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.

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.

Sorry, Morsi, you blew it – the people voted for liberty, not religious repression

As a democrat – American readers note small ‘d’ – I should be sympathising with Mohammed Morsi, dumped unceremoniously as Egypt’s first elected leader, after shading an election 12 months ago to rule the Arab world’s most populous state for a four-year term.

But he was frontman for the pernicious Muslim Brotherhood’s corny attempt at democractic respectability, the Freedom & Justice Party. And that should have been a heavy hint as to the direction Egypt would head…anywhere but full-blown democracy.

Also undeniable was how the Brethren slyly remained in the shadows when the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak’s secular dictatorship kicked off.

There was hardly a Brother in sight as students, middle-class professionals, women and intellectuals bravely took to the streets against the military regime, facing down tanks and riot police.

Morsi’s henchmen never needed to raise a prayer-bead in support, because they knew the opposition was largely a fragmented rabble. Only they had the organisation to concoct an election-winning gambit, even if it meant pretending to shelve their fundamentalist zeal.

Today, however, Mo wouldn’t win a one-man contest to be his neighbourhood rat-catcher. Nor does he deserve to.

Because, while the now ex-president might know every hadith in the Koran and can probably recite the entire tome, verbatim, Mo goofed spectacularly as a leader, faithful to the faith, but not the wider nation.

As he increasingly imagined himself a latter-day pharaoh, they baulked at his divide-and-rule arrogance, a litany of broken electoral promises, the remorseless drift towards an Islamic state, crackdown on civil liberties and the religious rights of non-Sunnis.

Most of all, sane Egyptians wondered why the country was an economic basket-case, where bread had become a luxury, power cuts a fact of daily life – unsurprising, given the busted flush of a country has only a fortnight’s fuel in its tank – unemployment and the murder rate soared, while the $200bn of external investment Morsi pledged never materialise.

OVER AND OUT: People power shows Morsi the exit from the presidency

OVER AND OUT: People power shows Morsi the exit from the presidency

Instead, corruption and chronyism ballooned, as exemplified by the appointment of an old Brotherhood mate, with links to a terrorist group that slaughtered 58 foreigners in 1997, as governor of Luxor. It so incensed Egypt’s tourism minister, he threatened to quit, further exposing Morsi’s utter disregard for the subtleties of power.

However, Mo can claim some credits, notably brokering a wonky truce between Gaza’s headbangers, Hamas – one of many Brotherhood franchises in the region – and Israel, plus begrudgingly maintaining a cold peace with the Jewish state, as negotiated by President Anwar Sadat (later repaid for his efforts with a hail of bullets).

However, despite claims to legitimacy – and he even forced through a referendum on a controversial constitution, that expressed some of the Brotherhood’s extreme themes – Morsi’s cavalier take on democracy wasn’t what the people signed up to.

As Samer Shehata, an expert on Islamist Arab politics, explains, ‘He has been a disastrous leader; divisive, incompetent, heavy-handed and deaf to wide segments of Egyptian society who do not share his Islamist vision.’

So, as they cried over spilt votes and a brief, bitter-sweet flirtation with democracy, the furious hordes sought a re-revolution – a return to (Tahrir) Square One – and won it, thanks to the army’s intervention.

Maybe the moral Egyptians have learned is be careful what you wish for. Because, in the wrong hands democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And remember: a certain Adolf Hitler polled most votes in a democratic election back in 1932 and no-one needs reminding of what catastrophes that preluded.

Meanwhile, the world asks: whither next, Egypt?

IN THE FRONT LINE: But the Egyptian army wants to be peace-makers, not power-brokers

IN THE FRONT LINE: But the Egyptian army wants to be peace-makers, not power-brokers

Certainly, the military doesn’t want to be accused of staging a coup d’etat – it could cost them their $1.5bn annual ‘stipend’ from the US – therefore they’ll claim the role as peacemakers, not power-brokers and try to stop Egypt sliding into civil war.

Chief Justice, Adly Mansour, has been hastily sworn in as interim president and will nominate an provisional government of technocrats. The first item on their agenda will be to rip up Morsi’s Islamic constitution and draft one that’s inclusive, reflecting the nation’s secular aspirations.

All being well, a fresh election can be called within a year, but will the Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party once again be a player? Or will it be proscribed, as it was by Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser, who overthrew the venal monarchy of King Farouk in 1952?

More intriguing still, if the Brethren do enter the electoral fray, what if they win again?

Meanwhile, after the Arab Spring predictably disintegrated into an Islamic Winter, Morsi’s downfall and the moderate mainstreams’ revolt against religious autocracy will reverberate across the tinderbox of the Middle East and North Africa.

It certainly ought to send shudders down the spine of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, where – as I recently posted – he’s risks a decade of prosperity by imposing creeping Islamism, much against the wishes of the secular masses.

The West, too, must wrestle with the paradox of a democratic, post-democratic Egypt.

It might start by explaining a fundemental premise to success is the separation of religion from the state, no easy objective for entities like the Brotherhood, whose credo is, ‘God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations’

And President Obama, slow-witted in dealing with the 2011 uprising, has to stop spouting support for Morsi and state emphatically that democracy isn’t about winning a one-off election, then insiting it’s a legitimate licence to impose a new tyranny.

