French ‘Non’ saves President O-Blunder from another fine Middle East mess

AS the major powers queued up to rubber-stamp Iran’s application to gatecrash the Nuclear Club, it took the pragmatic French to break ranks, recognise a drastic reality check was needed and toss a huge dollop of mushy foie gras in to gum up the works.

Well, something approaching that occurred in Geneva a little over a week ago when France’s timely intervention put the brakes on the P5+1 – that’s the USA, Britain, China, Russia, Germany, plus, of course, the Gallic sceptics – nodding through their misbelief that the turbaned terror-mongers’ nuclear ambitions were purely peaceable.

It was supposed to have heralded a ‘first-step agreement’ to a final deal to grant Tehran’s cherished wish to enrich more uranium, continue manufacturing centrifuges and build a plutonium reactor to generate energy…purely for domestic consumption, you understand.

In return up to $50 billion in petroleum revenues, laying frozen in international banks under tough sanctions custody, would be released and future prohibitions shelved.

The fact that the conniving mullahs are swimming in dirt-cheap oil and natural gas, and need atomic energy like Roman Abramovitch craves another super-yacht, apparently barely registered.

Neither did a decade of forked-tongued deceit and downright porky-peddling by the Shiite theocracy’s mouthpieces, a point proudly admitted to by the nation’s latest president, Hassan Rouhani, long-time head of their negotiation team.

So, after days of being assailed by Iranian schmooze and shallow promises, the West – I exempt Russia and China, since they’d trade with Lucifer if they could trouser a profit – only the French had the temerity to say ‘Non!’

Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, went even further, describing what Iran offered as ‘a sucker’s deal’, which reportedly left uber-pacifist President Obama so seething, he actually cancelled one of his hallowed, weekly golf games.

Of course, French obstinacy isn’t new to America. In 2003 they famously – infamously if your name was George W. Bush – were branded ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ for not backing the invasion of Iraq.

NO DEAL: France's Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, vetoed agreement on letting Iran pursue its nuclear ambitions

NO DEAL: France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, vetoed agreement on letting Iran pursue its nuclear ambitions

This time, however, even The Wall Street Journal sang Gallic praises for protecting the world ‘against a historic security blunder.’

The bible of America’s financial community added that the deal, as conceded by all but France, would have given ‘Iran immediate, if incomplete, sanctions relief’ and allowed it to ‘keep its nuclear infrastructure intact’, with ‘no meaningful mechanisms for verifying compliance.’

But, where the Middle East in concerned, the recurrent problems aren’t just Iran (or the Israel-Palestinian impasse). No, it’s Obama – now renamed ‘O-Blunder’ by his growing band of critics – who plainly still doesn’t know which way is up.

Variously, he totally misread the runes of the Arab Spring-cum-Islamic Winter; failed to intervene in Syria two years ago, when arming the secular rebels would have given them a real edge in ousting the odious Bashar al-Assad; turned up too late for both Egyptian revolutions; then got the collywobbles over his ‘red line’ ultimatum for the Butcher of Damascus to ditch his nerve gas arsenal (latest update: he hasn’t).

Instead, Obama hung the only two real friends the West has in the world’s nuttiest neighbourhood out to dry: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Not exactly bosom buddies, nonetheless they are at one on the existential threat to world peace posed by Iran’s lust for atomic muscle.

The Kingdom has consistently warned that if the Shiite crazies go nuclear, so will it. And, as BBC2 Newsnight recently revealed, Saudi Arabia will buy off-the-peg A-bombs from Pakistan when – not if – its arch foe across the Persian Gulf crosses the nuclear threshold.

So, underscoring its opinion of abject US diplomacy, the Saudis passed up a seat on the UN Security Council to emphasise their contempt for Obama’s ignominious retreat on Syria and pig-headed refusal to see the Iranians for what they are: conmen, hiding behind Rouhani’s grinning façade, who have used every ruse imaginable in a bid to gain extra time to fulfil their aim.

