The two Obamas: Avoiding Syria in Belfast

President Barack Obama speaks in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland 17 June 2013

This was a tale of two President Barack Obamas, the one with high dreams and the one who must deal with grubby realities.

In the Belfast hall there was some of the old excitement. As the crowd waited for Mr Obama to appear, the rather staid dignitaries in the upper gallery performed a Mexican wave, to the delight of the school children in the audience.

Here, he still has some lingering rock star status. His words were lofty, serious and inspirational. He told the young people that many around the world looked to Northern Ireland as an example of how to make peace.

He urged them not to rest there but to break down more walls, heal more wounds. There is a feeling here that peace has become so entrenched, so normal that many are content to accept the gains and not try to improve the two communities.

This is the president as the inspirer-in-chief.

It reminded me of his speech in Israel. That was a more important moment, but similar in that he was exhorting young people to reach for their better selves over the heads of bickering politicians, using his own background and America's civil rights struggle as an example of what can be achieved.

It is where cynics think, "What a president he would make! Oh, hang on, he already is."

Hard sell to Russia
Russia's President Vladimir Putin walks for the official arrivals for the start of the G8 Summit in at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland 17 June 2013 Vladimir Putin is the man to convince in Belfast - but that will be a tough road

For this was surely an opportunity missed.

He was talking about ending conflict and bringing peace, yet he still has not talked about the biggest conflict in the world today - Syria.

He has made no attempt to explain his shift in policy. That is not to claim there are easy, glib answers, but he's good at complexity and this is a serious issue that needs grown-up debate.

He wants to avoid getting embroiled in another Middle East war and to avoid the US dictating outcomes in the region, but he doesn't want Syria to spiral further into chaos or President Bashar al-Assad to continue in power.

His meeting with Vladimir Putin will be interesting, because the Russian president knows what he wants and says it.

At the moment the US and the UK look irresolute - talking about increasing help to the rebels without spelling out what they are doing, talking about a diplomatic solution when none is in sight.

Russia, on the other hand, appears firm, arguing a no-fly zone would be illegal, and that backing the legitimate government and selling arms to them should be behaviour beyond reproach.

The president's rhetoric may inspire school children, but it is unlikely to melt Mr Putin.

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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    52 Staal

    Agree with everything you say. Furthermore it seems near impossible that a country that enjoyed enormous prestige after WW2 has squandered it so completely in just a few decades

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Marek, there aren't "Two Obamas in Belfast".

    Only one. (Barack)

    The other one (Michelle) is in Dublin where she stays in a posh hotel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    31. Barbara
    " problem with Brits and America"

    I`d say where the US is today we where there.Where we are today you will be.UK then,Worlds no1 power,we would never ever listen to wise council.Lost the American colonies through overbearing officials.
    I can see similar parallels with your Brave Patriotic young service personnel,with our Patriotic young soldiers in WW1.
    Lions led by donkeys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Pester John
    Thanks for1 to 6. To balance the apposing sides in Syria,it would be less inflationary to the situation if it came from Saudi,as it`s fellow Sunni`s who are taking a hammering.But then again sophisticated western arms could end up in the wrong hands through that channel. As for the West to take sides,its like walking down the street & grabbing a large dog by its ears.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Obama should be treated as a war criminal. His country's policies are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    20 Robert

    "What evidence is there of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government??"

    None that would stand up in any court of law. As spurious as Iraq's WMDs. We are just being asked to join America to do Israel's dirty work for them.


    31 Barbara

    "The problem with Brits and America is that you Brits expect superman, santa claus and Jesus from Americans"

    No we don't

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    52 ‘The US will become more irrelevant the more it follows its diversity path’. What is ‘its diversity path’? And what has diversity to do with foreign affairs?

    As for blaming liberals for loss of US prestige – the ‘liberal’ GWB did that more than anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The US will become more irrelevant the more it follows its diversity path. Obama clout is already waning in world affairs because his hands are tied back home. No matter who becomes the next US president the trend will continue. They have literally squandered their heritage as the world's only superpower over the last 50 years with smug and arrogant social engineering. Well done liberals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    "Hows arming the Syrian rebels supposed to bring out peace in this situation?"

    It will at least level the playing field a little.

    By the way, how's Russia continuing arming homicidal Assad regime with heavy weapons going to result in peace in Syria?

    And how are Iranian shipments of weapons for that regime helping bring peace to Syria?
    As well as Hezbollah terrorists Iran sends there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    "the people of Syria prefer Assad over the rebels."

    Hardly any evidence of that.

    Overwhelming majority of Syrians are Sunni living under marshall law since 1964 Asssad coup and massacred each time they've demanded justice. Assad jr. is supported only by his own Alawite (Shia) sect and Hezbollah terrorists who poured into Syria via Lebanon on orders of his master -Islamist Iran.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    usa is biggest terrorist country in world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    46. Little_Old_Me

    What "FACTS"? Name a single instance when the BBC replace the Columbian Forces with "Regime Forces" or The Sri Lankan Forces with "Rajapaksa Forces" in their reportage of those civil wars?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


    So reporting the FACTS counts as taking sides now does it....????!!!!!!

    Reporting the FACTS is what news agencies do........

    ...that many news outlets also choose to add opinion to their supposed news articles does not mean every news agency does.....

    ....& even if the Beeb had (which it hasn't) taken sides, why should they take the side you favour...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    44. Reporting News? What planet are you? Did you seriously think phrases like "Assad Forces", "Regime Forces" and "...slaughtered over 92,000 people" show neutrality/impartiality?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    43.obatala - "...........Why is BBC now sympathetic to one in Syria?"

    More to the point, why is it that you are incapable of telling the difference between a news agency (in this case the Beeb) reporting the news & a news agency taking sides...???

    Reporting the news does not mean that the reporter favours one version/side over another.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    In 2008 the BBC lined behind Western leaders to blame Mr. Putin 'for violating international law' when he tried to defend the poorly armed rebels and helpless people of South Ossetia. Similarly, during this conflict; BBC in it's analysis regurgitated the position of the West, on how "unlawful" it would be for Putin to impose a regime change in Georgia. Why is BBC now sympathetic to one in Syria?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Will the real Obama stand up.

    Now get out of here and don't lie about how smart you really are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    US Americans are a strange bunch. At last Nov’s election, they elected Obama judged on softer standards. Tough on Romney, easy on Obama. Which make Obama as uninspiring as a Chicago Board of Trade Futures Pit Trader who yells out prices so long as there is money bankrolling his price-shouting. How now? No Money and still whingeing.
    Hence, CNN Opinion Polls with only 45% approval rating.


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