Maybe he can borrow a headline from Cairo’s Al-Gomhuriya newspaper: ‘The people’s legitimacy was victorious,’ it crowed.

If any words entirely undermind all Morsi’s claims to the moral high ground, those do.

Doing your bit now for Syria is too little, too late, Mr. President

As the weight of history leans ever more heavily on his shoulder – and no US President wants to leave office looking like a ‘wuss’ – Barack Obama is about to shed his conflict aversion.

‘Stop leading from behind,’ his friends chorus apropos Syria’s civil war, while ex-President Bill Clinton is even more critical, describing his Democratic Party successor as a ‘fool’ and that word, ‘wuss’ (a term I’m unfamiliar with, but can’t help thinking it’s not a compliment).

Obama’s problem is two-fold: firstly, his default setting is that of a liberal conciliator, who, for all his silver-tongued oratory, would rather shut up than put up; secondly, he slavishly follows opinion polls, which Slick Willy says isn’t the hallmark of a true leader.

Because, of all US Commanders in Chief, Clinton knows there are limits to navel-gazing, as he admitted – with teary regret – after shutting his eyes to the Rwanda genocide. That was why he finally ignored the people’s voice, took up military cudgels and sorted out the Bosnia-Kosovo mess, after Europe and the UN had lamentably failed.

The Syrian bloodbath, however, is riddled by complexities that threaten the worst of worse-case scenarios. Plus, coming as it does when the West is untangling itself from controversial engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq – after an Arab Spring that has transited into an Islamic Winter – no-one wants a Cold War-style stand-off.

But, while Obama’s policy of wait and berate may have seemed laudable after G ‘Dubya’ Bush’s gung-ho era, sitting on the sidelines, manicured fingers crossed that Syria’s goody rebels – not those nasty Al-Qaeda types – would topple the detestable Bashar Assad, is growing a remoter possibility by the day.

STAYING GLUM: Obama ponders over arming the Syrian rebels

STAYING GLUM: Obama ponders over arming the Syrian rebels

And now the President has fallen into a trap of his own making. When, last August, he threatened ‘red lines’ would be crossed if the Demon of Damascus ever resorted to chemical weapons, Obama should have realised it would only be a matter of time before that likelihood happened and the snare was triggered.

It has been, even if Bashar’s Russian buddies claim evidence is flimsy.

In reality, so far perhaps only a few hundred Syrians have been victims of gassing, probably by sarin. And while I don’t denigrate that appalling statistic, Obama’s stress on bio-warfare being a game-changer somehow diminishes the other 93,000 fatalities, whose deaths by conventional weapons were mostly far grislier than from anything concocted in a laboratory.

To be fair, the off-the-cuff , ‘red lines’ remark to journalists was made when the rebels – under the banner of the secularly moderate Syrian National Council (SNC) – looked short-odds favourites to win and fears were growing the maverick regime would break open its biological arsenal and stage a gory last stand.

Less than a year on, however, the tables are turning dramatically in Assad’s favour, after worse dangers than the sporadic use of nerve agents have exploded onto the bloodletting.

On one side, thousands of Shiite fanatics from Hezbollah have streamed over the Lebanese border to prop up the despot and they are being joined by an estimated 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, all tooled up with increasingly sophisticated Russian weaponry.

In the rebel corner, provisioned by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, countless, rabidly Sunni jihadis from every corner of the globe, including Britain, have flooded into Syria, itching to take a swipe at Assad and his foreign legion.

FIGHTING BACK: But anti-Assad rebels are looking to the West to arm them

FIGHTING BACK: But anti-Assad rebels are looking to the West to arm them

It is these combined alien elements, not gas, that have proved the real game-changer. And, far from being internecine strife, Syria has become the battleground for a proxy war between Islam’s opposing ideologies.

Now – after Obama’s failure at last week’s G8 confab to talk Vladimir Putin into halting Russia’s ‘arms-lift’ to Assad – thanks to his ‘red lines’ warning, the US President is faced with a humiliating volte face or putting his munitions where his mouth is.

The nightmare fear is that US weaponry will fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda affiliates and eventually be used against the West. Certainly, nobody with a modicum of marbles has forgotten Afghanistan, where the CIA equipped the mujahedeen against the Soviets and Osama bin Laden was regarded as a ‘good guy’, a fact chillingly underlined by Putin.

So the talk is of supplying limited battlefield technology, maybe light arms plus anti-tank missiles, and pray a diplomatic miracle – one of the magnitude of Obama walking on the nearby lake – will somehow happen if a Geneva peace conference slated for later this month takes place.

Should it do, the likelihood is everyone will turn up, with the possible exception of the adversaries. Having clawed back the initiative, Assad has nothing to gain by making an appearance. And the SNC, who certainly don’t speak for all the rebel factions, insist on the tyrant retreating into ignominious exile before they’ll come for a natter.

Far from a ushering in a breakthrough, the meeting’s chances of success can best be summarised by an expression incorporating the words ‘snowball’, ‘chance’ and ‘Hell’.

Meanwhile, with an eye to his legacy, Obama won’t want to be remembered as a Jimmy Carter Mark II, though there’s every danger he will.

