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 Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    79. LucyJ

    "Thats what he said but at some point he would have tried to tax the Indians too and then there would have been another skirmish"

    Well Lucy Lass,when it comes to tax & British Government down through the ages, no doubt there is weight in what you say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Pffft: King George,proclamation line of 1763, was to stop further expansion West

    Thats what he said but at some point he would have tried to tax the Indians too and then there would have been another skirmish

    At that time the British didn't settle for anything or compromise

    They just took over everything whether quickly or slowly, playing the Waiting Game

    They were and still are smart

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Pmk: free trade agreement

    I like European products

    The most painful aspect of the trade deal is the natural gas linked to fracking

    If its simply a question of whether that fracked gas is going to Europe or China,
    I would rather it go to our allies than enemy

    But I do fear what fracking will do to my fellow Americans+ USA

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    66. Barbara
    "Wrong. Britain SOUGHT empire and subjugation of nations. America inherited, then GAVE BACK, sovereignty to conquered nations"

    Noooooo,it can`t be true that Americans don`t get irony.

    King George,proclamation line of 1763 was to stop further expansion West

    After 1776 you guys subjugation all the Fist Nation`s lands right to the Pacific.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Pmk: despite major opposition from France- EU desperately wants to to sign a free trade agreement with US

    France has more to fear from China trying to overtake its wine industry

    Its no wonder there was that incident the other day
    I will say if I am in a foreign land I will not tell the locals to be quiet

    Phffft: belong to the Commonwealth?

    There is still a great deal of respect for UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    66. Barbara

    The past is a foreign country,with values quite different to to day.
    UK & it`s Imperial past,was the ambition of ALL NATIONS.
    With the demise of Empire most of this Worlds Democratic Nations came into being.Its a list that is staggering.Also if Empire was so bad
    why do very nia all of the now independent Nations belong to the Common wealth with the Queen as its head?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Staal: diversity

    Our American culture we have had our whole lives is being discarded, put down and taken away by Obama and Democrats

    Staal: They have literally squandered their heritage as the world's only superpower

    With Obama saying he supports gay marriage,
    it means he is going against God
    and Obama is who is leading us now

    Bush Jr was rough but he still had God on his side

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    43 Minutes ago
    @67. margaret howard. "Soft power? Where?"

    "Soft power", to the uninitiated, means influence and cultural dominance, i.e. movies, TV, music, geo-politics.
    It's symptomatic that despite major opposition from France fearing growing influence of US movies, music ,etc. - EU desperately wants to to sign a free trade agreement with US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Its just a funny thing in itself to see Obama and Putin together-
    they are total and complete polar opposites

    Obama and Medveyev looked more natural

    Putin is from the old school times, when the world was a different place
    whilst Obama is new age kicks in an America he has altered to his liking lingering on in a brave new world

    Myself I would rather have Putin as our President than Obama

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    67" Is there another nation at the moment quite as disliked as America?"

    In Russia they're not particularly fond of the UK. In China they don't like France or Japan. In Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere around the broken EU it's Germany they detest.If America is so hated why do so many people keep coming here even when we throw them out, the come back time and again.Someone likes us.But not you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    @67. margaret howard. "Soft power? Where?"

    "Soft power", to the uninitiated, means influence and cultural dominance, i.e. movies, TV, music, geo-politics. Hard power is wealth and military might. America still has both of these in a magnitude not seen since the Roman Empire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    67"What do you call hard power?"

    Drones. Buzzing or whistling noises that keep getting louder make you uneasy lately? Do you look out the window or over your shoulder more than you used to? Satchel Paige once said: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    66 Barbara

    Do you get propaganda instead of a free press?

    Soft power? Where? Vietnam, Cambodia with chemical weapons, Iraq, Afghanistan, drones, assassinations, Guantanamo, military bases around the globe against the people's wishes. Is there another nation at the moment quite as disliked as America?

    What do you call hard power?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @58. Phffft. "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."
    Wrong. Britain SOUGHT empire and subjugation of nations. America inherited, then GAVE BACK, sovereignty to conquered nations. Soft power and ingenuity explains USA's present domination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    MM re Syria: "It is likely that rather than be isolated, President Putin will sign up to some sort of plan.

    From what I have heard of the five point agreement that's on the table, it is so bland that it risks being dismissed as worthless."

    Do you recall any G7+1 summit which has resulted in something worthy?

    P.S. I agree that China& India should become members of G9 instead of Russia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I think it would be interesting for the US to create a no fly/no artillery zone using the new X47B stealth drones equipped with air to air missiles and air to ground missiles. Refueling in mid air could keep them flying non stop indefinitely. They can probably be made autonomous or semi-autonomous recognizing and taking out targets without human intervention. Get that MIG!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Avoiding anything appears to be his mantra. The do nothing, achieve nothing president.

    The only thing he has done is make GWB look good!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Will President Obama bait the bear? Tweak its nose out of joint? I think it's clear from what we've seen and heard that President Obama and the Russian government hate each other. While delivering a painful sting and isolating Russia from Europe and Sunni Arabia is tempting, still it's no excuse for the US to get involved in a regional religious war between Shia and Sunni. Let's sit this one out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Obama - awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yet sent MORE troops into Afghanistan to cause the death of hundreds maybe thousands.

    What a damp squib he turned out to be. The Great Black Hope. Not even black and brought no hope.


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