Coffee House The View from 22

The View from 22: Obama’s zigzagging path to war and Cameron’s tiff with his MPs

5 September 2013

What is behind Barack Obama’s wobbly approach to Syria? In the latest View from 22 podcast, former US State department official Colleen Graffy and the Spectator’s Douglas Murray discuss Obama’s latest manoeuvres in Washington and whether the American people still have an appetite for going to war with Syria.  What will happen when the issue hits Congress next week?

James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman also discuss how the developing Syria situation has affected the political landscape in Westminster. Are Conservatives feeling disgruntled with their party leadership over the disastrous vote? What can we expect to see from the main parties in the next few weeks before party conference season? Have Labour regained the ground they lost over the summer?


Plus, why is former basketball star Dennis Rodman returning to North Korea, and what the attacks by the Syrian Cyber Army show about the future of cyber warfare.

You can subscribe to the View from 22 through iTunes and have it delivered to your computer every week, or you can use the embedded player below:

The View from 22 — 5 September 2013. Length: 31:42

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  • CraigStrachan

    Douglas Murray doesn’t seem to have heard of the poverty draft.

  • alabenn

    He is not zig zagging to war, he is zig sagging to avoid war, he is a fool who has been caught out, he opens his mouth and whatever vacuous thoughts that are swirling about in his head trip out without any reflection on effect.

    He is running around looking for some excuse not to go ahead with whatever he says to the contrary, is his silly red line.

    That the US has a man like this running the show is a disaster for them, regardless of whether he is forced by circumstance to go ahead with what was to be a token military strike, that by the minute is being pushed up the scale by other fools who want to go for broke in the hope that they can expand it to include Iran leaves him with little chance of improving the situation for the country.

    That said situation that he has put the US in is showing signs of running out of control, whether he can get it back or not the US has been badly wounded by this fiasco and there is no sign that it will start to improve anytime soon.
    The US have at least some saving grace as this community organiser has to retire at the end of this term.

  • dalai guevara

    Obama is zigzagging in the lookout for allies.
    Oh dear, what a dismal state of affairs.

  • Abhay

    It’s astonishing how the liberals and faux-conservatives / neocons are aligned and clamouring for war on Syria.

    Kerry – McCain / Bill Kristol are speaking in the same voice. Hague and Hollande / Fabius are speaking in the same voice.

    Strange bedfellowship!!

  • Jez

    Another very good piece….. but also, in another sense maybe quite bad…. if not utterly shocking.

    Colleen Graffy talks about visiting all dimensions of this crisis….. but seems to have only one ‘tunnel vision’ attitude; WAR.

    Has there been a confirmation that Assad actually carried out this crime? Not yet? But Graffy & Murray want ‘all in’….. and here’s the really frightening bit; it is mentioned the word ‘degrade’. Like the ‘Libyan Adventure’? You mean regime change- that sort of thing?

    Also, could Obama not want to rush this through because such a course of action would be so incredibly unpopular- due to people (like the contributors to this piece above) crashing through military action of this sort (based upon the most filmiest evidence going) recently in the past maybe? Would he actually be doing a bit of twisting of arms in the background as so to get a result?

    The debacle in Egypt, the murders and ethnic / religious warfare that has spawned from the Arab spring doesn’t seem to register with Murray or especially Graffy. Libya also doesn’t seem the ‘coffee shop Amsterdam’ liberal democracy the western bedroom tweeters who demanded the regime change there, actually envisaged.

    Murray even goes onto ‘so called war weariness’. That most probably 100,000 thousand dead in Iraq, approximately 40,000 dead in Libya and the 20,000(?) dead in the Egypt ‘Spring’ / ‘Winter’ / ‘Junta Coup’ wouldn’t in anyone’s right mind cause ‘war weariness’? Obviously not in yours mate- but to many others it could do maybe.

    100,000 dead already in Syria could be a 100,000 more dead humans if it wasn’t for the Arab Spring and the blind promotion of this experiment by the types above.

    I think Murray’s attitude that people who are war weary have no connection with people actually losing limbs, losing their lives as they know it or actually being killed- is absolutely disgusting. That is the most offensive thing you can probably say. You also seem to be offended that not as many soldiers have died now, than in the Vietnam war? That is not morally right. You shouldn’t say things like that- no matter how strong this liberal interventionist blood lust you seem to be both feeling right now.

    Maybe you should either manipulate what you originally meant into something acceptable or retract that statement?

    1. did Assad do it?

    2. What happens next?

    3. who are the rebels?

    4. Will it end up a thousand time worse than Libya?

    There seems to be an overall reluctance to rushing into yet another black hole Middle eastern conflict because the Senator, Congressmen and MP’s have had access to a Television this last half a decade. You could do with watching one, once in a while you two.

