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

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 44.

    Just one possible way forward- take it to UN Security Council again- and this time allow Russia and China to re-write action plan-do not allow them to stick their heads in the sand, as last time. Both countries needs to grow up!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 43.

    It's the devil's alternative. Arming the rebels will bring down a pro-Iran government, but arm groups that are anti-west. Doing nothing will allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of groups that are anti-west and anti-Israel. If the conflict spills over Syria's borders, the already fragile balance in the middle east will falter.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 42.

    The two "Christian" leaders need to get up to speed with Biblical prophesy - Syria is not just another 'Arab Spring'. Whether it's this year, next year or sometime in the distant future, war in Syria is going to be a major factor in the end of civilisation as we know it.
    Of course, you can poo-poo Biblical prophesy if you wish, but you are going to look dammed foolish if it turns out to be right.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 41.

    They should be more concerned about the economies of the 'West' and forget Syria. Syria is not our problem until it crosses a border, then it is for their neighbours to fix.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    If the attack on Turkey is shown to be the work of the Syrian regime then surely NATO will have no choice but to intervene. Or does NATO only exist to serve US interests?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    I think the question is what to do for Turkey, which has moderated a meeting of various cultures and religions for centuries. Stop the fire from spreading and burning them. Syrians will weary of their war and need to know who their friends are, and ask them for help to rebuild. So keep Turkey strong so that when that time comes, they can do it. Going into Syria with arms is pouring fuel on fire.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    Its a no win situation whichever side win so just let them get on with it.
    Its not our problem so why waste time and money on a no win situation.
    Its time to sort out our own problems before we even think about getting involved in those of another country.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 37.

    Neither America nor Britain wish direct involvement; it is too difficult involves some very uncomfortable partners. Chemical Weapons Red line rhetoric was an empty threat. The line was crossed, the game didn't change, the line was moved to "persistant use"; I am sure it can be further extended.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 36.

    Mark,
    Obama's writers are working on the different ways his foolish “red line” Syrian threat can be turned around hoping maybe Cameron has a few ideas. After sacrificing American lives in Benghazi, Al-Qaeda already has his number. Most likely they where the ones who set off the bombs in Turkey, hoping Obama would hurry up and send more weapons!

    Give Aid to the displaced victims first!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 35.

    If you want to square the circle ask this fellow

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22477958

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    China's (supposed) non interference policy in other countries internal disputes seems more and more attractive as the UN,an organization who believe they they are immune from prosecution, becomes more certain of its divine role in diagnosing the ills of others. Dangerous when powerful nations are coming believe they have the moral right to act on its advice.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 33.

    Intervention in Libya hasn’t worked out well has it Dave? How about Afghanistan or Iraq? How has that ended up?

    Don’t you politicians ever learn?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 32.

    Leave well alone. If any intervention it should be against the 'rebels', not for them.
    Not our war, we can't afford to be the world's policemen, and it's not our business to be either. British blood should only be spilled in defence of British interests.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 31.

    Personally, I think helping al-Qaeda gain control of a country with stockpiles of chemical weapons is a bad idea. We don't need sarin bombs going off in London on top of all the other problems facing us.

    If Syrians want freedom that's great - by all means, let them seize it. The current struggle is between a moderate dictator and full-on Islamic fascism; a lose-lose conflict we'd only make worse.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 30.

    We have no choice but to intervene the conflict is just getting worse and worse!
    An example of that is the bomb that went off in Turkey the other day.
    Lets not mess about with a political solution or trying to arm rebels.
    It is time Mr Obama to face the facts and swiftly impose a no fly zone and bomb the chemical weapons sites!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 29.

    We all bear witness to what happens in Mid East countries when a dictator is toppled - chaos and more bloodshed. Syria will be no different, probably far worse, and I think the West is only too well aware of this. So it's Hobson's choice - you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Meantime countless more will die.....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 28.

    It is very simple, it has nothing to do with Cameron or Obama. They should mind their own business. The USA is a complete an utter mess, so Obama should concentrate on that, and similarly the UK is an even greater mess where people are dying because of cold winters, where there are food banks and more.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 27.

    There has always been only one way out for Syria - give Assad a non-humiliating way out and allow existing government structures to keep the country stable.

    Now it may even be too late for that.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 26.

    How many times are we going to see video on the news about Syria preceded by the comment “this footage cannot be verified”. Virtually all of it shows the “rebels” in a good light while showing massacres by Syrian forces. . It seems to me that the rebel propaganda is accepted without question.

    If something cannot be verified, it is rumour at best and should not be shown on the news

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 25.

    @24 where has the west ever succeeded installing a fully pro west government? Iraq maybe? Billions of dollars of aid go missing and there a civilian lives being lost every day that is not reported. Also, if intervention is the answer can we afford it? Perhaps we'll have another afghanistan to contend with? Having an Al-Qaeda aligned government seems crazy especially when you consider afghanistan..

 

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