Mark Mardell: Obama's Syria speech almost irrelevant

 
President Barack Obama at the White House (10 September 2013) By the time Mr Obama reached the podium for his long-awaited speech, events had rendered it largely irrelevent

"The US military does not do pinpricks." That was about the only good line in a speech by President Barack Obama that may not have won many converts.

He stood behind a podium rather than sitting at the desk in the Oval Office, and made a speech that was clear but almost entirely lacking in passion and devoid of new arguments.

Indeed, the first two-thirds seemed cut and pasted from earlier speeches.

The trouble was that while he made the clinical case for military action against Syria, we knew there was a "but" coming.

Had he still been calling for a vote in Congress in a few days' time and had he wanted the American people to pressure their politicians, he would have had to make a much stronger speech about the dangers of inaction.

As it was, Syria's acceptance of the Russian plan to give up their chemical weapons has changed everything.

He didn't express any cynicism about the idea but said it was an "encouraging sign". He had asked Congress to delay a vote, and said the US, Britain and France would work through the UN and talk to China and Russia.

They would wait for the UN inspectors to report. The military would stand ready to respond if diplomacy failed.

All this leaves more questions than answers.

We don't know how long Mr Obama will give diplomacy or what its failure would look like.

We don't know if the three Western nations will go ahead with a resolution backed up with force or go for something more modest.

We have no idea how UN inspectors could do their job in a country ravaged by civil war.

The President's speech was for a few days a hugely important date in the diary, but by the time he came to deliver it, events had rendered it almost an irrelevance.

The next key event is likely to be the meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday. The speeches that follow that meeting might actually tell us something.

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

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    This is now the time to move the UN under 242 from NY to Jerusalem & the Secetariat to the Settlements; then they would be right next door & be able to directly oversee developments!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 35.

    According to the chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg Trials:

    A supreme crime against humanity = an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.

  • Comment number 34.

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

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 33.

    WHO IS GOING TO SOLVE AMERICAN PROBLEMS UNEMPLOYMENT, PUBLIC HEALTH CARE ISSUES, EDUCATION, IMMIGRATION, PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE ISSUES,SINKING US ECONOMY,HOUSING,SINKING USD,CITIZEN WELFARE ETC.?WHY AMERICA IS SO CONCERNED ABOUT OTHERS?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 32.

    Obama has made time for a diplomatic solution which should prevent an escalation outside of Syria. Full marks to Putin for using this time to try to find a solution. Absolute shame on Cameron, Hague and Blair who can't think of anything but killing more people. Blair is paid for his "peace" work absolute disgrace.
    However the fighting continues but more bombing is not going to stop that.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 31.

    Assad and Putin have played him like a violin.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 30.

    Sam,
    We should all have a longer memory than that.
    The 20th century began with the greatest horror the modern world had ever seen: trench warfare and poisoned gas attacks that became a new,nightmare no one ever imagined. the WORLD agreed that such a thing should never happen again. That was 1925, and most of the people who saw it have gone. Such a short memory may have evolutionary consequences.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 29.

    While proof of Assad's use of chemical weapons seems to be lacking somewhat, the use of "Nuclear Weapons" by the United States in Iraq in the form of depleted uranium does not.

    The use of White Phosphorus by Israel as a weapon against the Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead seems to be similarly well-documented.

    Can we have some balance please ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 28.

    "It's difficult to see what kind of strike will "punish" Assad."

    Destroying Assad's air power and hitting his heavy artillery would certainly be punishment. It would force him into urban combat, something no regular military wants.

    "Above all, it is difficult to see how any strike of any kind can help the long suffering Syrians."

    Here you hit the nail on the head. There is no silver bullet.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 27.

    Putin has to put up, or loose face. If the deal is at all honest, then the whole world wins and Obama shows us all how foreign policy can succeed in the 21st c.
    Decisive interventions with firm limits. Working with the UN if at all possible, Accept any help that is seriously offered. Waiting when the reasons to go are unclear. When talking of war, don't bluster.
    How long has it been?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    This speech asks serious questions...

    Ron Paul: What if the People Wake Up?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fHfdSi-GDo

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 25.

    WHY DONT USA SOLVE ITS OWN ISSUES UNEMPLOYMENT, SINKING US ECONOMY, SINKING USD,PUBLIC HEALTH CARE ISSUES, IMMIGRATION,EDUCATION,PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE ISSUES ETC. AMERICA HAVE ALREADY KILLED SEVERAL INNOCENT PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ AND PAKISTAN WHY USA IS SO CONCERNED ABOUT OTHERS ONLY?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    As much as I do admire Mark Mardell's outside opinion of American life and politics, I find his use of the word irrelevant rather insulting. Would he use the same term for any speech given by his Prime Minister? Respect is due to some offices. Respect is due to the President of the United States, even if Mr. Mardell has no respect for his own PM.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 23.

    When you are playing poker you don't show your cards, when you play chess you don't discuss possible moves with your opponent. It is good that the al Assad regime is left wondering for obvious reasons.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 22.

    Obama wants to hide something that is obvious for the whole world, the Americans have lost the leadership in the Middle East.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    P. Obama's speech was predictable, and at least for now there is a halt in congressional action. But Russia's entrance into the conflict is a break from its usual silence and promises to be quite interesting.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 20.

    I read somewhere that Mardell is living in the US. Must be some part of the US that cares about this story. A gated community in DC? The man is so desperate to make a story. He's gone to far. He's dithering. He should consider diplomacy. He should nuke them yesterday. If the government CWs are impounded, neither the govt or rebels will have CWs. Makes sense; unlike Mardell.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    Obama was correct in saying that it was the threat of US Actions that has moved things on the ground in positive direction.... well I don't agree with many thing he/ US says.... but to give the Devil his due.... He is way more deliberate than his trigger happy predecessor.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 18.

    I for one don't want the US to get involved at all with Syria. Although I do find it strange/funny that a week ago Syria had "no chemical weapons", and now suddenly they've agreed to forfeit them all via Putin's plan.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    Chemical weapons are vile but Mr. Obama is invoking moral standards which the US and its proteges have ignored repeatedly. It financed Saddam, knowing that he was using chemical weapons against Iran; it condones Israel's use of white phosphorus and has itself, used nuclear weapons, napalm, Agent Orange and depleted uranium. Why is this never mentioned? No peace is possible without justice.

 

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