On Tuesday October 15 I was very proud to appear before the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee as they begin hearings into the direction of the US-UK relationship under the coalition government. We covered a great deal of ground and I am delighted to be able to bring you coverage of that event:
Full details of the hearings can be found HERE
The hearings can be watched HERE
My testimony runs from 15:37 to 16:13.
Every once in a while, news arrives that hits you like a ton of bricks, coming from so far out of left field that you could never have seen it coming, even if you’d been looking for it. This is not a piece about the Government Shutdowns, Debt Ceilings, or the Tea Party. It is, however, a short and personal piece about something that puts all that nonsense into context.
As a talking head on various media outlets, I’m expected to be able to talk on demand, but this week I have been left lost for words, due to an event that I know has distressed a number of people that I have been fortunate enough to work with at Aljazeera. Last weekend we lost one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to know: Elizabeth Idienumah.
Elizabeth was not necessarily someone you would know from watching Aljazeera, but if you had ever worked with the channel, if you had been invited to give an interview, then she was someone you would never forget: glamorous, statuesque, striking, utterly charming and a true professional, Elizabeth worked as an Interview Producer in the London bureau of Aljazeera English, arranging for those of us with something to say, to turn up at the right place, at the right time and deliver the goods on camera. Heading into the London studios has always been a pleasure, one made all the more enjoyable by the team on the Interview Desk. Along with her colleagues Mandy, Ruchi and recently Caroline, Elizabeth was always on hand to ensure that the interviews went smoothly and on schedule.
Yet Elizabeth brought an extra dimension with her; an essential quality of decency and passion for news gathering and information delivery that was a delight to behold. Always ready with a wide, beaming smile, she was a joy to work with. Elizabeth could be relied on to go far beyond the necessary and perfunctory aspects of her remit, and to inquire how things were going. She remembered the details that counted, the facts that mattered and understood how to get the very best out of those of us she worked with. Of course, she made it seem like anything but work. Her warmth and focus was always something to anticipate, a pleasure to behold, and all too suddenly, a wonderful, poignant memory.
Working with Elizabeth at Aljazeera was always a pleasure and her passing this weekend, aged 42, is an absolute tragedy; a loss to her colleagues, to the network and to those of us who had the very great pleasure of working with her over the last several years. To say that she will be missed is an all too obvious sentiment. She will be succeeded, but never replaced…
On Thursday September 5, 2013, I was honoured to be invited to address an invited audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. Founded in 1920 and home to the famed ‘Chatham House Rule,’ the organisation is ranked No. 1 Think Tank outside of the US, and No. 2. Think Tank Worldwide.
I led off discussion in at a debate entitled, Syria: The International Response, and was honoured to be joined by author Dr Alan George, Chatham House
Research Director of International Security, Dr Patricia Lewis, and Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, Chairman, Intelligence and Security Committee; UK Foreign Secretary (1995-97). The session was masterfully chaired by Philippe Sands QC, Barrister, Matrix Chambers; Professor of International Law, University College London.
It was a wonderful evening in which I was able to address the development of the US position in regard to Syria and the impact that this has had on US-UK relations. It also enabled me to address the forthcoming debate in Congress.
The presentations were followed by a lively and informed Q&A session that further added to the evening.
A very nice photograph of the evening is available HERE
I was delighted to receive a very kind letter from Deputy Director of Chatham House Events, Catherine O’Keeffe:
On behalf of Chatham House, I would like to thank you very much for coming to speak to our members and guests yesterday evening. The audience greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear you discuss Syria and the international response. Your insights on US foreign policy were particularly valuable to the discussion.
Equally appreciated was your participation in the question and answer session, where you addressed a diverse set of challenging issues with great clarity. We received many positive comments from participants on how much they valued the new insights you were able to share with them.
Friday August 30 was something of a blur frankly. In the course of 12 hours I seemed to do nothing but speak to a series of microphones offering thoughts on the vote in parliament, its potential impact on the US-UK relationship and on military options in Syria.
I have collated my work from that day on this screen so click away on the orange links to see analysis I provided on this contentious subject:
- Interview with Barnaby Phillips on Aljazeera English
- Interview with Paul Colgan on RTE News
- Interview with Richard Bestic on CCTV
- Package piece for Aljazeera English
- Interview with BBC Arabic Channel
- Interview with Richelle Carey Aljazeera America
- Interview with Natalie Powell for Channel News Asia
- Interview with Brendan Cole on The Voice of Russia
- Interview with Iain Dale on LBC 97.3FM
- Interview with Peter Barker for Xinhau News Agency
- Interview with Gavin Grey on BBC News Channel
- Interview with David Eades on BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight
- Letter published in The Evening Standard.
A year ago, at the height of the 2012 US presidential election, reports emerged alleging the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The reports were sketchy but they appeared to suggest the use of WMD by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians. The event sparked debate in the international community over the best form of response. Speaking extemporaneously, President Obama issued his now famed ‘red line’ remark. Despite this, no response was forthcoming from the United States or any other western power. In the months that followed, the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked and the ambassador, along with others, was murdered. To date, there has been no US retaliation beyond mere rhetorical outrage and verbal warnings.