  • Augustus

    “What is behind Barack Obama’s wobbly approach to Syria?”

    Plainly it’s dissonance ( inconsistency between the beliefs one holds, or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs). He may have taken on the mantle of a Christian, but he has definitely backed al-Qaida in Syria. Under the current circumstances there was no need for him to postpone an operation which he himself said was ‘a shot across the bow’. The punitive measures discussed by the White House were limited enough not to be relevant to the American Constitution which entrusts the legislative branch with the supreme authority to formally declare war. So handing off responsibility to Congress now basically means that he has agreed to foreswear all similar instances in future meant for the White House alone. But this situation did not arise simply because the White House decided to give up its authority to launch short-term military operations without congressional approval, it was far more to do with effectively giving up its position of leadership as a global superpower. After all, as the leading player it is supposed to inspire and lead in the world, not subjugate itself to the restrictions or preferences of other nations. So, not only has he ‘chickened out’, he’s relinquished the leader’s mantle. He’s also ended an American epoch.

    • Makroon

      Obama is a peaceful kind of guy, even a bit lazy. He likes a bit of speechifying. He is not a “true believer” in anything. Maybe why he gets on well with Cameron.
      He was elected to clean up after the neo-con fiasco.
      He no more expected to be facing continued calls for interventions in the middle-east, just a few short years after the Iraq debacle, than he realised that the corrupt US justice system would make it impossible for him to close the shameful abomination of Guantanamo Bay.
      However, he is pressured by the Clinton gang and the Democrats’ Israel obsession, to do something which he would much rather not.
      The neo-cons have left the toxic legacy that “intervention” is both habitual and normal for US presidents. Although the US public does not agree.
      THAT is the cognitive dissonance.

      • Augustus

        What is certainly not ‘codswallop’ is that Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia for that matter, have a very different policy in Syria. Winning for them means Assad stays in power. What kind of policy is it to ask the opposition to fight on if we don’t seek any kind of victory? And what no U.S. president was ever elected for was to be a loser.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Nobody’s asking any opposition to fignt on, other than socialists who relish foreign adventurism.

          • Augustus

            There probably won’t be very much in the way of fireworks, but we could well see a lot of tension between the U.S. and Russia over the rationale for any type of intervention, both with this one, and those of the future, for years to come. That’s the real loss, as I see it.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …are you desiring additional interventions, after this one? That would seem the only reason an absence of such would be considered a “real loss”.

              • Augustus

                No, only foreseeing a new kind of ‘Cold War’ with Russia in the ascendancy.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  If you’re favoring more interventions like the upcoming Syrian bombardment, then you’re doing more than foreseeing a cold war, you’re encouraging one.

                • Augustus

                  No I don’t favour such interventions at all (see above). But I come back to the issue; Obama’s zigzagging path to war. When you’re the leader of the free world, you don’t make statements you can’t back up. You don’t draw lines in the sand, watch your enemies cross them with impunity, and go off and play a round of golf. Can anyone think of a more confused, befuddled, impotent, insincere and out of his depth president than Barack Obama is in dealing with the Syrian WMD slaughter incident?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Oh I fully agree, Obama (like Dave) is an incompetent buffoon, who runs his mouth too much. But that’s forgotten soon after he leaves office 40 months from now, as long as his mouth running is his only foreign policy sin, and his incompetence hasn’t unilaterally brought on war.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Going bombs away in Libya, and quadrupling US troop counts in Afghanistan, are about as “neocon” as it gets. That’s why Call Me Dave is down with Obama, they agree on all this.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      “The punitive measures discussed by the White House were limited enough
      not to be relevant to the American Constitution which entrusts the
      legislative branch with the supreme authority to formally declare war.”


      They were acts of war. Per the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. The Constitution doesn’t permit unilateral “punitive measures”, pulled down out of the air by this or that portion of government, particularly when they are clearly acts of war.

      • Augustus

        The President has the exclusive authority to commit U.S. forces to a military incursion for not more than 60 days (according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973), without a formal declaration of war. Furthermore, the President only needs to go to Congress to change the status of the conflict, i.e. to expand or protract the military action undertaken.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          The War Powers act was passed because previous presidents had violated the Constitution, much as you seem to favor, and the Congress sought ways to channel that lawlessness. It cannot have granted additional powers to the president, because it doesn’t amend the Constitution. Given the proper case, it’s possible that it will eventually be found unconstitutional.

          In the meantime, it’s best if we call acts of war what they are… acts of war. Launching salvos of cruise missiles at a sovereign nation is to be considered an act of war, in anybody’s book.