CASHING IN: Ayatollah Khamenei - Iran's real boss - controls a vast business empire, worth $95bn, according to Reuters

CASHING IN: Ayatollah Khamenei – Iran’s real boss – controls a vast business empire, worth $95bn, according to Reuters

Now, to further Obama’s discomfort, a six-month investigation by Reuters has exposed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the real power in Iran – as covertly running a business empire built on thousands of properties snatched from ordinary Iranians, that now extends from finance, oil trading and telecoms to producing contraceptive pills and ostrich farming.

Estimated to be worth $95-billion, the humble cleric appears to know his way around a balance sheet as well as he does the Koran.

So, how much further evidence does the most gullible leader in recent US history need for the scales to be lifted from his eyes and see Iranian perfidy for what it is? That’s a question many would love to ask (not doubt along with whether Obama also believes in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny).

Meanwhile, like the Saudis, Israel has constantly stressed the reality that Armageddon looms large if the fanatical Khamenei gets his itchy finger on the trigger of a piece of ordnance his previous poodle, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowed to use to ‘wipe the Jewish state off the map.’

For its audacity in stating the glaringly obvious, Israel faces arm-twisting by Obama’s lackey, Secretary of State John Kerry, and buckling to a White House-imposed deal that rewards Palestinian terrorism and an on-going refusal to recognise the right of a sovereign nation to exist.

No surprise, then, that the Israeli are looking East towards India and China as military partners, because  with friends like the feckless, peacenik US President, who needs enemies (the question’s purely rhetorical).

While darkly muttering about its intent to acquire a nuclear capability, bellicose Turkey, too, has all but given up on the Americans and has bought a Chinese weapons system, which NATO fears will plant a ‘virus’ in its operational and command structure.

Meanwhile, Russia rubs its hand in glee at the colossal cock-up the US continues to make of the Middle East.

Apart from checking American pressure on its pet tyrant, Assad, Vladimir Putin sees opportunity exploding everywhere and his first gambit has been to woo Egypt with a no-strings, $1.6-billion package of military aid to replace hardware Obama has frozen (Background note: The US tied aid to Egypt on progress towards democratic elections and a civilian government, completely ignoring that democratic elections brought the repugnant Islamist, Mohammed Morsi, to power and forced the Egyptian army to step in and avert a civil war).

The Europeans – specifically Britain and France – also see a chance to fill the armaments void forfeited by America. And they’re quickly exploiting it, the French already having signed a €1-billion defence contract with Saudi Arabia and the UK salivating to do business with Iran.

Come hell or high water, though, it seems nothing will alter Obama’s egotistical perception of himself as a great peacemaker – even if his legacy of incompetence leaves this world a far more dangerous place than ever, with a Middle East bristling with nuclear weaponry.

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Stop bleating about being bugged – everyone’s playing the spy game

I SPY with my little eye somebody beginning with M. Or, more currently, it should be: I hear with my big ear someone called Merkel gabbling on her cellphone – quaintly known to Germans as a ‘handy’ – and have done for yonks.

Handy is an apt word if you’re an eavesdropper from the US National Security Agency, the NSA now unofficially renamed Nosy Snoopers on Anyone, as they cock a snook (or spook) at friend and foe alike, all treated without fear or favour.

In almost any other context such equanimity would be laudable. In this case it’s upset the balance of trust that existed between allies and prompted a storm of diplomatic outrage that shows no sign of abating.

It’s always been a given that all’s fair in spying and prying where enemies collide. Hence the lack of uproar when the Russians were said to have presented ‘Trojan Horse’ gifts of USB flash-drive pens and cellphone chargers to delegates at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg that relayed info back to the Kremlin.

But, scuppering your friends? How low can the spooks stoop, even if it’s only commercial, industrial and financial espionage? Answer: No-one’s off limits.

NOT SO HANDY: Angela Merkel is raging over the NSA's hacking of her cellphone, know in German as a 'handy'

HANDY HORROR: Angela Merkel is raging over reports that the NSA hacked her cellphone, know in German as a ‘handy’

Small wonder German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is incandescent with rage that the NSA nobbled her Nokia – she’s now swapped it for a more secure Blackberry Z10 – while thunderclaps of diplomatic indignation have been resounding across Europe.