Imitating probably the most inept, post-WW2 occupant of the White House – who blundered monumentally in the Iran Hostages Crisis with a botched rescue mission and was serially incompetent in handling the US economy – Obama missed a real window of opportunity to halt the Syrian carnage more than a year ago.

Urged on by his then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Pentagon top brass to outfit the rebels when their fortunes were soaring and they weren’t infested by Islamist headbangers, he dithered, dallied and did nothing.

Today, then, it’s nigh on impossible for the President to make a moral, humanitarian case for intervention, because that time has elapsed.

The best Obama can hope for is to claim, ‘Well, I did my bit.’

But whatever that bit is, it’s a bit too little and a lot too late.

Why you never find a ‘peacenik’ when you need one (clue: the ‘anti-war’ lobby only picks fights to fit its political agenda)

There’s only one given in warfare and it’s that people get killed, maimed or wounded, mostly minus discrimination between innocent civilian or trained military.

Even the shortest conflict on recent record, the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which broke out at nine a.m. on August 27, 1896, and finished 40 minutes later, claimed 501 casualties.

However, now it seems the debate regarding victims, whether in or out of uniform, has progressed to something bordering on the darkly ridiculous. Because, it’s no longer a simple matter of who war’s grim harvest reaps, but what strikes the deadly blows.

For instance, last week four Western intelligence agencies – the CIA, MI6, France’s SDECE and the Israeli Mossad – confirmed that a ‘red line’ had been crossed in the vicious, internecine Syrian conflict by the use of chemicals, probably the nerve agent, sarin.

This, of course, wouldn’t be the first time such weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) had been used in the Middle East.

They certainly didn’t induce insomnia in Saddam Hussein, after he ordered the gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds in the Iraqi town of Halabja, in 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War. And my guess is they’d get a hero’s reception from Hamas and Hezbollah.

However, under the arcane rules of conflict etiquette, antagonists usually agree to abide by the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning such WMDs.

Even Hitler, who had no compunction in gassing six million defenceless Jews and countless others with cyanide-based Zyklon B, drew back from employing chemical agents on the battlefield. Maybe experience of being temporarily blinded by mustard gas in WW1 weighed heavily even on his psychopathic conscience.

The dilemma facing the West over poisoned gas attacks in Syria is where to pin blame. The odds are heavily stacked in favour of Bashar Al Assad being the culprit, but President Obama is demanding incontrovertible proof it wasn’t the motley bunch of rag-tag rebels – which includes elements of Al-Qaeda and rabid Salafist extremists – ranged against the Demon of Damascus, however unlikely that scenario is.

Quite what America will do when cast-iron evidence is presented is, as ex-US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have said, an ‘unknown known’ or even a ‘known unknown.’ Take you pick from Don’s gobbledygook.

But that’s not to belittle the fact that a ‘red line’ – as laid down by Barack Obama and, more emphatically, by Hillary Clinton in her tenure as US Secretary of State – has been crossed. And, if such boundaries are to mean anything, some kind of counter-measure has to be fashioned, especially since an estimated 70,000 Syrian civilians have already perished and a million-plus more have become refugees.

PROTEST ENDGAME? The marchers haven't much left on their anti-imperialist agenda to take to the streets

PROTEST ENDGAME? The marchers haven’t much left on their anti-imperialist agenda to take to the streets

As an aside, what strikes me as odd is this vile crime against humanity has barely raised a peep from the lippy, self-appointed ‘peace lobby’ – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Stop The War Coalition, War On Want et al – who believe they hold the patent on the moral high ground.

So where are the protest marches against Assad? Why no  banners hoisted high? What’s happened to the masses who throng Trafalgar Square? Have rabble-rousers, like George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn, been inexplicably struck mute?

No, the unvarnished truth is there’s nothing in it for them; unlike Iraq or Palestine/Gaza, say, Syria lacks a far-Left, anti-imperialist/Western narrative and if they can’t cherrypick their agenda, the ‘peaceniks’ retreat into the shadows.

Which is exactly where they’ve been skulking during the last decade, as the implacable headbangers of Iran lie, obfuscate and torpedo talks about their nuclear ambitions, while inching ever closer to an atomic bomb.

Perhaps, too, CND has become passé, because it’s achieved zilch since its inception in 1957, except drum-banging and giving purblind appeasers the odd day out. In fact, it might as well transpose its initials to CDN and accepted it Can Do Nothing.

But, hark! I hear the rumble of a grumble festering in the ranks of the pacifist diehards, though it’s not remotely connected to Assad’s murderous tactics in keeping his grisly mitts on Syria or Iran’s mad ayatollahs threatening Armageddon.

Instead, its unrighteous indignation is aimed at a ‘smart’ weapon in the West’s arsenal call the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – a.k.a. UAV, Reaper or drone – which has been employed for some time against Al Qaeda and Taliban cadres, mainly holed up in the hostile badlands along Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

DOWN WITH DRONES: The peaceniks hate them, but UAVs are the ultimate, battlefield weapon

DOWN WITH DRONES: The peaceniks hate them, but UAVs are the ultimate, battlefield weapon

What’s raised the dander of the do-gooders is the drones are now being controlled by trained pilots based 3,500 miles away from the battlefront, in RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.

