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.
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.
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.
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.