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Quick Take on Obama’s Speech


A weak speech. The theory that we have reached this point (of the Syrian willingness to give up their chemical weapons) because of Obama's threat of a military attack is questionable – the fact is Obama simply didn't have the support he needed in Congress. We emerge with a badly weakened Presidency. Ironically it is the Russians who score points, since they broke the deadlock (for whatever reason).

None of us (I hope) support the use of poison gas, but I am weary of Obama and Kerry hammering this point and ignoring the US silence (and perhaps complicity) in the case of Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas against the Kurds and then against the Iranians. Once again, we see is the traditional "double standard" of every major state – they pick and choose what they think we should be upset about. One is reminded of Orwell and 1984. (Leaving aside the significant issue of chemical war in Vietnam with Agent Orange, and depleted uranium and white phosphorus in Iraq.)

I am sick to hear Obama talk about American exceptionalism, of being the anchor of world stability. This, from a President who surely knows his history, and who knows that it was the United States which laid waste to Vietnam, laid the basis for the rise of Pol Pot, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, in the process simply destroying Iraq. (One could list other items, from the invasion of Panama and Grenada, but it is Vietnam and Iraq which loom

like ghastly corpses from the recent history of American actions). 

Disturbing to hear a President who understands world law talk about the need for the US to act unilaterally. This is in direct violation of international law which, under the Charter of the United Nations, which we signed, states there are only two occasions when a

nation can resort to violence. One is when its national security is directly threatened, and the other is when the Security Council authorizes such action. Obama's proposed actions would be criminal under international law.

There are technical problems with the US approach – on the one hand the outrage about the use of poison gas, and on the other hand the promise by John Kerry that any US military attack would be "unbelievably tiny". This is the worst of all possible worlds – to stir a hornets nest and hope for the best.

How can the US think of a military strike at an already bloodied Syria without realizing that such violence only adds to the violence, and cannot diminish it. What the Pope recently said on the Syrian issue makes much more moral sense than anything Obama said tonight.

What Obama did not say – and what he could have said (and might yet say if there was enough political pressure) – is that a political solution will require a serious agreement among the Americans, the Saudis, Iran, Turkey, and Russia, to have a genuine blockade on any further arms shipments.

Press for an international conference. Press for aid to the refugees. Press for a total blockade on the flow of arms (and the most difficult nation to deal with here might well be Saudi Arabia, not Russia).

I felt sorry for Obama – he had dug himself the hole into which he stumbled tonight by talking of red lines and suggesting that Assad must go. One can deplore the Assad regime (and most of the rebel opposition as well) without feeling it is helpful, as a pre-condition to negotiations, to argue that the leader of one side must leave the room.

Whoever used the poison gas – and I don't find this as solidly proven as Obama does – what horrifies me more than the thousand dead from its use, are the 100,000 dead thus far in the Civil War (it is estimated that half of those killed have been Syrian government forces, and about a fourth had been civilians).

A weak speech from a President who faces a hostile Congress and will now find it much harder to achieve progress on more urgent domestic issues. (Though you would not guess almost any of this from listening to the commentariat on MSNBC and CNN). 

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