And, according to the ‘peace lobby’ that’s grossly unjust, even in an asymmetrical war against an enemy that wears no uniforms, doesn’t mass in serried ranks, pursues a ruthless terror strategy and uses the local populace as human shields.

Rafeef Ziadah, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, claims: ‘Drones, controlled far away from conflict zones, ease politicians’ decisions to launch military strikes and order extrajudicial assassinations, without democratic oversight or accountability to the public.  Now is the time to ban them – before it is too late.’

Democratic oversight and accountability to the public?’ What utter drivel, because since when did we hold a plebiscite every time a NATO squaddie lines up a terrorist in his crosshairs?

And too late for what? Saving Allied and civilian lives? Terminating religious fanatics, who want to impose a 7th Century religious credo on the world, enslave women, decapitate homosexuals, persecute infidels and export terror attacks to distant New York, London and Madrid?

One can only presume Mr. Ziadah and those who share his hypocritical alternative universe will be happy to sit on the next Clapham omnibus that gets eviscerated by a jihadi suicide bomber.

Or perhaps he ought to listen to John Taylor, who lost his daughter, Carrie, in the 7/7 London attacks and speaks for a great many more decent, enlightened folk than the entire ‘anti-war’ lobby put together.

He said: ‘If Al Qaeda wants to fly aircraft into buildings and send people with backpacks on to trains, I am quite happy for us to use UAVs, drones and the lot. It is part of modern warfare. These people brought the war to us, so anything we can do to stop them killing us and our soldiers I am quite in favour of.’

This isn’t the sentiment of revenge, but common sense. Because if wars must be fought – and, incredible as it may seem to the ‘peace-at-all-costs’ fraternity, nobody but nutters want them – we’re entitled to use whatever legitimate weapons we possess to protect ourselves.

If we didn’t, and the views of Messrs Ziadah & Co had prevailed 75 years ago, by now all in the UK would be speaking a language other than English.

Only China can crack down on Kim Wrong ‘Un’s megalomaniac nuclear sabre-rattling

So now we know, as if anyone was in any doubt…the main threat to planetary peace isn’t pseudo communist, money-mad China or pseudo democratic, muscle-flexing, nationalist Russia.

No, it’s an ugly, fat, spoilt brat, with the world’s worst haircut and a face that could curdle cream, who’s inherited a festering cyst of a Cloud Cuckoo Land no-one, apparently, can rein in.

It calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea or DPRK), but there’s not a democratic dog there – if there was,  they’d eat it. And the word ‘People’s’ is an utter misnomer; just vacuous, meaningless window-dressing that convinces no-one – except the impoverished, repressed, brain-washed drones condemned to starve there.

Said ugly, fat, spoilt brat is Kim Jung-un (or Wrong-Un maybe a more appropriate handle) and, like his father and grandfather who tyrannised the country before him, thinks he’s a tin-pot demigod who can play with his nuclear toys and grab the civilised world’s attention.

What’s more, he’s right, just as he’s proving now, as the US uses every diplomatic and military manoeuvre it can to prevent a Third World War breaking out, which could make the previous two catastrophes look like mere cake-walks.

South Korea, whom the Kim dynasty has been at war with since 1951 – no, there has never been a peace treaty between the two Koreas, only a long, cold, nervous truce – could certainly be obliterated, along with the 28,000 US troops stationed there.

China, Japan and most of the Far East could be dragged into it and, since nobody knows for sure how lethal the little, pudgy psychopath’s nuclear arsenal is, his reach could extend to the America Pacific base at Guam and the US state of Hawaii.

KIM WRONG UN: All it takes is an ugly, pudgy fat kid with nuclear toys to hold the world to ransom

A RIGHT WRONG UN: All it takes is an ugly, pudgy fat kid with nuclear toys to hold the world to ransom

Precisely what inspired this latest bout of puerile sabre-rattling by the DPRK is as clear as mud. The received wisdom is the 30-year-old, Swiss-educated and self-styled Supreme Leader simply wants a phone call from Barack Obama to make the American President grovel. And he has about as much chance of receiving one as he does from my late, lamented goldfish, Bitzi.

What Wrong-Un desperately does need, however, is a psychiatric assessment and locking up in a padded cell, bereft of all human contact.

Meanwhile, the contact he prefers – and gets – is from likeminded bullyboy lunatics, with a slavering lust to wield nuclear weaponry and create regional mayhem.

One of Kim’s best buddies, for instance, is the Islamic Republic of Iran and another paradise for crackpots, with – like the DPRK – a penchant for suppressing and murdering its own citizens, not to say a pipedream of slaughtering inhabitants of nations further afield.

Cuba is another and its Soviet-backed nuclear stand-off with the USA way back in 1962 was the last time the world really stood on the cliff edge of an apocalypse. For the record it only ended only when another ugly, fat bullyboy – Nikita Krushchev – had the rush of good sense to back down.

Maybe this time the DPRK’s brinksmanship will be brought to a withering halt, but only one powerbroker can do it: China.