President Obama clearly does not seek international adventurism, having campaigned with a pledge to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and re-engage with the Middle East. However, neither does he wish to be remembered as a president who stood aside in the face of slaughter. The White House reports that it is committed to finding a diplomatic solution in Syria, but is clearly preparing to launch a military response. Obama’s ‘red line’ remark inadvertently painted himself, the White House & the international community into a corner, from which it has unsuccessfully sought to emerge. Having pledged action in the face of evidence it has repeatedly sought to downplay atrocities.
It appears clear that the second term Obama administration’s new foreign policy team, including Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, are having an impact. These new personalities are clearly bringing their different perspectives to bear on Obama, as revealed by his public announcements. There is, however, no public appetite for action in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed just 9% support for intervention in Syria, with 60% opposed. This is the lowest support ever recorded ahead of US overseas military action and reveals that intervention in Syria is even less popular among American than Congress. It’s that unpopular an idea! To place these figures in context, 47 % supported US intervention in Libya in 2011, which was consider low at the time; 76% of American supported the Iraq War, and 90 % supported Afghanistan in 2001; 46% supported NATO military action in Kosovo in 1999. To intervene now, therefore, would contravene a key element of the Powell Doctrine.
The Obama administration has revealed that it will publish an Intelligence report by the end of the week detailing the August 21 attack. However, its contents have already been revealed and pre-judged by everyone, including the president and vice president, in a clear repeat of events that led to the use of force against Iraq and as Mervyn King of Kings College London has stated, we need to wait for UN Weapons inspectors to report their findings. Just as in Iraq, both the US and the UK are racing to initiate military action ahead of official reports that they had sought to initiate.
Incredibly, the actions of Ed Miliband have had a dramatic impact on the plans to initiate a missile strike this week and have produced a vitriolic response from the UK Foreign Office. A narrow window of opportunity existed that would have permitted US-UK military action ahead of President Obama’s departure for Stockholm next week and his ensuing presence at the G20 in St. Petersburg. Ed Miliband’s 180-degree turn on support for military intervention has ensured that this window is rapidly closing as the PM looks unable to muster Parliamentary support for military intervention ahead of any reports from the UN inspectors. Having recalled Parliament, Cameron appears unable to push through a measure that would permit military action, with dissent coming from both his own backbenches as well as the Opposing Party.
This leaves Obama, and Cameron to a lesser degree, politically exposed. Having ramped up the calls for military intervention in the last 4 days, domestic political pressure appears has forced both leaders to back-peddle on previous remarks. This is one thing for Cameron, but quite another for Obama. Elected as the apparent antidote to George W. Bush, Obama has prevaricated in the face of slaughter in Syria for over a year. He risks initiating military action that commands the support of only 9% of US population, but if he backs down having insisted upon the involvement of the Syrian regime in the WMD attack, he will be faced with a major internal problem.
Here are a few choice quotes that may give a clue as to why this is:
- ‘American political leaders interpret society-wide silence as an indicator of public indifference…’ (xvii)
- ‘No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on.’ (xxi)
- ‘American leaders did not act because they did not want to.’ (508)
- ‘One mechanism for altering the calculus of U.S. leaders would be to make them publicly or professionally accountable for inaction.’ (510)
- ‘The United States should stop genocide for two reasons. The first and most compelling reason is moral. When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act. It is this belief that motivates most of those who seek intervention.’ (512)
These are not the quotes of a wild-eyed outsider, but of the current US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, drawn from her Pulitzer Prize winning book, ‘Problem From Hell.’ Having recruited Power to the administration and promoted her at the start of his second term, how could Obama not be influenced by such thinking? Having accepted a position in an administration, how could Power remain in post if the US did not act? Power referred to the crisis in Rwanda as ‘The Problem from Hell.’ She is, undoubtedly, discovering that governing is a lot harder than it appears from the cheap seats she used to enjoy shouting from in the 1990s…
I’m delighted to announce that I had a letter published by the Evening Standard regarding intervention in Syria.
To access the on-line version click HERE
This is just a short posting, as the UK Parliament is recalled to debate events in Syria.
Across the Pond, the President has a dilemma. He was elected as the apparent antidote to George W. Bush but has prevaricated in the face of slaughter in Syria for over a year. Now it appears that an air strike is imminent. So what has brought this about?
Here are a few choice quotes that may give us a clue:
‘American political leaders interpret society-wide silence as an indicator of public indifference…’ (xvii)
‘No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on.’ (xxi)
‘Over the course of the last century, the United States has made modest progress in its responses to genocide. The persistence and proliferation of dissenters within the U.S. government and human rights advocates outside it have made a policy of silence in the face of genocide more difficult to sustain.’ (503)
‘ American leaders did not act because they did not want to.’ (508)
‘One mechanism for altering the calculus of U.S. leaders would be to make them publicly or professionally accountable for inaction.’ (510)
‘The United States should stop genocide for two reasons. The first and most compelling reason is moral. When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act. It is this belief that motivates most of those who seek intervention.’ (512)
These are not the quotes of a wild-eyed outsider, but of the current US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, drawn from her Pulitzer Prize winning book, ‘Problem From Hell.’
Having recruited Power to the administration and promoted her at the start of his second term, how could Obama not be influenced by such thinking?
Having accepted a position in an administration, how could Power remain in post if the US did not act?
We shall see how both the president and his ambassador respond to the developing situation in the coming days…