Obama’s ‘mini’ strike will make no difference to the bloody mayhem that’s the Middle East

Back in the 1970s, Britain’s then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson – whose tweedy, pipe-smoking image hid a razor-sharp intellect and wit – famously quipped, ‘A week is a long time in politics.’

But, never in any previous 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.

First, the dithering peacenik, Barack Obama, bowed to persuasion by Britain’s leader, David Cameron and France’s Francois Hollande, discovered some spleen and announced, yes, he’d teach the bloodthirsty butcher of Damascus, Bashar Assad, a short, sharp lesson for gassing over 1,400 of his own people.

For his part, Cameron then rushed to recall Parliament for MPs to rubber-stamp approval for the UK to support the American intervention in the Syrian bloodbath…only to narrowly lose the vote, thanks to the 11th hour back-stabbing of Red Ed’s Milibandits (plus a cluster of government rebels and no-show ministers). Result: abject humiliation for the PM.

‘The British aren’t coming!’ screamed the New York Post, as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, praised France as ‘our oldest ally’, clearly afflicted by amnesia and forgetting how the French were rubbished as ‘cheese-eating, surrender monkeys’ for failing to turn up for the Iraq War.

MIXED MESSAGES: Having made up his mind to strike Syrian, Obama is now asking Congress

MIXED MESSAGES: Having ‘made up his mind’ to strike Syrian, Obama is now asking Congress

It got worse – or better, depending on your viewpoint – when Obama took to the podium in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday to outline his moral, humanitarian imperative to stop tyrants resorting to chemical weapons…only to announce he, too – a la Cameron – would consult Congress about slapping down Assad.

What the President failed to clarify is what he’d do if US lawmakers copycatted their British counterparts and voted ‘No’ to the proposed ‘limited’ missile strikes, intended to remind all barbaric despots the civilised world won’t tolerate the gassing of innocents.

So what message was Obama trying to send?

As his ‘coalition of the willing’ fails to find traction, did he feel in need of Congressional assurance to engage in an act of war? Or was he seeking to get himself off the self-inflicted hook after drawing ‘red lines’ in the Syrian sand a year ago, with off-script remarks to reporters about a future intervention in Syria, should Assad get even naughtier?

The only certainty – and even that’s not a given – is nothing will happen immediately, because representatives and senators won’t be back on duty until September 9 and Obama must journey to Russia this week to attend the G20 Summit.

So the President, whose default setting is to stay out of any fray, has made up his mind…well, sort of.

Meanwhile, a grouchy United Nation’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, blathered about how only the Security Council (SC) can rule on Syrian intervention, insisting diplomacy is the one sure-fire way to end the bloody, internecine conflict that’s already claimed 100,000 lives, not to say created over a million refugees.

DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA: The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon insists on jaw-jaw, not war-war to sort out Syria

DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA: The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon says jaw-jaw, not war-war can sort out Syria

What La-La Land nonsense! The UN couldn’t stymie a storm in a teacup; it’s an utter irrelevance; a meaningless, neutered, toothless, clawless, clueless pussycat on the world stage and the SC’s five permanent members will split 2/3 – Russia and China voting ‘No’; the US, Britain and France ‘Yes’ – on any move to chastise Assad.

All Ban can do is wave the eventual report of his arms inspectors to Syria, which will indicate if and how gassings took place – but, specifically, without pointing a finger of culpability at either the tyrannical regime or the rag-tag rebels.

One wonders, then, was the inspectors’ journey really necessary, because, according to Kerry, there is irrefutable intelligence to prove Assad opened up his bio-arsenal and used it lethally more than once.

Ah, I hear you say, we travelled the ‘intelligence’ route before to justify the invasion of Iraq. And memories are still raw over the now discredited ‘dirty dossier’ showing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which proved – how should I put it subtly – a tad overegged.

That legacy clearly gave British MPs the jitters and reflected the UK public’s apathy over the dog’s dinner that is the Middle East (and, no doubt, the same applies to war-weary Americans).

However, it did not justify Miliband double-crossing Cameron by forcing the Prime Minister to redraft a ballsy resolution with a document so wishy-washy it was puerile in intent, then foisting his own, nit-picking motion on the House of Commons that said pretty much the same thing.