Since the senseless Korean War ended in 1952, the Chinese have been the Kim dynasty’s guardians, mainly because, like the defunct Soviet empire, they needed satellite states – just look at the world map and you’ll see them aplenty – to act as buffers between them and the Westernised democracies.

But even China, now under new ownership, is wearied of the Kims, especially the latest turd in a stupid suit, whom the state media has dubbed ‘Little Fatty’.

A sign of Beijing’s displeasure is the drafting of a dozen army regiments to its border with North Korea, not to be on stand-by to prop up the po-faced megalomaniac, but to stop a predicted tsunami of refugees seeking asylum if the nutter presses his nuclear button.

As I write the only certainty is nothing is certain, just that it takes only one jumped-up pipsqueak, with the power to boss a nation of 24.5 million – 9.5 million of whom are military cadres – to hold the world to ransom.

So note well, you purblind, mushy-brained Left-liberal bien pensants who defend Iran’s demand to bear nuclear arms: your preachy words are paving the way to another North Korea.

The faith whose name Brits are too afraid to mention (clue: it isn’t Christianity or Judaism)

Today’s lesson cometh from the first Book of Life and poses the question, ‘If the stranger comes to dwell among us, is it too much to ask he respects us?’

No, don’t worry. I’ve just made that up and not invented some new-age religion. Nor have I come over all pious (although, when I go into my local café, people immediately look heavenwards and cry, ‘Oh G-d, it’s him again’).

Generally, though, I avoid religious debates, since they can easily become fractious. Moreover, my faith, whatever it is or isn’t, is my affair. So I refrain from being judgemental of anyone else’s – providing they don’t step on the toes of mine (or the lack of it).

That said, religions have historical and political aspects that impact on non-believers, too, and however tolerant our modern-day ideals, we are entitled to comment.

So, Francis I, the new People’s Pope, is already facing uncomfortable questions from some quarters.

Why, it’s being asked, didn’t this humble yet resolute man do more to combat the Argentine military junta’s ‘Dirty War’, from 1976 to 1983, when countless thousands disappeared?

And why is his sense of nationalism so ingrained, he refuses to acknowledge the legitimate self-determination of the Falklanders to remain British, as David Cameron reminded him.

JUSTICE HOOKED: Firebrand Islamic preacher, Abu Hamza, ran rings round the UK's legal system for years

JUSTICE HOOKED: Firebrand Islamic preacher, Abu Hamza, ran rings round the UK’s legal system for years

Certainly, Francis has much on his papal plate, not least the child-sex abuse scandals some bishops, cardinals and members of the Curia wilfully kicked under the Vatican carpets.

That, however, is a pastoral matter, albeit with strong morality implications, and not related to pressing religious dilemmas – contraception, abortion, gay marriage and arcane, canonical disputes – that will test His Holiness.

The point is, whether the Catholic Church likes it or not, it is being held to proper account in the court of public opinion.

And Judaism, the precursor of Abrahamic faiths, has never been far from smears – spoken or written – for two millennia. But old-fashioned Jew-bashing has become passé; replacing it is an insidious, nouveau ideology that transposes the word ‘Jew’ for ‘Israel’, which is a handy cloak under which anti-Semites can hide their bile.

Like every democracy, Israel isn’t above criticism; but knock Netanyahu or Peres, not world Jewry any more than you’d rap Anglicanism for what the Coalition does in Britain.

Only a moron would buy into the slanders that, in a world population approaching seven billion, less than 14 million remnants of an ancient nation mainly dispersed by the Romans two thousand years ago, are somehow responsible for all global ills…from deicide and using blood of gentile children to sanctify Passover bread to today’s inane claims Jews caused all wars, capitalism and communism, aided and abetted by international freemasonry (which they apparently also control).

Meantime, that notorious, anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – invented by the Czar’s secret police at the dawn of the 20th Century – remains a best-seller throughout the Muslim world and its outrageous porkies accepted as gospel truth.

So, with massive population shifts from East to West, it’s no coincidence that crimes against Jews have risen exponentially, as blood libels and Holocaust denials spread to modern Europe, like Black Plague pustules. As columnist, Mehdi Hasan, noted in the New Statesman last week, ‘It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamaphobia in every nook and cranny of British public life, yet ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard.’

Because, along with disdain for Western values, radical Islam transported its hatreds when droves of Muslims came to Europe seeking better lives. Yet, as exemplified by Britain, unlike waves of earlier settlers – Irish navvies, who built the railways and canals, Jewish tailors who clothed our backs, and black Caribbean public sector workers, all of whom recognised integration was the golden key to their children’s futures – fire-breathing Islamists demand the host changed to accommodate their warped distortion of a respected faith.

American academic, Lawrence Krauss, said he was shocked when recently taking part at a debate hosted by an Islamic group at a UK university to find men and women segregated.

The leading physicist and atheist threatened to walk out unless seating was reorganised – only to find himself accused of intolerance by angry members of the audience.

No such problems existed in a similar debate in Australia, he recalled, suggesting Britons were cowed by those eager to protest whenever they felt ‘their cultural norms not being met’.

Krauss said, ‘There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal. But I think the notion that these cultural norms should be carried out within a broader society that not only doesn’t share them, but is free and open, is a very serious problem.’