          However flawed, the WPA didn’t permit whatever use of military an Obama might dream up, or “military incursion” as you put it. It envisions and addresses cases where national emergency has arisen, as a result of enemy attack. It doesn’t (and constitutionally cannot) permit arbitrary “punitive measures”, of any sort. It’s a way to channel military responses to immediate threats to the US.

          • Augustus

            Nevertheless, the question of whether a report would be required under the Resolution can be raised. The Operation Desert Fox campaign (Dec. 1998), aimed at destroying Iraqi industrial facilities, deemed capable of producing weapons of mass destruction, as well as other Iraqi military and security targets, was at least one instance which was not formally reported to the Congress Under the WPR. But I defer to your superior knowledge. Suffice to say that If Obama wasn’t the snake that he is he could have dispatched his 2 days ‘shot across Assad’s bow’ without worrying about the WPR. However, I think it would have been wrong to strike Assad in this way with an absurd surgical strike, because these are people who hide behind women and children, and are not afraid to use them as human shields. There’s always going to be collateral damage and innocents will get killed.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Yes, the WPA has been ignored multiple times. Many consider it a distraction, for that reason.

              Had the Commons vote gone through the other night, it would have given Obama the fig leaf he needed, and I suspect he would have loosed the missiles less than 24 hours later. But absent that vote and any UN sanction, he was on his own, and apparently he didn’t have the belly to do it himself (I’d say he’s already proven he doesn’t care about the Constitution and the law, so those couldn’t have been what dissuaded him.).

              I agree a wild missile strike might do more harm than good. A smart politician would come up with a clever approach here, but good luck finding a smart politician these days.

  • asalord

    David Cameron: all top hat and no idea.

  • Jez

    I’m listening to this on the sly, in the office….. it better be good! ;-))

  • mikewaller

    Could we not have an article on why the Spectator’s initial response to Parliament’s Syrian fiasco was so poorly thought through?

    • alabenn

      Why would you expect the people who poorly thought through a response, to know they had poorly thought something through in the first place.

      • mikewaller

        It would be a very sad world if nobody ever came to appreciate the error of their ways and then seek to do something about it, if only to apologise.. Even Nixon eventually did that. Or is this, perhaps, a reflection of a perceived personal weakness?

        • alabenn

          The problem now is the ruling elite and the people who report on them are to much of the same mind ever to see the error of their ways, it seems they have what others would think of as opinions to their minds are incontrovertible facts.
          Look at Obama he clearly stated that chemical weapons are a red line, he now just as clearly states that the world drew the red line a hundred years ago and he was reflecting on that.
          This is a lie yet he and his acolytes would have it as truth.

          • mikewaller

            I do not wish to be unkind, but I think the reverse is true. Like millions of others you start from the premise “no more war” and reason everything back from that, and by “reason” I really mean force fit.

            The actual issue is amazingly clear: we have horrible conventional weapons, we have horrible nuclear weapons and some people have horrible chemical and biological weapons. We are stuck with the first two, not least because the biggest players are not prepared to give theirs up. However, with chemical and biological weapons there has been agreement by the international community since the end of WW1 that these should not be used. Hence Obama’s “100 years” (so that’s no lie). He also gave fair warning that were they deployed in Syria, that would be a game changer. They have been, so the game has changed. We can, of course, just sit on our butts as the clownish majority in the H of C has determined that we should. But as I just said to another innocent, do not then be surprised when biological or chemical weapons “liberated” from the arsenal of some or other toppled dictator are discharged, for example, on the streets of London.

            I should say that I have just heard a former UK ambassador to Moscow say that, of course, the Russians know full well that Assad did fire shells containing Sarin. They also know he is a grade A son of a bitch. However, the US used to say in such circumstances of its dictators, “He may be an SoB, but he’s our SoB” and this is very much how the Russians now view Assad. Of course, Putin could put us back the other side of the red line if he forced Assad to give him all Syria’s B and C weapons. Not very likely, but I can’t help thinking that folks like you would be far better employed in doing what little you can to pressure Putin who has the solution in his gift, rather than going in for the sad old routine of kicking the US President.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              It’s not up to Obama to give “fair warning”, or execute some punishment for ignoring his warning. He doesn’t make the rules of the “game”.

              If you’re concerned that chemical weapons from some toppled dictators’ arsenals might be discharged on the streets, perhaps you shouldn’t encourage those dictators getting toppled, no?

              Doesn’t much matter what you and some former ambassador think about the various anecdotes about what Putin thinks. Sorry. We know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know. Anecdotes don’t enter into it.

