreted), a delay for UN arms inspectors to report from sites of reported gas attacks in Syria, and, finally, referral to the Security Council’s permanent members (predictable outcome for intervention: Russia, China ‘No’; US, Britain, France ‘Yes’ – result impasse).

As we know, both motions failed the House of Commons test, resulting in Britain getting lost in a moral maze and Cameron’s humiliation, leaving glaring question marks over his credentials to be PM. Because never in living memory has a UK leader lost a vote on a foreign policy issue of such magnitude. The naysayers feared that a surgical missile strike to take out Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal (CWs) and/or his command structure would result in ‘mission creep’, not that it did when Obama subcontracted to Britain and France the task of emasculating Libya’s equally-abhorrent tyrant, Muammar Gaddafi. Still, the Iraq War misadventure – especially the now-discredited ‘dirty dossier’ on suspected weapons of mass destruction – bore heavily on MPs’ memories and, as many asked, ‘What’s Syria got to do with us?’ That reflects the British people’s apathy over the dog’s dinner that is the Middle East, where nobody in the West has a clear steer on who are the good guys and which are the bad, such is the kaleidoscope of horror playing out over almost the entire region.

That’s especially so in Syria, where a vicious, multi-faceted, sectarian struggle is in danger of infecting other realms. All we know for certain is Assad is backed by Russia, but fighting a proxy war on behalf of Iran’s mad mullahs, hell bent on seeing Shiite Islam triumph over its historical Sunni adversaries. Add to the unholy mix foreign headbangers on both sides, with Al Qaeda copycats supporting the rebels and Hezbollah irregulars streaming in from a wobbly Lebanon to aid the Demon of Damascus.

Obama´s "Red Line"

Meanwhile, in Washington sits a President whose natural default setting is to stay out of any fray, but who has now been forced into a volte face, falling back on the humanitarian imperative that the use of CWs is a game-changer.

Oh, how Barack Obama must wish he’d hushed his mouth a year ago, when – in an off-script remark to reporters – he set down a ‘red line’ warning to Assad not to target his people with poisoned gas ordnance or suffer the consequences.

My gripe with the world’s most powerful man is that it is now too late to show some spleen, because it’s taken two-and-a-half years – and 100,000 deaths, not to mention a floodtide of millions of refugees fleeing Syria – for the internecine conflict to appear in earnest on his radar.

So, having painted himself into a corner, Obama mulls over a series of limited surgical strikes and it seems only a matter of time where and when they will detonate.

The weight of history lies heavily on his shoulders, as does the future, since to do nothing would not only destroy the vision of US might and morality, but lumber his successors with the blight of whatever America says, it won’t necessarily do.

Meanwhile, Obama must negotiate the increasingly irrelevant and discredited institution of the United Nations by legally validating any intervention via the minefield of international law. This, though, will be a fig-leaf gesture, since Russia and China will predictably veto any US resolution, with Vladimir Putin continuing to insist the rag-tag rebels were the gassing perps, not their saintly, much-maligned client, Assad.

And, since the UN inspection team sent to Damascus was mandated only to confirm if there was a gas attack and not pin-point culpability in any direction, whatever emerges from the Security Council will be as clear as mud.

Naturally, considerable hot air will be expended on ‘intelligence evidence’, with each side insisting on the veracity of its set of particular facts.

Finally, there are the much-discussed ‘unintended consequences’ of a strategic attack by the US and a ‘coalition of the willing’ (i.e. France). They are an inevitability of any battle, as Lord Paddy Ashdown pointed out, sharply slapping down absurd remarks by a couple of retired military chiefs, who prattled like CND Fifth Columnists. Certainly one unintended consequence of Obama retreating from his new convictions now would be to embolden Iran in its quest for nuclear weaponry.

And, even more probably it would provide succour to any crazy with a CW arsenal to declare open season on the innocent.

Regrettably, then, the US President is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

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