Unsurprisingly, both failed to pass muster. And, though Labour is temporarily all smiles, it demonstrated the Left fiddled with political point-scoring while Syria burned and Miliband can never again be trusted to claim the moral high ground.

Cameron’s mistakes were dual-fold: he didn’t need to act in such haste by recalling parliament four days before it was scheduled to reconvene; and he failed to do his arithmetic on the expected votes tally.

Plus, he was being over-democratic by giving MPs the final say on whether Britain joined the US initiative, since a British PM can claim the ‘Royal Prerogative’ and act unilaterally when military action is considered urgent.

The net result of the folly of the UK’s Lib-Con government and the Labour Party’s cynical crowing is the country has sacrificed its claim to be ‘Great’ and now is relegated to simply ‘Britain’.

On the other side of the Pond, Obama risks a similar humbling by asking Congress’s consent.

SYRIA'S SUFFERING: Victims of gassing add to the 100,000 death toll

SYRIA’S SUFFERING: Victims of ghastly gassing add to the 100,000 death toll

Joe and Joanna Public across the West have little appetite for more military adventures, however miniscule, and nobody has a real clue about the dog’s dinner-cum-moral maze that is the Middle East.

Egypt is a basket case; Iraq a quagmire of hatred; a return to Taliban rule is predicted in Afghanistan when coalition troops finally retreat; Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry is nearly certain to succeed, such is the West’s incompetence in dealing with the mad mullah’s deceit; Lebanon is on the edge of implosion; and Jordan’s monarchy could fall at the slightest push.

Israel, meanwhile, sits it out on the sidelines, uncomfortably aware that Assad’s backers in Tehran desperately want to draw it into war, as do the Al-Qaeda headbangers in the rebels’ ranks.

And, set against this powder-keg backdrop, the US and nationalist Russia square up, rekindling memories of the Cold War.

If ever there’s a ‘lose-lose’ scenario the Middle East is it.

And – with or without Obama’s intervention, however strategically surgical it is – matters are only going to get worse before sanity prevails in the region, if, indeed, it ever does.

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Eat your ‘red line’ words, Mr. President – or show some real stomach for a fight

There’s a question I’d like to ask Barack Obama right now: Where does a red line become a green light?

You’ve guessed, of course, because the answer is self-evident… in Syria.

Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear how the US President unhooks himself off a peg he fashioned a year ago, when, in sternly unambiguous language, he warned dictator Bashar al-Assad a red line would be crossed if ever biological weapons were moved, let alone unleashed on the Syrian people.

Yet, even before last week’s horrific massacre that probably took at least several hundred lives, Obama knew the Demon of Damascus had already employed his chemical arsenal to lethal effect more than once.

And, though, as yet, there isn’t incontestable proof Assad wasn’t embolden to repeat the war crime on a far grander scale, the finger of suspicion points inexorably in his direction.

However, there are caveats. Aided by Iranian Republican Guards and Hezbollah cutthroats, government forces are reportedly crushing the opposition. And, with UN arms inspectors in town to check the scenes of earlier gassing incidents, it’s a questionable moment to re-deploy deadly nerve agents.

Contrarily, maybe in his Machiavellian mindset, Assad is counting on the swirling fog of civil war to cloud culpability and/or deliberately tweak Obama’s nose, knowing his allies, Russia and China, will parry any UN censure.

They did exactly that last Wednesday, rendering a Security Council statement gutless. However, in the light of international condemnation, Russia has been forced to back calls for a probe, even if Vladimir Putin still insists his pet tyrant isn’t the guilty party.

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

And it is not outside the realm of possibility that the motley rebels – especially battle-hardened jihadis, sprinkled with Al-Qaeda affiliates – concocted a ‘false flag’ black op to smear the Assad regime, not that it any needs help in cloaking itself in further opprobrium.

But, if Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand and someone took this as a green light to act in gross defiance, what price the warning from the leader of the free world?

All we’ve heard is Obama has – finally! – asked his generals to ‘provide all options for all contingencies’, as he views the worsening situation with ‘grave concern.’

Understandably, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the West doesn’t want any more complicated adventures on Muslim soil or another gung-ho president in the mould of G. ‘Dubya’ Bush.