Thanks to whistleblower and former CIA contractor, Ed Snowden, currently dossing down out of CIA clutches in Moscow, it appears the good ole boys at America’s ace electronic surveillance squad, in Fort Mead, Maryland, have been scanning heaven-knows-how-many telecons and emails across swathes of Western Europe and the Americas.

Francois Hollande, the French President, was incredulous when told the NSA secretly monitored 70 million calls, texts and emails made in France; Premier Mariano Rajoy was similarly gobsmacked to learn 60 million were trawled in Spain; and the Italians choked on their cannelloni at news of 46 million intercepts.

The leaders of Brazil and Mexico were also furious at reports they were victims.

In fact, the only national leader not to quibble his handpiece was hacked is Prime Minister David Cameron, presumably on the basis that Britain’s GCHQ has a mutual, back-scratching deal with the Americans.

Just for the record the mindboggling tallies I’ve listed cover only one month of NSA snooping…between December, 2012, and this January, although it was heartening to know the listeners had the good grace to take off December 30, New Year’s Day and January 2.

Using software appropriately branded ‘Boundless Informant’, the NSA apparently noted where calls were made, the series numbers of handsets, SIM card data and duration of calls.

It makes allegations against former Murdoch newspapers’luminaries, including ex-News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson – on trial at the Old Bailey, in London, on charges variously related to hacking voice-mail messages and corruption – seem playground frolics by comparison.

Meanwhile, according to Glenn Greenwald – the Brazil-based US journalist, who has worked with Snowden to publish the spying revelations – though call content was not recorded, intercepts included intrusion in personal information through internet browsers, emails and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

CENTRE OF THE STORM: The NSA's headquarters, in Maryland, where the hacking was said to be authorised

CENTRE OF THE STORM: The NSA’s headquarters, in Maryland, where the hacking was said to be authorised

As the evidence stacks up, President Obama has been forced into humiliating apologies to his nominal pals, telling Merkel, ‘Your phone isn’t being tapped and will not be.’

In subtle contrast, he is said to have told Cameron, ‘Your phone has never been tapped, isn’t being tapped and will never be’, which clearly indicates America’s commander-in-chief knew his German counterpart had been a target, if no longer.

So, despite attempts to paint Obama as an ‘ignorant party’ to his eavesdroppers’ operations, he can’t wriggle off the hook and blame his predecessor, President G ‘Dubya’ Bush, for authorising the earwigging in the first place. Contrary to Hollywood myth, information gathering of this type – codenamed COMINT (communications intelligence) – at this level isn’t some ‘black op’ handled covertly by a rogue outfit working outside its remit.

Strangely, US spooks are unrepentant over this furore. Even more bizarrely, their cloak-and-laptop buddies across Europe don’t seem particularly fazed either, even if their political masters are in a blue funk, or feign as much.

Because, the simple truth is everyone’s at it, not just the usual suspects, principally China – which hacks into US and British IT systems countless times a day – and Russia’s FSB, which morphed from the KGB.

According to The Sunday Times, Bernard Squarcini, ex-head of French intelligence, admits, ‘All countries, even allies co-operating in the anti-terrorist struggle, are spying on each other.

‘The Americans spy on us in the commercial and industrial field and we spy on them, because it’s in the national interest to defend our companies. Everyone knows it.’

And Merkel’s a fine one to moan. The BND, Germany’s equivalent of MI5, fessed up to the Bild newspaper that it monitored phone calls, text message and emails in the USA, saying, ‘We take what we can get. If someone offers us information, for instance about the Americans, we will not throw it in the bin.’

Neither is Britain an innocent bystander. In fact, the UK is hugely respected as maestros of the spying game, numbering amongst its virtuoso performances bugging the Bundesbank, tapping the handpieces of UN Security Council members and – if ex-Labour minister Clare Short is to be believed – nobbling UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s cellphone in the prelude to the 1990 Gulf War.

Professor Anthony Glees, an expert in espionage, is pretty sangfroid in his assessment of the intelligence community, saying that despite co-operation between friendly nations, spying on one another was routine.

