During the last 24 hours, news about Syria has been dominated by one voice, that of John Forbes Kerry, the American Secretary of State. He has made it clear in his speeches that inaction is no option, the guy in the oval office made a threat and if the threat is not carried out then no one will take Obama seriously again and potentially the Office of the President itself will be damaged. We should be in full agreement with Kerry, inaction must not be the outcome of Thursdays vote or the deliberations on the now, two-way hotline conversation between Washington and Paris. As one of the voices on this mornings Today programme pointed out, had the same level of energy and resource been focused on the work of the NGOs in Syria, as was focused on our legislative processes over the last few days in London, things in Syria would be somewhat easier for some people. This is why I wrote yesterday and on Thursday about the importance of the UN and the need for our Government to focus on Syria in a positive manner not retreat into recriminations and reshuffles.
One critical issue for us to be aware of is what President Obama actually did say regarding the red line just over a year ago (when he was in the middle of a re-election campaign!). The ABC news network has this piece on its website. The item quotes from the speech on 20th August 2012: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized, That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” This is clearly something that makes the recent attacks by the Assad regime a matter for attention and for getting the calculator out to focus on the equation, but it is not the obligation to military action that John Kerry seems to be making it. It was fascinating to hear Mark Malloch Brown speaking this morning on Today, pointing out that in fact Obama has been far from a hawk on this issue, it has actually been David Cameron and Francois Hollande who have been arguing for an intervention in private. This might explain why Obama himself has cautioned that unilateral action, particularly without a U.N. mandate, may be unwise and could run foul of international law. In keeping with the strategy he used in seeking international cooperation for airstrikes against Libya in 2011, Obama warned in a CNN interview last week that international cooperation is key to military intervention.
Perhaps David Cameron needs to spend this weekend, not on the internal focus on his reshuffle but on working with Obama to help him and his Secretary of State find a way forward through International cooperation via the UN for a solution that allows him to retain credibility, and addresses the appalling actions in Syria without blowing up parts of Damascus and Aleppo.