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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 741.


    I would say the most audacious rather than most, but I agree with your sentiment. We get the government we vote for – even though many of us didn’t or didn’t bother vote at all. They will only change if we make them change (through the ballot box). We can also do without the single issue fanatics (and rent-a-mob hangers-on) who think they can speak for all of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.


    OK, you say you're no troll, but your prose style is to my eyes rather odd, others have reacted to it too, so perhaps you can understand how I arrived at that conclusion.

    I think you have vastly overvalued Miliband and his contribution, welcome as it (his single vote) may be. If you think he can usher in a new dawn in our political class I think you are (sadly) mistaken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    I really thought Obama was a reformer and so I voted for him in 2008. Then he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He has followed the path of war ever since. I get older, but I don't seem to get any smarter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    It would be funny to see Obama standing on the beach near Syria with a big hat and smoking a cigar, saying "I love the smell of napalm in the morning". OK, after he drops napalm on Syria and sprays the living with Agent Orange. Oh Assad, if you had only used these legal weapons!

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    Our moral decline is now obvious. Most crimes are committed by governments. Although we call those in high positions Right or Honorable or both, these terms do not describe reality. Look at the British vote, although it rejected bombing Syria, near half voted for the crime. Among common people the fraction for crime is much smaller. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Q.E.D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    In my opinion it is irrelevant who used chemical weapons.

    What matters is that 100,000 people have been killed, 1/3 of them children.

    The West should not side with Assad or the Rebels, both are murderous criminals.

    However, we have a duty to help human beings who are caught up in this blood bath.

    We should be air dropping body armour and gas masks on Damascus from aircraft painted in UN blue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    All those cruise missiles and munitions have to go into something. African rogue states can only afford to buy so many. We need to justify our defense budgets after all.
    The next bloody fireworks display that will last for generations and stoke hate for the west. Well done Hollande, Obama and probably Cameron if he has his way. Nobody has even attempted to negotiate. Diplomacy=0

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    An earlier comment stating that the u.s. has never won a conflict was quite telling. Considering their military spending and supposed might I suppose they probably want a chance at redemption.
    Do people not get bored of conspiracy theories and can't they make an attempt to just get along? Why is everyone attempting to rationalise something so absurd? Bombing a country is not helping..

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    Classic u.s.a. getting involved with a conflict that has no bearing on their country.
    Interesting as Mr Obama seems to have no interest in intervening with the Mexican drug war that has claimed nearly as many lives and is perpetrated only a few miles from the u.s. border. The same could be said for the ongoing situation in Columbia.
    Cameron the same. Politicians=no balls or loyalty

  • Comment number 732.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    As congress considers the morality of punitive military action, on a limited and controlled level of course, for a greater humanitarian purpose, perhaps they might consider a simple logical inconsistency. How does Mr. Obama reconcile the inevitable killing of innocent citizens in order to save other innocent citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    Bubble in the dancehall and feel alright
    Bubbling Time Run Down The World Have A Little Sound

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    Many years ago I predicted that the US would effect control of the four nations of the middle east that were nationalistic, that is, not under the US umbrella. They were Afghanistan (already in a chaotic condition) Iraq, Syria, and Iran. I also thought we would take them over in that order. In Iraq our excuse was Saddam Hussein. In Syria, it is poison gas. Sounds like a setup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    What the West desperately needs right now, is to insist Mid East immigrants rid themselves of Racial & Sectarian Hatred on arrival. Nurturing & cultivating the Hatreds fled-from begs the question:- Did they come to immigrate or infiltrate? We also need to elect Politicians more committed to Domestic Solutions than International Ego-Stroking. The cost has become more than we can bear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    1 Hour ago

    Intervention requires money from US taxpayers; sales of bonds to other countries and ignores some basic political science rules. Russia wants nothing to do with intervention because Mr. Putin is classic, old school KGB.

    Russia wants everything to do with intervention...that why they're in Syria being complicit to the killing of civilians. Once a KGB man, always a KGB man!

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    ref #720
    Like the U.K friendship, Obama has ruined this friendship.

    But you seem to be o.k with Iran attacking Israel through it's proxy

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    obama is now desperate to make it the rebels fault so he doesnt have to act, especially since international and domestic opinion is against it. It only provides further proof he is the king who has no clothes. He has stated he wants americas influence in the world reduced. Now that he got his wish he acts confused why the world has no respect for him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    The present progress of the "Arab Spring" is not without its dark side. The possibility of the region being destabilised by external forces must be considered, who would benefit most? Some guesses are not too difficult. The Syrian opposition to the legitimate regime appears dangerous and unstable, it is worth considering most carefully the consequences of supporting them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    In the early 20th Century it was widely known and criticized that the armaments industry was a cause of wars. It is now a a cause not only of wars but of the destruction of law and order in the US and corruption everywhere.

    And the countries with the biggest arms industries are:
    US, Russia, China, Britain, France and [possibly] India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    Notion that this is between collective West vs Syria is infantile. Since Libya at least five Regional Alliances have been confirmed. Many have come to realization that it's just a question of time before their turn to be attacked arrives. Over use of Military options did more to expose Weaknesses than anything else, no one is afraid of bullying anymore. Obama needs Congress to bail him out.


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