‘Any agency worth its salt would do it,’ he states blandly. ‘You’d want your money back if they didn’t.’

So the next time a world leader bleats about being bugged, I suggest they recall the biblical exhortation along the lines of, ‘Let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone.’

Q: Where’s the Arab League in the Middle East mess? A: Leading from the back, as usual

They gather in august conclave, preening princes in sumptuous, flowing robes seated beside elegantly-tailored tyrants and military strongmen, clad in uniforms so adorned with medals, they’re in danger of keeling over.

They pose, ponder and prevaricate – fudging issues appears to be their natural inclination – before ending the charade of unity with a sabre-rattling declaration that is as worthless as the paper it’s scrawled on.

This is the Arab League: 21 nations, covering 13 million square kilometres, ranging from Mauritania, on the Atlantic coast in the far west, to Oman, whose shores are lapped by the Arabian Sea in the extreme east.

Sandwiched in between are the ‘super powers’: Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and – until its suspension two years ago – the odious Al-Assad family fiefdom of Syria, a pariah state even by the Middle East’s appalling standards of disregard for basic human rights.

The League represents over 400 million people, although ‘represents’ is a misnomer, since the overwhelming majority of Arabs have not an iota of democratic influence on whatever their monarchs, dictators or military juntas discuss, decide or do.

The members’ authority within the organisation varies according to its wealth or size of populace. Oil-bejewelled Saudi and the Gulf emirates, for instance, wield enormous political muscle, while Egypt – whose 85 million inhabitants make it the region’s most populated nation – was the crucible of militarism, until the ructions of the Arab Spring/Islamic Winter.

Formed in 1945, the League’s stated aim was to ‘to safeguard members’ independence and sovereignty, to consider in, general ways, how to draw closer the relations between states and co-ordinate collaboration between the Arab countries.’

BELEAGUERED LEAGUE: Member states of the Arab League, though Syria is suspended

BELEAGUERED LEAGUE: Member states of the Arab League, though Syria is suspended

Until this day, these noble goals have achieved little to say the most. And, apart from the largesse heaped by the petroleum realms on their citizens to buy obedience, the League has demonstrated such manifest incompetence, it couldn’t douse a fire in a matchbox.

In short, the League is a travesty of self-interest. It is an exclusive club of despots, whose sole purpose is to retain power, exert disproportionate sway over the oil-buying West – especially in that chamber-pot of irrelevance, the United Nations – and disregard the just aspirations of their peoples.

And Europe, the USA and Russia are – and have been – complicit in helping this disassembly of autocrats to continue and prosper.

First, Britain and France carved up the Middle East into artificial states in the wake of World War One, the British imposing foreign monarchs – think Jordan and Iraq – on disparate clans and tribes, with nothing in common, except perhaps, timeless vendettas and religious animus.

Secondly, with American foreign policy designed to check the power of Russia, the West armed the Arabs to the teeth – as it continues to do, with abiding ignorance and negligence – propping up regimes, whose values are crudely medieval.

And, for all its pretentions to solidarity, the bickering, back-biting League can agree on only one topic: the annihilation of Israel and the legitimate Jewish state’s replacement by a Palestinian entity, with the iffiest historical claims to territory.

Three major wars – in 1948, 1967 and 1973 – ended in ignominy for the Arabs. But, instead of seeing the massive peace dividend from an accommodation with the ‘can-do’ Israelis, too many of the League’s tyrants remain obsessed with maligning it on the world stage, indulging in the crudest anti-Semitism, and funding extremist terror.

For decades, the counterproductive tactic of using the one nation in the neighbourhood, where Arabs enjoy freedoms that are non-existent in Arab countries, was a highly convenient sideshow that worked a treat.

GOING NOWHERE: Arab League members meet - and rarely come up with a solution to problems

LEAGUE OF SELF-INTEREST: Arab leaders meet – and rarely come up with a solution to the Arab world’s problems

The so-called Arab Street was hypnotised and propagandised into believing the Jews were the font of all their ills – poverty, lack of education, joblessness and general deprivation.

Not any longer. The advent of the internet, which even local tyrants can’t suppress, has opened up a window of enlightenment and a kernel of hope is taking root in a desert of human despair.

