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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  • Comment number 100.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 99.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 98.

    97. Changes Names,

    Whatever. A few days ago, you thought south of the border was part of United States.

  • Comment number 97.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 96.

    90.Would those Warriors who fought well & lost their land – died, followed our history & now peering into 2013 – want us to hand the land to outlaws, or to Fight for it? Euros who carefully follow proper channels to work in or move to the US, yet think the US is a meanie for not opening its borders to ILLEGAL immigrants. Perhaps the US should accept the criminals and kick out the hypocrites!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 95.

    @88. margaret howard. "As for "cultural dominance, movies, TV, music" - it's not culture as I understand it."
    -------------------------------------------------------
    My dear, what IS culture if not for music and the arts. DOMINATION of the first order. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't MOST of your British TV shows American -- 65 - 80%.

    Soft power. Google it. (American).

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 94.

    @90. Phffft. "After 1776 New Republic USA subjugated the interior First Nations right up to the Pacific,so when are you going to give them back."
    --------------------------------------

    American Indian tribes were a disparate group, and often killed each other off more than settlers. But if you want to talk about atroicites, lets start with the Opium Wars or the African slave enterprises.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 93.

    ref #91
    You stole most of them from Germany after WW2
    -----------
    If that helps you deal with your inferiority complex

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 92.

    84. LucyJ
    "Summation of late 18th century history between the US and Britain: Revolutionary War-- we won, you lost

    Hence the upcoming July 4th celebration, our Independence Day ;)"


    Hi again Lucyj ,we don`t tend to celebrate that one over here but wish you a very good day.

    Ps if you guys came out of the woods & fought fair,you would have a National Heath Service today,Que Sera Sera ;).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 91.

    89 Magic

    "the majority of technological, medical breakthroughs?"

    You stole most of them from Germany after WW2

    Truman's Executive Order 9604 - the "License to Steal" when the US executed the greatest robbery in world history: the theft of German intellectual (scientific) property. What technology the US and Soviets stole fuelled the greatest scientific advances of the modern era

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 90.

    82. Barbara
    "we won, you lost"

    You are finding this difficult

    Your words
    " America inherited then GAVE BACK sovereignty to conquered nations"

    My point
    After 1776 New Republic USA subjugated the interior First Nations right up to the Pacific,so when are you going to give them back.

    BTW,Jefferson,"we can take Canada by just marching".Got that one wrong,sorry about burning the White house.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 89.

    ref #88

    As for "cultural dominance, movies, TV, music" - it's not culture as I understand it
    _
    Subjective but considering the British best cultural important is DW and that is a pale shadow of the original you are no position to talk. but how about the majority of technological, medical breakthroughs?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 88.

    69 Babara

    "Hard power is wealth and military might. America still has both not seen since the Roman Empire"

    Oh dear - what a startling boast.

    Your 'might' is barely half a century old and hardly compares with 1000 years of the Roman Empire which ruled an area consisting today of 40 countries

    As for "cultural dominance, movies, TV, music" - it's not culture as I understand it

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 87.

    81 Lucy

    "country in Europe named Georgia - tho neither of these places belongs to Britain anymore, King George's legacy lives on"

    The European Georgia has nothing to do with King George.

    Probably named after St George ( the dragon slayer) it goes back thousands of years and was part of the Roman empire. It is the ancient Colchis where Jason and the Argonauts found the Golden Fleece

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    Pmk: I've predicted earlier than an agreement on Syria would not amount to anything. And indeed it has not

    You predicted correctly

    I think people are just relieved no major fights broke out

    How really are the two leading nuclear countries arming opposing sides in a foreign land's civil war going to agree?

    At least the meeting did not erupt mostly due to Britain's mediating

  • rate this
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    Comment number 85.

    ref #67
    . Is there another nation at the moment quite as disliked as America?
    __
    Making tough n moral decision is not popular. Lincoln was not ppopular . But I'd take the friendship of a great nation like Israel over the false friendship and duplicity of most of the Arab world just as I will take the friendship of Chile over the bolvarian ones

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    Barbara: Summation of late 18th century history between the US and Britain: Revolutionary War-- we won, you lost

    Hence the upcoming July 4th celebration, our Independence Day ;)

    But even w/ such, to many Americans including myself, the British (and Austrailian) accents are quite familiar thanks to movies such as James Bond, Monty Python, Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, etc
    not to mention music

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 83.

    I've predicted earlier than an agreement on Syria would not amount to anything. And indeed it has not.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 82.

    @77. Phffft . "King George,proclamation line of 1763 was to stop further expansion West."...
    ---------------------------------------
    Summation of late 18th century history between the US and Britain: Revolutionary War-- we won, you lost. Thus, proclamations from defeated ancient superpowers is not worth the parchment it's written on.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 81.

    Pffft: British Government down through the ages

    Well today there is a state in USA named Georgia, not to mention a country in Europe named Georgia so even tho neither of these places belongs to Britain anymore, King George's legacy lives on and in general, Britain's decisions right and/or wrong still echo throughout much of the world today

    You live and you learn

 

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