In other words, raise a whisper of comment – e.g. the satirical Mohammed cartoons – and the hard-liners scream ‘Islamaphobia!’ and heads must roll…which they mean quite literally!

The problem is compounded by the politically correct lobby, usually of the Left persuasion and still wedded to the failed doctrine of ‘multiculturalism,’ which turns a blind eye to the extremists’ jihad against the democratic tenet of free speech.

Which is why Islam is off limits to legitimate debate. And why hate preachers, like Abu Qatada and the hook-clawed Abu Hamza ran rings round the British legal system with relative impunity for years.

BLAME GAME: Lord Ahmed is said to have claimed the 'Jewish-owned' Press were responsible for his jailing

BLAME GAME: Lord Ahmed is said to have claimed the ‘Jewish-owned’ Press were responsible for his jailing for dangerous driving

It’s also why the Labour Party had only now been forced to suspend (again) its first Muslim peer, Lord Ahmed, for allegedly telling a Pakistani TV channel his 2009 conviction for dangerous driving – after a motorist in a parked car was killed by his Jaguar and a flurry of texts, sent and received moments before the crash, were later found on his cellphone – was all a ‘Jewish plot’.

According by The Times, which uncovered the interview, Ahmed fingered the ‘Jewish-owned Press’, for his light-rap, 12-week sentence, of which he served just 16 days.

No doubt this will come as a shock to Rupert Murdoch of News International, the Daily Mail’s Lord Rothermere and the Barclay brothers, owners of Telegraph Media Group, who, hitherto, never realised they were Jewish.

However, even if the accusation proves untrue – unsurprisingly, Ahmed denies it – it doesn’t absolve the outspoken peer from previous excesses.

For instance, in February 2005, Ahmed hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for a man who calls himself Israel Shamir, but is actually a Swedish arch anti-Semite called Jöran Jermas (Google him, as the noble lord should have done had he been a wiser man).

At the meeting – ‘Jews and the Empire’ – Shamir/Jermas claimed, ‘All the [political] parties are Zionist-infiltrated. Your newspapers belong to Zionists…Jews indeed own, control and edit a big share of mass media, this mainstay of Imperial thinking.’

And, even if Ahmed didn’t embrace the view Jews controlled the Press, he’d sponsored one of the most scurrilous supporters of the slur – and in the Mother of Parliaments, where decent politicians of all persuasions regarded such racist rants as anathema.

In any event, the Pakistan-born baron and property developer became no stranger to controversy.

In 2007, he lambasted Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, claiming the author had ‘blood on his hands.’ And last year Labour suspended the multi-millionaire amid reports he offered a £10M bounty for the capture of Presidents Obama and George W Bush, until an internal inquiry reinstated him.

Anyway, it would muddy the point that here, in the allegedly Free World, there is one religion in our midst we dare not discuss – however peace-loving its believers insist it is – and hold it up to the same, reasonable scrutiny we use to judge Christianity and Judaism.

So game over. Democratic freedom of speech lost.

It’s only ‘Hasta la vista, baby’…Hillary deserves to return as Madam President

Rarely do American Secretaries of State leave their mark as indelibly as the man behind the Oval Office desk. Most retire into obscurity and, apart from rare exceptions – perhaps remembered more for ineptitude than diplomacy – few leave a legacy of achievement to match that of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Naturally, no-one can hold public office without detractors and the legion of Hillary-bashers will continue deriding her as, variously, The Wicked Witch of the West Wing, Shrillery, The Bride of Clintonstein and worse.

Unforgiving feminist ultras will also ceaselessly attack her for sticking like a *dingleberry to her philandering hubby, Slick Willy, during a presidency frequently mired by scandal and tales too tall, they’d shame Baron Munchausen.

Somehow, though, both Clintons redeemed themselves and even Bill has reclaimed a measure of affection most thought unimaginable, especially after his outrageous claim that although Monika Lewinsky had sex with him, it wasn’t reciprocal (‘Ah wuz enjoin’ a ci-gar at the time,’ was his laughable excuse).

Hillary, meantime, was said to have only been given the job as US foreign minister by Barack Obama to stop her having a hissy fit after the ugly mud-slinging of the Democratic Party’s joust between the pair for the presidential nomination.

Without any prior diplomatic experience – except as hostess to foreign dignitaries in her eight years as First Lady – she was tipped to be a lame duck and cannon-fodder for the State Department mandarins.

Except, no siree, she wasn’t. In fact, she was anything but. And, though guile, charm, acute perception and hard-nosed determination, she refashioned American foreign policy following the gung-ho era of G ‘Dubya’ Bush – despite Obama making it transparent from Day One of his term the US would no longer be the world’s cop.

If anything, she has consistently outshone and outperformed her aloof Commander In Chief, leaving him exposed as more professorial more presidential, a ditherer not a doer, or – to use grid-iron football parlance – a quarterback who can’t deliver a Hail Mary, killer pass.

So, while Obama pondered, Hillary ploughed on, enduring one of the roughest, toughest rides of any Secretary of State.

Because, in stark contrast to the certainties of a Cold War nuclear stalemate between the West and the communist East, the world has disintegrated into an unpredictable, shifting morass, where – as Mali has just shown – conflict could ignite anywhere almost without warning.

