Cameron and Obama's endless Syria conundrum

 
Barack Obama and David Cameron eat hot dogs at a basketball match - 13 March 2012 There will be no time for hot dogs on Mr Cameron's latest visit to Washington

David Cameron's meeting with President Obama at the White House is likely to be dominated by Syria. Don't hold your breath for any great new announcements.

The UK prime minister is in the US partly for a big meeting at the UN on global development and partly for an event with Prince Harry, also in New York.

So his meeting with the president is something added on, rather than the centrepiece of his trip. That means it will be strictly business - no playing of ping pong or sampling of BBQ. As well as Syria, they will talk about Iran, transatlantic trade (the proposed deal with the EU is now known in the trade as "tee tip") and probably North Korea.

Doubtless the president will want to know the latest about the prime minister's proposed referendum on membership of the European Union and his troublesome colleagues' willingness to turn a political face-saver into a real choice. While some in Britain dream of leaving the EU and strengthening the transatlantic relationship it its place, America values what the president calls the "essential relationship" in part as a bridge to Europe. If it turns into a bridge to nowhere, it will trouble them.

But Syria is the hard case. Both Europe and the US are slowly inching towards arming the rebels. But that commonplace phrase disguises the fact that the "arms" will be well short of anything the rebels actually want to finish this protracted business.

For months now, the noises from Western capitals have vacillated between the cry "Something must be done!" and the forlorn reply "But what?"

One rather lame answer is the idea of a peace conference dangled by Russia.

But there's not much diplomatic chatter about the proposal, which seems more like a passing thought than a hard plan. I get the impression that the US and Europe will go along with what they privately regard as a bit of a charade only because they have no better ideas.

Which brings us back to "arming the rebels" and allied concepts like a no-fly zone.

Enthusiasts insist it isn't that difficult - find the right sort of rebels and give them the weapons they need. But as one insider put it to me: "What if we give the minority we trust the good stuff and five miles down the road they run into a road block and Islamist nutters take it off them? How does that help?"

No-one has any particularly good answers to this conundrum. We'll see today if the two leaders can come up with anything that squares the circle.

 
Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 284.

    280. SASmule
    "To a 1960s British soldier, this document absolutely beggars belief."
    :-)
    You weren't here or there to experience the damning conditions outlined in this synopsis, which was created by the ineptness an self-indulgence of politicians and the communist party's ability to stimulate fringe groups.
    You also are a product of a different culture, don't worry your time will come!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 283.

    Another non-event at the Obama White House. The 'essential relationship' for a bridge to Europe is really the same old alibi for continued US hegemony in the western world. NATO is just an excuse for permanent disguised US occupation of the continent just as it wants 14 bases in Afghanistan. As for Syria Israel prefers Assad to the rebels ergo so does the US. Pity the Syrian people in the middle.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 282.

    281. sieuarlu

    No, things haven't improved. The US continues to lose - yes, lose - its wars because it KILLS CIVILIANS - in thousands. Do that and by definition, you fail. It is also racist: gooks in Vietnam; skinnies in Somalia; hajis & sand-niggers in Iraq. We Brits talk about 'the enemy' which refers to armed MEN. Gooks etc includes women & kids, as in "a snake with tits" in Afghanistan.

    Yuk!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 281.

    277That was 42 years ago.Things improved a little bit since then.I still feel that if you are going to war, you should fight only for total victory, no halfway one hand tied behind your back proportionate responses. Fight to win no matter what or don't fight at all.Anything less is a betrayal of our troops who risk their lives to defend our democracy.Best of all our new robot armies like the X47B

  • rate this
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    Comment number 280.

    278. USSilentMajority

    Congratulations on finding that link - particularly as I inadvertently gave the wrong month for the report! However, I'm not quite clear why you think my 400 character précis was 'partial'. The full text is such a devastating indictment of the entire US military that my quotes were actually extremely mild. To a 1960s British soldier, this document absolutely beggars belief.

 

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