Yet, after seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now serial slaughter, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

And, while Obama may be the coolest dude to occupy the Oval Office, for all his theatrical gravitas, he’s in danger of becoming the lamest duck President since bumbling Jimmy Carter, which takes some underachieving.

He signalled this potentiality from the very start of his first term in office, when his initial foray overseas was to Cairo, where he made a grovelling speech, which the Arab world predictably scoffed at.

Since then, where Middle East matters are concerned, Obama has rarely put a foot right.

Admittedly, his options with Syria are now limited, particularly since he muffed the chance to be effectual a year ago, before the conflict became the magnet for every turbaned headbanger with an AK47 to hitch a camel-ride and join the carnage.

That lost window of opportunity would have afforded the West the chance to supply the then mainly moderate rebels at least with light arms plus anti-tank ordnance and prod the bunglers of the Arab League into helping clean up a mess in their own back yard.

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

Instead, like the legal geek he is, Obama navel-gazed, preferring to wag a reproving finger at Bashar The Basher and mutter darkly about ‘red lines’.

Well, one way or another, they have been crossed and, as the US Commander In Chief huffs and puffs, Vladimir Putin unfailingly delivers macho support to the Assad mafia, however disingenuous Russia’s morally-bankrupt motives are.

Britain and France, meanwhile, seem up to the challenge of trying to stop the Syrian madness escalating into a mini-holocaust – the death-count is already beyond 100,000 and largely composed of innocent civilians, many of them children – though UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, doesn’t specify what sort of intervention he has in mind.

It might mean establishing no-fly zones to checkmate Assad’s MIGs or bombing his missile batteries, as the RAF and French air force did to help oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; conversely, it could involve selectively arming rebels, but ensuring weaponry doesn’t reach those seeking to impose an anti-Western, Sharia paradise on Syria; or it may mean diplomatically arm-twisting Russia and China to bring Assad to the peace talks table.

It should not mean, as Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, have been at pains to stress, Western troops on the ground.

But at least they are talking robustly in a test for the West inflicted by the rhetoric of an American leader, who, so far, seems to display no real stomach for a fight.

So I suggest Obama recalls what he said on August 20, 2012, and, if he doesn’t, here’s a reminder:-

‘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 utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.’

Now the world waits with mounting urgency to hear what the President’s solution is, before droves more innocents die in Syria.

If something positive isn’t quickly forthcoming, I suggest Obama pops into the White House kitchen, butter two slices of bread, insert his words in between and eats them.

Hoax call tragedy isn’t just the stupid shock-jocks fault – we’re to blame, too

For many, there’s nothing more enticing than an invitation to join a lynch mob. Stirring primeval passions to boiling point, the public loves them. Pity, then, we can’t reprise the good old days, when hangings, drawings and quarterings, heads on spikes, dismembered limbs thrown to the dogs and all that were de rigueur.

If so, right now Aussie DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian would be quaking on the scaffold, listening to the song of the executioner’s tools being rasped to razor fineness.

There’s no question that blame is a done deal in the matter of the apparent suicide of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha – I have to say ‘apparent’ at this stage, since the police are labelling her death ‘unexplained’ until a coroner decides otherwise.

So, yes, it was all down to the pair of lame-brained presenters on Sydney radio station, 2Day FM, making a prank phone call.

For the benefit of anyone who’s been holidaying on Mars for the last couple of weeks and is unaware of the furore that it unleashed, the 5.30 a.m. call was made to the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe, recurrent morning sickness.

With Greig pretending to be The Queen and Christian cast as Prince Charles – authenticity guaranteed by the sound effects of corgis barking in the background – fatefully, as ill-fortune would have it, they reached a naive Jacintha manning the switchboard.

Thus, the time-bomb to unforeseen tragedy was set ticking…because, despite hospital protocol forbidding callers on the public number being put through to wards, so convinced was Jacintha that it was the Royals speaking (albeit with Aussie strain accents she didn’t detect), the nurse channelled the call through to a colleague, who gave them chapter and verse on the duchess’s condition.