As the old, secular dictatorial order throughout the Middle East tumbled like dominoes in a gale, Hillary gamely sought to maintain US influence on new regimes, mainly as anti-democratic as those they deposed, even if they gained power via the ballot box.

Undeniably, she was slow in confronting the Arab Spring, which overthrew Mubarak in Egypt, hoping against hope – reflecting the aspirations of all freedom-seekers – a tenable, democratic government would ensue, after the bloody sacrifices of the students and middle-classes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Instead, it heralded the dawn of the repugnant Muslim Brotherhood and is plunging the nation into fresh turmoil.

But, through Hillary, America sub-contracted assistance to the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya to Britain and France, and wisely stayed out Syria’s civil war, where there’s every likelihood the opposition will replace Assad’s secular tyranny with Sharia-based despotism.

She also did her damnedest to bring sanity to prevail over the Israel-Palestine impasse. But Muslim Brotherhood cohorts, Hamas, only want to obliterate the Jewish state and fork-tongued Fatah, on the West Bank, can’t get their thick heads round the benefits of a peace dividend.

MADAM PRESIDENT? Hillary would be a shoe-in for the White House in 2016

MADAM PRESIDENT? Hillary would be a shoe-in for the White House in 2016

Meanwhile, Hillary urged Burma’s military to edge its way to democratic reforms, convinced China of the wisdom of distancing itself from the lunatic North Koreans and airbrushed nationalistic Russia off the diplomatic map, except where the pariahs of Syria are concerned.

And throughout all this, she had to deal with a United Nations General Assembly united on only one principle: its vehement hostility to the West (unless they were talking hand-outs).

Hillary also did her best in trying give the purblind Iranians a way to have nuclear power, minus a nuclear bomb, but there’s only so long anyone can be expected bang their head on a mosque wall.

Hence, there was never a more propitious time for her to quit office than now.

The US has all but exited Iraq and Afghanistan is on the back burner in relative diplomatic terms, after she forced Obama to agree to General David Petaeus’s ‘surge’ against the Taliban.

Whatever happens next to a Kabul regime so blighted by corruption, it make Spain’s money-grubbing sleazebags seem like choirboys, is up to her successor, newly-appointed, John Kerry.

Small wonder the former senator says, ‘I’ve got big high heels to fill.’

As an addendum, it’s well known within the Washington Beltway that taking out Osama bin Laden was at Hill’s behest. Again, Mr. President was a pretty passive bystander, not that it will inhibit him from claiming the credit.

So, after flying a million miles in US – and Western – interests, is it goodbye or just hasta la vista, baby for Madam C?

The political runes point to a ‘No’. On the contrary, with three years before the holographic reign of Obama fades away, if her health holds out, Hillary should be a shoe-in as the Democrats choice for the 2016 White House race, even aged 69 – a year younger than Ronald Reagan when he became President.

The world has witnessed Hillary Clinton as the consummate politico-cum-diplomatic high-achiever and the notion of a second Clinton in charge of America is making the Republicans wince.

After the debacle of Mitt Romney’s failure, their anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-tax, anti-immigrant philosophy is an auto wreck. It plays to no-one but the red necks, mainly in the old Confederate South and, as they’ll begrudgingly admit themselves, their antediluvian opinions don’t count for a mess of beans.

As Lloyd Green, former research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign, says, ‘Unlike her husband, Hillary is personally disciplined. Unlike Barack Obama, she has demonstrated an ability to connect with beer-track voters across the country.’

But will her gender be an impediment to her landing the ultimate office in the land? Not a bit, say pollsters, who reckon Romney’s lack of appeal to female voters was another reasons for his undoing.

So way to go, Hill, as the Yanks would say.

*Dingleberry: A small ball of excrement that sticks to the wool of a sheep’s backside (Dictionary of Slang)

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.

The Ash TRAs: The good, bad and ugly of 2012 get their gongs – and come-uppance

Yes, it’s that time of year again commonly dubbed the awards season…from the New Year’s Honours List to the media’s annual verdict on the paragons, plonkers and the plain old whackos gracing and disgracing our lives in 2012.

So, not wishing to be stranded on the red carpet, I’ve launched the Ash TRAs – my Triumphant and Ridiculous Awards, hopefully doled out in fair, equal measure. Some are undisputed champions in their class, others unapologetically contentious. See if you agree…

• Outstanding Achievement of the Year: The 2012 Olympics. Even Larry, the Downing Street cat, must have had his doubts the UK could set a new gold standard for the Games. But London did – despite the security recruitment fiasco orchestrated by G4S – and the nation’s athletes matched the challenge of splendid stadia with a colossal medals haul.

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

• Outstanding Achiever of the Year: Film-maker Danny Boyle, tasked with designing a Games opening splash that perfectly encapsulate the best of Britain over the ages. There may have been a nervous, communal intake of breath when he said sheep and NHS beds would feature in the show, but ye of little faith were forced to eat humble pie.

