Obama faces difficult timing over Syria strike

Motorists drive in Miami as Labour Day begins Americans are taking a long holiday for Labor Day - an awkward time to launch a military strike

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, did far more than just set out the intelligence against Syria. But he did do that.

Although there is now more detail than we had before about the attack, there is no damning proof.

Indeed, perhaps for understandable reasons, there is no proof at all - only assertions that we must take on trust. As Mr Kerry himself suggested, after Iraq trust is in short supply.

He did far more than set out a moral case for military action. What he did was make it impossible for President Barack Obama to back away from it. He said if the US didn't act, history would judge them harshly.

If they turned a blind eye, it would embolden dictators in Iran and North Korea and leave the US without credibility in the world.

The BBC's Mark Mardell reports on the challenges facing the US president following the chemical attack in Damascus

Mr Obama has made similar points himself. It is not the first time Kerry has made the case. But these were the strongest words yet.

When Mr Obama spoke he sounded pretty downbeat by comparison, although he too pointed firmly towards some form of action.

But he was keen to stress that any action would be limited, unlike Afghanistan or Iraq, and would not involve boots on the ground. There are increasing mutterings from Congress, asking him how certain he is of that.

The president said he had made no decision. It is not clear when he will.

Mr Kerry suggested there would be a "conversation" with the American people before action.

There's not much time to talk and, in the next few days, many Americans will be hanging metaphorical "gone fishin'" signs on their front doors. This is Labor Day weekend - a big holiday in the States - and perhaps not the ideal time for a conversation about war.

Perhaps the president hopes a lot of people aren't paying much attention. But if action doesn't come in the next few days, it may have to wait for next weekend or beyond. The president goes to Sweden on Tuesday, then on to the G20 in Russia.

There is no iron law saying the president can't order military action while abroad. But it would be odd.

To do it while he's in Russia would be downright weird and highly provocative. He could cancel the trip but the White House says his plans are still in place.

After his Secretary of State has ramped up the rhetoric about the historic, momentous importance of sending a signal, leaving it a week might be too long.

So, many people think there will be action on the weekend or Monday.

But frankly it's a guess. With this decision even the timing is awkward for the president.

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

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The US know they know nothing 100%. Where is the Arab league in this? Are they happy this is going on? Show dome leadership/concern/care

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    30 Minutes ago
    Have you people not seen the proof that Saudi Arabia has been sending the chemicals into Syria?


    You should know by now nyran125 if it aint on facebook or twitter it aint news.
    all the reporters are on those 24 hours a day or posting bloggs

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    13. docblue; you are mistaken. Germany was the first to use chemical weapons. In Vietnam the US dropped toxic defoliant not mustard gas. We are far from the first to suspend habeas corpus. But yes we did drop two atom bombs. 25% Accurate--you failed. You conveniently forgot your facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Even before investigation into the chemical attack, US is hell-bent on attacking Syria even unilaterally. America has seen two bitter wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where the victory is still elusive. Bush had the gumption to steam ahead in spite of warnings from several sources. Let the UN do the obligatory job. US should refrain from acting as the conscience-keeper of the world as it is its wont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Thanks Mark. As always I enjoy the way you frame your coverage, in this case in view of the holiday weekend and the way policy considerations are dictated by the domestic agenda.

    I know the Arab League have not discussed involvement but surely more emphasis should be on them to correct their region. Even if its just to pressure them to be responsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Time to ask Blair on how to escape a lynching Mr President. Unfortunately from all accounts and most Americans carrying these days, you better have options. We egg bad politicians, Iran throws shoes, americans take things slightly more seriously. Hope the Whitehouse paint is ready for RON PAUL MAN OF PEACE AND INFINATE WISDOM. Imagine him and EDWARD THE GREAT running things :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Chemical Weapons are Criminal, but US or Europe have no problem with Israel routinely dropping White Phosphorus bombs on penned-in Palestinians. Chemical Weapons in Syria was an Act of Desperation at a time Syrian Govt was "Winning". UN previously concluded Rebels used Chemical Weapons last March and the matter was Dropped by US & Europe. Go figure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Britain finally went with the wishes of parliament but you cant say that "Obama" attacking Syria is a crime when no-one disputes a chemical attack has taken place, is in the same league as the Nazi's? No, not yet. The trick is finding out who is behind this and deal with them. thats the point - who will gain from this??

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    A few facts that have been conveniently forgotten:
    1. The only country to use a nuclear weapon against another country: USA (twice)
    2. The only country to use chemical weapons against another country: USA (against Vietnam and against Iraq.
    3. The only country that holds prisoners without any charges for 10 years: You guessed it!!

    And yet Syria are deemed to be the bad guys without any firm proof!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    :) He needs at least one war that he starts to write about in his post president book...

    He can't really boast about Iraq or Afghanistan they both failed and he didn't start either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Deep down Obama doesn't want nothing to do with Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Go on President Obama, go slaughter more innocents, why don't you!

    Who profits from war, who supports and aids terrorists who slaughter the innocents?

    Ever watched this one: http://youtu.be/iz0TxVmq3-Q "Shocking Story That Could Derail Attack on Syria."

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Whatever America may wish they are signatory to the Rome and Geneva conventions, drawn up by the world to prevent a repeat of Nazi war crimes. It is not enough to say "I followed orders" - Bradley Manning exemplifies the meaning of the conventions. No matter how Obama may dress this up in words any attack on Syria is a War Crime. Britain finally said no. I hope the wold stands up and says no too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I'm just puzzled as to why President Obama's administration finds Assad's action particularly heinous in a world that's idly watched mass murder in Congo, Darfur, Uganda etc. Chemical weapons are awful. But are they somehow more awful then firebombings and being burned alive?

    It's enough to make a man sit down and cry, but sometimes, there's just nothing one can do, especially in the ME.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Issue final warning & standing threat

    Hopes of 'victory' gone, horror ever greater, all parties MUST be responsible for cease-fire & disarmament: agreeing caretaker UN-policed govt.; chemical weapons disclosed to & destroyed by the UN; universal engagement in education for genuine democracy; progressive resettlement with guaranteed employment & equal RATIONS, of basics & cash

    Welcoming business

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    to me the problem is there are a few winners if this kicks off, who gains most from a strike? Assad? The elements in the opposition who want set fire to that part part of the world? Israel? very complicated, Don't remember the last time democracy was this effective here, there is hope...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    @2 How surprising Saudi wahabists behind Islamic extremism. The only thing that would be guaranteed to bring the west into Syria, a lo and behold it happens, and so ends another secular state, I wonder who might want that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The box for "suffering" is checked and then everyone gets on with their politicking. The military intervention was proposed as a way to "help" prevent suffering ... move on to the next proposed method to help prevent the suffering. Otherwise the motive was elsewise. Assad also should be seeking a peace for all his people he is supposed to be leader of. The whole bunch of them are frauds

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I wish leaders would stop drawing their stupid imaginary red lines because 9 times out of 10 it will lead to war or an act of aggression. Nobody listens to, or obeys these silly red lines and they just end up forcing the hand of the person who drew it to save face. The whole purpose of the red line is to say I'm Angry but not angry enough yet

    Oh yes, and this goes for cartoon bombs too *eye-roll*

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Have you people not seen the proof that Saudi Arabia has been sending the chemicals into Syria?



Page 37 of 38



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.