Obama's diplomacy detour around military strikes on Syria

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By Euronews
Obama's diplomacy detour around military strikes on Syria

The Syria crisis and the question of how to respond to the use of chemical weapons have presented Barack Obama with perhaps his greatest foreign policy challenge to date.

Late on Tuesday, the US president recapped the events in his latest national address, which had brought US-led punitive warlike action into consideration: “Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry had said: “If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said ‘no’, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve.”

The French President François Hollande had said: “The chemical massacre in Damascus can’t be left without a response, and France is ready to punish those who despicably gassed the innocent.”

British Premier David Cameron had talked about deterrence: “It is about the use of chemical weapons and making sure, as a world, we deter their use and we deter the appalling scenes that we’ve all seen on our television screens.”

Obama said: “After careful deliberation I have decided that the United States should take military action. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. And I’m prepared to give that order.”

That was flying in the face of substantial opposition: public opinion against such an order by Obama is a political obstacle. So are Syria allies Russia and China, which neuter the UN Security Council with their veto power. Also: parliaments expressed strong reservations. Policy positions over 15 days somersaulted.

Kerry, earlier: “The United States of America, President Obama, myself and others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution. There is no military solution.”

Cameron, earlier: “I think Parliament spoke very clearly and it’s important to respect the view of Parliament, so I am not planning to return to Parliament to ask again about British military action.”

Hollande earlier: “There will not be a military solution to the Syrian conflict…” But Hollande clung to the military option, insisting: “The solution is political but military action can speed up a political solution.”

The public discourse flip-flopped between ‘prepare for punishment’ and ‘let’s think this through’.

Obama’s latest position is ‘let’s not attack before all non-violent methods have been tried’.

For an assessment of Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis, euronews turned to ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, Martha Raddatz in Washington.

Nial O’Reilly, euronews:
“Two weeks ago it seemed that a major military strike on Syria was the only option possible for the Obama administration. Now he’s turning back to diplomacy. It is a huge change of direction from the President – has he been damaged by this, both at home and on the world stage, and if so, by how much?”

Martha Raddatz, ABC News:
“This latest diplomatic push, I think, really saves the president from a certain defeat in Congress, and then his hands would really have been tied about taking any military action in Syria. So the speech you heard last that the President gave last night asking for a delay, is not only to try to give diplomacy a chance but it was also the fact he probably wouldn’t have gotten the vote in Congress, probably not even in the Senate.”

“What exactly did Obama tell the nation last night – what was the broad message – what did he want to convey?”

Martha Raddatz, ABC News:
“What the president wanted to convey clearly was that he thought the military option should stay on the table. I thought frankly the speech was probably one he would have given a week ago, except for near the end when he talked about diplomatic efforts and certainly it was a surprise that he asked Congress to delay the vote.”

“If, ultimately, diplomacy with Syria doesn’t work, how much harder will it be for the president to go back to the nation and seek support for military action?”

Martha Raddatz, ABC News:
“I think it will be very difficult and most people I’ve talked to think it would be very difficult as well. Ultimately what you’ve got from last night was a delay that will last weeks, probably months, and the US may never carry out a military strike, whether he made the case for that or not. I think people do forget about those images, people forget about what happened. I think it would be very very difficult for the president to rally the nation if diplomacy fails.”

“The Russian proposal on chemical weapons, and Syria’s acceptance of it, were very rapid developments that appeared to catch the White House unawares. Was the Obama Administration outmanoeuvred by Moscow on this occasion?

Martha Raddatz, ABC News:
“You heard the president in a series of interviews talk about the fact that he had talked about this with President Putin before on a different occasion, so I think in that sense it wasn’t a surprise to the White House. But I think that they’re all at this point very grateful that this happened, because ultimately what the President wanted is to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, if that happens diplomatically, they’ve already achieved that. I think probably what you’ll see here are weeks of negotiations. I know the White House wants this over – they say the negotiations aren’t open-ended. They want a serious proposal, they want to see what Syria does, how they respond, within the next couple of weeks.”

Euronews was talking to Martha Raddatz, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, in Washington.