Repressed people everywhere can read Western opinions that don’t kow-tow to their governments, learn of liberties, of fundamental rights enshrined in laws, of progress and opportunity, not forgetting the benefits, responsibilities and challenges of democracy, warts and all.

So, regardless of whichever brand of Islam, Shia or Sunni, they subscribe to, awareness is growing – as demonstrated in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia – and it is becoming apparent to many Arabs that the reason for their third-class lot is not Israel.

This slither of land the size of the state of New Jersey being populated by a born-again nation with a biblical imperative to be there may be a thorn in Arab pride, but the rapacious lust for power and greed for riches of their masters is the true reason they inhabit a lesser world.

The genie is out of the bottle now and, as Syria’s Assad resorts to unimagined levels of barbarity in a civil war that began as a cri de coeur for democracy, the League’ impotency  is exposed again for its ineptitude and self-interest.

A half-hearted attempt at mediation in 2011 by Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir – himself an alleged war criminal – flopped. So the League resorted to its default setting of wanting the West to sort out the mess by military means, just as it did apropos Mad Dog Gaddafi in Libya.

A resolution passed at a meeting in Cairo last week urged the United Nations and international community to ‘take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime [the gassing of the innocents] that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for.’

The League – too timid and dysfunctional to allow its own forces to get their hands dirty – desperately needs some form of Western intervention, not merely to slap down Assad, but to send a blunt message to his puppet-masters in Iran, where the Armageddon-seeking ayatollahs continue their game-changing quest for nuclear weaponry.

So, as usual, once again the Arab League is doing what it does and does best: leading from the back.

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.

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.

Cyprus, the mouse that roared, is still no pipsqueak – even after the EU’s bank heist

Way back in the mists of cinema history – 1959 to be precise – there was a spoof movie whose plot might just have provided the answer to cash-strapped Cyprus. Plus, it could also have sent a reassuring message to other Club Med Eurozone members on their uppers, their populations incandescent with rage over force-fed austerity.

Based on a book by Irish-American writer, Leonard Wibberley, and starring Peter Sellers, The Mouse That Roared chronicled the tale of the miniscule European duchy of Grand Fenwick when it was hit by a financial tsunami.

With its tiny economy almost entirely reliant on Pinot Grand Fenwick wine – read that as a metaphor for today’s banking – the country suddenly faced ruin when a US winery made a knockoff version of the highly-quaffable plonk.

The medieval micro-state, its 20-man army equipped with longbows and arrows, had but one recourse…to declare war on America, pray for instant defeat and trouser the largesse Washington usually doles out to those it has vanquished (e.g. the Marshall Plan for Germany following World War II).

So far, so good. Except it all turns turtle when the pauper duchy accidently defeats the mighty superpower and stumbles on control of the ‘Q-bomb’, a doomsday weapon capable of destroying mankind.

Naturally, in the world of wacky movies, all’s well that ends well; Grand Fenwick loses the conflict…and wins the moolah.

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose...and win

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose the war…and win the moolah

Fast-forward 50-plus years and, with nowhere to run to find financial succour, Cyprus played an audacious, Mouse That Roared card and took on the clunking fist of the EU in a poker game over bail-out terms for its banks relatively huge toxic debt.

However, unlike Grand Fenwick, Cyprus (population: 700,000 and dwindling) didn’t stand a snowball in Hades chance of plucking victory from the jaws of defeat. Because German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – a man who could start a fight in an empty room – were never going to dip into their tax-payers’ wallets, especially in an election year.

Despite Germany’s financial might only required to back-stop a European Central Bank-EU-IMF (a.k.a. the Troika) loan approaching €10bn to the blighted island, it was time to set a brutal example to all Club Med beggars and crack the whip, even if it confirmed (once again) the Eurozone isn’t fit for purpose.

So, if Cyprus railed over the hardball terms being dictated, the door marked Exit, Ausgang or Salida beckoned to bankruptcy, irrespective of the EU’s Alcatraz rules that once in, there’s no escape.