• Long-term Achiever (cont’d): The Queen. Over 60 years, she has employed a steadfast hand on the helm of Britain’s constitutional monarchy; a nerveless, unerring and – at times – humorous figurehead, who’s dedicated her life to serving country and Commonwealth. HM is the perfect rebuttal to republicanism…I mean would you have preferred Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Margaret Thatcher as GB presidents in her place? No, neither would I.

• Losers of the Year: Most politicians – certainly those, like UK Chancellor George Osborne and his Europrat counterparts – who mistake austerity as the panacea for the world’s ills. Medieval quacks believed bleeding the body was a cure and now the politicos have adopted this discredited medicine. It didn’t work in the 15th Century, so why should it do so in the 21st?  (And by the way, George, we’re not ‘all in this together’, as you insist – because you’re not!)

• Winners of the Year: UKIP, probably the only political party to emerge from 2012 smiling. After drubbing the Coalition – especially the shamelessly power-hungry Lib-Dems – in three recent by-elections, they’re no longer the fringe party of anti-Brussels nutters, though 2013 will determine whether they’re really a force to be reckoned with. Methinks they will be.

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President - thanks to a rival who was even worse

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President – thanks to a rival who was even worse

• Luckiest Man of the Year: President Barack Hussein Obama. The US’s second socialist leader after the serially-inept Jimmy Carter, he made a pig’s ear of the country’s economy and was a hologram on the world stage, but still won re-election…chiefly because his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was considered an even worse option.

• International Twerps of the Year: Anyone who actually believed the Arab Spring would prelude democracy. Despite a surprisingly transparent election – probably the last Egypt will see – Mubarak’s usurper, Mohamed Morsi, wants to to be a new-age pharaoh; Libya is a basket-case of factionalism; and the bearded ones can’t wait to get their teeth into Tunisia. Meanwhile, the ruptured Palestinians place PR gains ahead of peace with Israel.

• Twits of the Year: Twitter-addicts, as exemplified by silly Sally Bercow, uppity wife of the House of Commons Speaker, who ‘tweeted’ a line that led to the omnishambles of Lord McAlpine being wrongly smeared as a perv. The sooner this irritating, so-called ‘social forum’ patronised by egoist berks (and Bercows) is booted, the better.

• Disorganisation of the Year: That bastion of right-on, illiberal Leftiness, the BBC, for its multiple cock-ups over the Jimmy Savile scandal and shoddy journalism meant to gloss over fault lines. If ever an organisation proved it isn’t fit for purpose, the BBC is it, though the UN and that Nobel Prize-winning joke, the EU, ran it close (also see next item).

LUCKY PLONKER: BBC's 54-day wonder, George Entwistle

LUCKY PLONKER: George Entwistle, who lasted 54 days as BBC Director General – and scooped a windfall pay-off

• Most Successful Plonker of the Year: George Entwistle. As head of BBC Vision, he was the toast of Sky TV for Auntie’s abysmal coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, only to be propelled to the dizzy heights of Director General – for a whole 54 days! Savilegate saw him off, his pockets bulging with public dosh. Lucky blighter (or words to that effect).

• Misjudgement of the Year: The Leveson Report. Regardless of the judge’s stated intentions of not wanting legal curbs on the Press, he botched it. And now that all with a vested interest in truth have read his two million words of small print, if Leveson’s ideas are adopted they’ll quash investigative journalism and leave politicians effectively editing newspapers.

Justice of the Year: Exoneration for the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, in which 96 Liverpool soccer fans died and 766 were injured. An independent panel finally conclude the supporters were not responsible for the tragedy and accused the emergency services of colluding in a massive cover-up, including the alteration of 164 police statements.

• Robber Barons of the Year (cont’d): Bankers. They promised to repent and not use investors’ cash to fund their personal casino, where, even if they lost, the taxpayer covered their bets. Fixing the LIBOR rate and money-laundering confirmed that leopards don’t change their spots, even if they wear pin-striped suits.

• Stellar Telly of the Year: Downton Abbey (a.k.a. Trouble At The Toffs), period drama at its finest, even if Shirley Maclaine’s cameo as a trans-Atlantic dowager was more rank than Yank. Long may the aristo Crawleys go crumbling on and their obsequious servants backstab each other with silver cake slicers.

• Telly Stinker of the Year: The Royal Bodyguard, a monumental blight on sainted David Jason’s CV. Embarrassing and excruciatingly unfunny, no wonder that of the eight million viewers who switched onto the first episode, only a million-and-a-bit were there at the end. If you never saw it (or better still haven’t heard of it) count yourself royally fortunate.

• Must-see Movie of the Year: Probably the best of the 007 flicks since Dr. No a half-century ago, Skyfall has chilling pace, hardly a gimmick, and Daniel Craig as the coolest Bond ever – even if Judi Dench’s M, and Javier Bardem’s traitorous Silva nearly stole his thunder.

• Must Miss Movie of the Year: Despite the presence of nubile Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust, this tale of a couple of big city losers joining a hippie commune left film fans with only one lust…to wander straight out of the cinema, mid-movie.

• Best Prediction for 2013: This will be the Chinese Year of the Snake…and there’ll be plenty of those slithering around in the grass, so don’t expect much change for the better.

Nonetheless, a happy and hopeful New Year to whoever you are, wherever you are!