              • mikewaller

                So you would sooner leave things in the capable and freedom-loving hands of the veto-wielding Putin and Xi Jinping, Syria being “a far away country of which we know little”? Shame on you, the whole world knows what Assad did and he did it because his family came under direct rebel attack and he thought he was about to lose control of Damascus. It was very, very stupid but so was Hitler’s declaring war on the US almost immediately after Pearly Harbour. Being a tyrant does not mean that you can’t be a prat. Shoving your head in the sand is not going to change any of that. As Afro-Americans say, “What goes around, comes around” in this case the ostrich’s form of “Peace in our time”,

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  And you appear ready to place things in the “freedom-loving hand” of the jug eared incompetent you’re disparaging in your other post. Shame on you.

                  No, the whole world doesn’t know what Assad did, and you blathering that rot doesn’t make it true. You see, that’s what busy bodies like you and Obama and Dave do, and it’s wrong. You cannot fantasize your own version of reality and call it true. You need documented proof, data and facts to support your case. You and those dolts have none.


                  I can appreciate that you’re frustrated that your favorite strategy of going bombs-away isn’t working out like you want it to, but your strategy is just wrong, and everybody knows it now. They watched your strategy fail in Libya recently, and they’re on to the scam now.

                • mikewaller

                  I take the jug-eared bit to be a typically offensive reference to the President of the United States. I cannot recall having disparaged him but I should not be surprised if you could furnish evidence of this as – unlike you Putin tarts – I consider nobody without sin. For the rest, I would make three points:

                  1. The Middle East is a seething cess pit of hatred where any attempt to improve things seems to make matters worse, regardless of the purity or impurity of the interveners’ ultimate motivation.

                  2. Sadly, even worse than world that contains the Middle East, would be a world that contained dozens of tyrants who holding stocks of chemical and biological weapons in much the same way Israel has its atomic bomb: the final card to be played if threatened with elimination. This therefore has to be discouraged by all practical means.

                  3. Your pal Putin has it within his gift to settle matters immediately by making Assad disgorge his stocks of such weapons into Russian hands (no extra threat there, Russia already has vast quantities). If Putin brings that about, I will stand alongside you in opposing airstrikes; not, of course, that amounts to anything at all.

                  4. Whilst the World waits in awe for your magnum opus “Katyn Forrest – too soon to decide”, those with real world responsibilities have to move somewhat more quickly.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  So jug ears is without sin, and yet you want to blindly follow along behind him? Strange.

                  1. All that, and you want to blindly bomb in the cesspit. Strange.

                  2. So you want to go around and bomb and deliver messages, to keep others from using their chemical weapons as a “final card” to be used if threatened with “elimination”? You’re bombing just in case somebody ELSE might bomb them? Strange. Very strange.

                  3. You’re putting your faith in Vlad Putin, and thinking he can and should yield up the globalist utopian solution you crave, but if he doesn’t… BOMBS AWAY? Strange.

                  4. No, you globalist nutters don’t have to “move quickly”. You have to be shown as the nutters you are.

                • mikewaller

                  You have had your pygmy Munich and your ditto Katyn Forrest, all wrapped up in one neat bundle; and you have comprehensively failed both tests of nerve. Hopelessly seeking to cover your deep sense of shame, you resort to physical abuse (as in “jug-ears”) and incoherent ramblings. Just a few point: Regarding 1. the days of blind bombing are over. Can’t stop innocent people getting killed, but the target is rarely missed. Regarding 2. Conventional weapons are horrible, nuclear bombs are worse and trying to keep chemical and biological weapons out of this sickening mix by making the price of their use too high, seems to me a very sensible objective. 3. Yours is essentially the Greenham Common mentality. Throw all your cards away and hope the nice man in Moscow reciprocates. Dream on. 5.Given my cool reasoning throughout, I shall treat this intemperate display with the contempt it deserves.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  So bombing is a “test of nerve” for you socialist nutters, is it? It’s always instructive what people say, as it lets us know what they think of themselves, and what they are. Your shame is driving you here, as you acknowledge.

                  1. The targets are missed regularly, and innocents are killed. You socialist nutters don’t care, generally. It’s always just bombs away for you types.

                  2. Your islamofascist headchopper buddies are using chemical weapons, proven so. You socialist nutters have decided one murderer’s use is better than another murderer’s. That’s what makes you a socialist nutter, your weird sense of proportion and judgement.

                  3. Your mentality is to embrace islamofascist headchoppers and give them cash borrowed from China. You socialist nutter.

                  4. You skipped 4., you innumerate socialist nutter.

                  5. You don’t reason, laddie. You’re a socialist nutter. The islamofascists love you types.

                • mikewaller

                  Good-bye your credentials – such as they were – as a rational, self-controlled member of our digital community.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  That’s amusing, a socialist nutter fantasizing the issuance of “credentials”.

                  You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

                • mikewaller

                  There, there.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, there, there… are you socialist nutters.

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