This was the Euro superpowers’ revenge for feckless bankers having the audacity to set up an off-shore tax-haven paradise on the tiddler island…a money laundrette for washloads of filthy lucre (€18bn by some accounts), dropped off by Russian oligarchs wanting more bangs for their buck – or rather rouble – and no questions asked.

Then, to compound their monumental folly and displaying quite staggering disregard for due diligence, the Cypriot whizkids showered an avalanche of euros on iffy on Athenian junk bonds, which sank when the vacuous nation’s gravy train hit the buffers (Moral: beware of Greeks seeking gifts).

So, like their busted flush neighbour before it, Cyprus took its begging bowl to Brussels, with the implied threat that if you don’t underwrite our debt, we’ll upset the EU applecart.

However, the response was predictably draconian or, to paraphrase a fox-hunting analogy, the ruthless in pursuit of the potless.

BANK ROBBER: Hard-up Cypriots blame Germany's Angela Merkel for their misery, as this satirical ATM image shows

BANK ROBBER: How hard-up Cypriots satirically portray Germany’s Angela Merkel on their ATMs

Spurred on by a Germany for whom the Eurozone is fast becoming a jigsaw of Teutonic provinces, the Brussels bullyboys (Motto: take a sledgehammer to crack a nut) exposed themselves – once again – as crass, anti-democratic, bean-counting thugs.

And, to stamp their authority with maximum savagery, they demanded not only an end to Cyprus’s dodgy tax laxity, but depositors become victims of blatant bank robbery to help stump up nearly €6bn.

This will be achieved via a 40% haircut (scalping more like it) for those with over €100K in one dubious bank and the total annihilation of another. Plus, there’ll be ‘temporary’ controls to stop capital flight – another pillar of monetary union conveniently disregarded – though most of the dirty money has already flown.

The net result is that no-one comes out of this smelling of attar of roses. The EU is exposed for what it is – a wannabe super-state without a grain of compassion for its hoi-polloi; and Cyprus, an omnishambles of Byzantine idiocy, is to be the template for any other uppity lot misguided enough to believe it’s still a sovereign nation (Club Med+Ireland take note).

My guess, though, whatever arm-twisting deal was cobbled together, we’ve not heard the last of the Eastern Mediterranean mouse and how it cheesed off the EU (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).

So the fear of contagion lurks and not a day goes by without me hearing folk voicing similar distrust of the Troika’s heavy-handedness, despite Spain’s finance minister assuring investors it can’t possibly happen again.

Why not? Even with depositor guarantees of €100,000, if the ECB – supposedly the milch-cow of last resort – cocks a snook at Cyprus, for all its profligacy, which Eurozone politician can predict with any certainty no more cruelty will be meted out to purge ungodliness from the sainted euro paradigm?

However, Cyprus may have more room for manoeuvre than Brussels imagines.

Having propped up the island with a €5bn inter-government loan, Moscow is livid at being locked out of rescue talks in what it perceives as an EU snub. And now it is muttering darkly about pay-back.

This, then, could be the trigger for woebegone Cypriots to pull, because they have two prizes Vladimir Putin muchly desires: Russian exploration rights to a natural gas field Cyprus is developing with Israel and the potential to be a new base for its Mediterranean fleet if the Syrian port of Tartus is lost, come Bashar al-Assad’s downfall.

And writing off a €5bn loan – mere loose change – is no hardship for an economy swimming in petro-dollars.

Moreover, the geopolitical implications of Cyprus falling further under Moscow’s sway could be dramatic. The EU’s third smallest nation could not only afford to shun the euro and return to its old Cyprus £ – as one of its ministers threatened – it could deliver a strategic uppercut to the West’s sphere of Middle East influence and threaten the British army outpost at Akrotiri, one of NATO’s pivotal monitoring stations.

With Greece already deep in hock to the expansionist Chinese, who own the deeds to the port of Piraeus, and the Moscow-Beijing axis strengthening, Cyprus may provide the key to unlocking greater riches than its emptying bank vaults.

If that happens, the smart alecs who dictate EU tyranny may well rue the day they put the screws on the tiny Eastern Med mouse with the temerity to roar.