SHOCKED SHOCK JOCKS: Michael Christian and Mel Grieg's apology was too little, too late

SHOCKED SHOCK JOCKS: Michael Christian and Mel Greig’s apology was too little, too late

Naturally, the DJs crowed like laughing jackasses on air about their hoax’s success. As it catapulted them into headlines worldwide, 2Day FM re-aired the tape so often, it must have bored their witless listeners even nearer the edge of witlessness.

‘This has been, by far, the best prank I’ve ever been involved in,’ boasted Christian, 30, in only his first week on the station. ‘It seemed so far-fetched to us, but it actually worked. It’s definitely a career highlight.’

By the following Friday, when news of Jacintha’s death made even more compelling, wretched reading, it had plunged him to a professional nadir hopefully he’ll never recover from.

So the finger-pointing, name-calling and rent-a-lynch mob mentality went viral, helped by such pillars of moral propriety as one-time wild child Kelly Osbourne, daughter of pop oddball Ozzy, tweeting her 2.5 million followers, ‘Mel Greig and Michael Christian should be put in prison for what they’ve done.’

Amen to that, Kel, most people will agree, some harking back to the good, old gory days of public executions, though it’s highly doubtful such severe punishment will be meted out.

Meanwhile, the ‘suits’ in charge of the radio station were too slow-witted to go into  instant, media crisis management mode by offering their unqualified condolences to the 46-year-old Indian-born nurse’s family, unambiguously and ashamedly.

Instead, they made an equally lame-brained attempt to defend their indefensibly puerile DJs, eventually seeing sense – no doubt prompted by plummeting ad revenues – by axing the show, putting their now shocked shock-jocks on ice and coming over contrite as born-again moralists.

Greig and Christian, his usual brashness constrained, duly made their own apologies earlier this week, but these seemed pathetically too little too late. Moreover, for many observers the cringe-inducing emphasis on their personal suffering seemed to overshadow the grief of a bereaved family, not to say the unimaginable mental anguish that contributed to the demise of a good woman.

However ‘shattered, gutted, heartbroken’ the pair were, I, for one – and I wasn’t alone – was left wondering  who was the real victim in all this.

Nevertheless, this tragedy deserves more forensic analysis than just hanging a couple of radio gaga twerps out to swing in the wind.

The stunt wasn’t pulled without ‘upstairs’ say-so, even in Oz, its reputation for on-air lawlessness legendary.

Abiding by the rules of Australia’s version of Ofcom, Britain’s broadcasting regulator, the radio station was obliged to get permission from the target of the prank before airing it and 2Day FM claims it tried, unsuccessfully, five times to get this.

If so, from whom and – more to the point – if they hadn’t received prior approval, why did they still give the stunt the go-ahead?

And, despite their rightful and righteous indignation over the tragedy, what of the hospital’s protocols regarding inquiries about celebs and members of the monarchy…

HOAX TRAGEDY VICTIM: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha

HOAX TRAGEDY VICTIM: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha

It begs the question: why was a nurse from a culture far distant from ours – albeit with four years experience at London’s foremost, VIP clinic – and manning the overnight switchboard not required to redirect all calls regarding the duchess’s health through to a Royal Protection Squad Officer, because surely there must have been one on duty?

Of course, this isn’t the first time gobby, ego-tripping radio jocks, some with the mental acumen of the barely potty-trained, have shoved the envelope too far.

Infamously, in October, 2008, Jonathan Ross and alleged funnyman Russell Brand created a voicemail message for veteran actor Andrew Sachs, making insulting, salacious jibes about the granddaughter of the Fawlty Towers star. It resulted in the BBC receiving 38,000 complaints; at least Brand walked away from his BBC2 show and Ross’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Even The Queen and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have been had by on-air pranksters, though never has one resulted in such tragic consequences as the hoax call to Jacintha Saldanha.

Of course, Greig and Christian couldn’t foresee the consequences of their inanity shattering a life. However, if they have a shard of decency about them, they’d quit and take up a sheep-shearing, as will anyone else who shares culpability.

However, that probably includes many of us, too, the very people who are now fully-fledged members of the lynch mob, baying for the blood of the errant DJs.

Which is why I refuse to join in the chorus call for their heads, figuratively or literally.

Because, without us – the fickle audience – who get vicarious pleasure from listening to those who’ve deliberately fashioned cruelty into a comic art form, such morons as Greig and Christian wouldn’t exist.