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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Heaven help America – and the Middle East – with ‘cowboy’ Kerry riding point

On the diplomatic front there’s good news and bad to herald the New Year; so, in an effort to break it to you gently, I’ll relay the glad tidings first.

A Vietnam War hero is set to be anointed successor to Hillary Clinton as America’s Secretary of State (a.k.a foreign minister), as the former First Lady recovers from illness and ponders a crack at the White House in 2016, when the Obama era ends.

Tall and lean-faced, the man in question could almost be a throwback to the heyday of Western movies…a languid Jimmy Stewart reincarnate, clad in a $3,000 Marty Greenfield suit and a holster full of diplomatic weaponry.

He even hails from cowboy country (Aurora, Colorado) and has a handle that could fit well on a publicity flier for a rootin’, tootin’ John Ford epic.

What’s more, he’s a long-serving, career politico and, as chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, he knows there’s another Paris, apart from the one in Texas (besides, he mom was born in the French capital).

Related to the billionaire publishing Forbes clan, he’s also immensely rich and married to the equally-loaded widow of a member of the Heinz baked beans and flatulence dynasty; so there’s no danger he’d be swayed by the offer of a buck or two in bungs.

Sadly, for many, there endeth the good news.

Because – in the views of some who have an intimate working acquaintance of him – irrespective of his apparently glowing CV, John Kerry may not be the ideal nominee to ride point for an American President.

This, I hasten to add, is unrelated to Kerry losing the 2004 Presidential election to (of all people) George ‘Dubya’ Bush. Nor is it linked to the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts being aged 69 – the new 49, as folk of my generation will contend.

And you can discount the criticisms of even respected commentators, one of whom noted that ‘he’s a morally-preening, self-righteous mediocrity, unpopular even among his colleagues.’

KERRY BOLD? The US's nominee for Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

KERRY GOLD? President Obama’s nominee for US Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

No, it’s rather an indictment of the Democrat senator’s trail of misjudgements, waffling U-turns and – how shall I put it politely? – a propensity to go out on a limb, then chop off the branch he’s perched on.

Kerry launched his career on the coat-tails of a laudable service record. As a much-decorated Navy officer he came home from Vietnam to campaign vigorously against the conflict, in 1971 declaring the entire US chain of military command to be ‘war criminals.’

Testifying before the a Senate committee, Kerry claimed he’d met GIs who ‘had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians and razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan’

The trouble was he could never prove his grisly claims.

Then, as a rookie senator in 1985, Kerry helped convince Congress to cease aid to the pro-US Contras battling Nicaragua’s Communist Sandinistas in return for a cease-fire that never was. What did occur, though, was the Sandinistas procured $200M in weaponry from Moscow and scotched the uprising.

A year later the increasingly-radical Kerry endorsed demonstrations against President Reagan’s rollback of Soviet and Cuban-supported forces in Central America and, despite it garnering wide Arab support, was a fierce critic of the first Gulf War to expel the invading Iraqis from Kuwait.

Yet, inexplicably, he flip-flopped over the 2003 Iraq War, proclaiming with patriotic gusto, ‘Without question we need to disarm Saddam. He is a brutal and murderous dictator.’

Only when things turned turtle did Kerry cavil that he was ‘misled’ by Dubya, who ‘rushed to war’. And, in 2007, he adamantly opposed the Iraq ‘surge’ strategy, castigating Bush for ‘stubbornness’ and ‘recklessness.’

Needless to say General David Petraeus’s tactic worked a minor miracle – at least until US forces formally exited Iraq and it descended into today’s murderous mayhem.

So, since Kerry will be ‘hot-desking’ between Washington and the calamitous Middle East in his new role, there are certain glaring question marks overhanging his expensively coiffured head about his grasp of the realities on the ground he’ll treading.

Worryingly, the senator shows a high regard for Bashar Al-Assad, as he clings onto Syria by his gory fingertips, amid a sea of 60,000 corpses.

After paying court several times to the Butcher of Damascus, Kerry advocated loosening sanctions against Syria, declaring ‘my friend’ Assad is a man of his word, insisting, ‘Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.’

Kerry is keen, too, to see the Israelis return the Golan Heights to Syria, having won the strategically vital buffer zone, after being attacked by Assad’s father, the equally odious Hafez, in the 1967 Six Day War.

Meanwhile, despite his past record for faux pas, Kerry believes he knows better than the Israelis what’s good for them as the Middle East’s only fully functioning democracy, not to say the West’s key ally.

And, now with the sage Clinton departing, her over-opinionated replacement is backed by a President who still demonstrates little comprehension of how to quell the region’s flames.

Few on the world stage will forget Obama’s monumental gaffe in 2008, when – in a now pilloried Cairo speech – he tried to woo the Muslim world, only to see his honeyed words translated as a sign of American naivety and weakness.

Unwittingly, it preluded the downfall of secular dictatorships or put them under notice to quit…Mubarak gone from Egypt’s helm; Gaddafi overthrown in Libya; Ben Ali deposed in Tunisia; Assad tottering in Syria; Jordan’s King Abdullah wondering how long he’ll reign; Lebanon throttled by the crazies of Hezbollah; and Iraq locked in Shiite-Sunni civil strife.

The gains, sadly, were short-term, because it spurred the extremists to pervert the ensuing Arab Spring into an Islamic Winter, delivering power to a new generation of despots, particularly the multi-tentacled, ultra-fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, for whom liberty and human rights are hardly long-term pursuits.

Moreover, the chain reaction further empowered the Palestinians to dodge meaningful, direct talks with Israel towards statehood and cloud their real intent on redrawing the local map minus a Jewish state (that reality must even be starting to dawn on the West’s purblind, useful idiots, who swallow – hook, line and stinker – every lie the Arabs spew).

And, finally, the mad mullahs of Iran were energised into running still more rings round nuclear negotiators and getting busy stirring up a hornets’ nest in the Gulf States.

So heaven only knows how America’s next Secretary of State will keep the lid on the world’s hottest cauldron of discontent, as his predecessor, Mrs. Clinton, did her best to do.

Which is why only the most starry-eyed optimists will be holding their breath in 2013, hoping Obama’s cowboy can pull the peace rabbit out of his ten-gallon hat.