George Hepburn gives his view on President Obama's reaction to the Syria crisis

Dear President Obama, I am one of your greatest fans. I still the remember the day of your first inauguration

President Obama
President Obama

Dear President Obama, I am one of your greatest fans. I still the remember the day of your first inauguration.

Everyone stayed behind in the office to watch your speech on the television, even though it was time to go home for the weekend. We had high hopes of you.

You strode on to the world stage with great confidence. There have inevitably been disappointments and Guantanamo Bay continues to outrage us but we have continued to root for you.

But how did you come to assume the mantle of the defender of the free world. Does it just go with job? How did you come to declare that the use of chemical weapons in Syria crossed a red line that would lead to retaliation? I wonder if you have come to regret those words as you fight to persuade Congress of the need for air strikes? I would have hoped for better of you.

I know that chemical warfare is a violation of human rights and a dastardly and indiscriminate way of winning a war.

But by how many degrees is it worse that bombing, torturing, and droning that it part and parcel of any modern campaign. War is a terrible business as video footage of a Free Syrian army eating the flesh of his enemy reminds us. Why has the use of chemical weapons become the chill wind that rouses the giant from its sleep?

What is the point of retaliation? Was your original threat to bomb the Assad regime meant to deter them from using chemical weapons? It was never likely to succeed. Will retaliation stop them from using these weapons again? It seems unlikely.

The chances are that an air strike on Syria will kill more innocent people and increase the flow of refugees out of the country. The number of Syrian refugees reached two million this week with a further 5,000 fleeing each day. Retaliation leads to further retaliation and put your embassies around at risk. It does not get you any nearer to a resolution of the Syrian civil war.

Pardon the thought, but I wonder if the use of chemical weapons, banned in international law, gives you the excuse the United States has been looking to intervene in another Middle East country? After Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya, have you not learned the folly of trying to stabilize a country with a government of your choosing?

I hold what you may regard as an extreme and idealistic view: I do not believe that foreign powers should intervene in the affairs of another country. It may be tempting to do so for political and economic reasons and it may seem merciful to do for humanitarian reasons but it is wrong.

There are some unpalatable implications of this point of view. Civil wars may continue until the combatants have ground each other into dust. More civilians may be killed and uprooted in the process but it is not for us to intervene with armed force.

This is not, as our own Conservative politicians have portrayed it, “contracting out” (Cameron) our morality to the United Nations or “retreating into isolation” (Hague) but a recognition that we have no right to get involved in this fight and that guns boats no longer have a role in international relations.

There are alternatives. You are no longer dealing with an extremist government in Iran. President Ahmadinejad spent billions supplying cash and weapons to the Assad regime but has been replaced, to most people’s surprise, with the moderate President Rouhani who favours a political settlement with the Syrian opposition. He has also made it plain that he detests chemical weapons. Negotiating with Iran would involve you in eating humble pie, but that is what statesmen are made of.

For all I know such talks may be going on behind the scenes but it was difficult to see any signs of them from the stern faced photos of you and your world leaders posturing in St Petersburg. It is time to put your efforts into convening the long delayed conference in Geneva to solve the Syrian problem.

All the news reports in this country are full of you and John Kerry drumming up political support for retaliatory air strikes. On the BBC at least, the contrary view is sadly absent. I haven’t heard much of the rights and wrongs of your proposed air strikes or the alternatives you might consider.

What made you consult Congress? We all expected you to launch your missiles last weekend. Admittedly, acting in the heat of the moment is never a good idea. The delay has bought you time and given an opportunity for wiser counsels to prevail.

Whilst some may say that the vote in our House of Commons and the forthcoming show of hands in Washington is a victory for democracy, I am not so sure. There is widespread public opposition to warfare which you should listen to. But you cannot reduce this kind of decision to a popular vote. You are elected to make the decision.

So what is my advice, Mr President? Retaliation is unworthy of you and will only make matters worse. Intervention in another middle or far east country will not bring about the stable western leaning regime that you dream for. You would be better advised to increase your diplomatic efforts with President Rouhani and, dare I say it, with President Putin too. Just because you disagree, you should not stop talking.

Did I mention dreaming? That’s the problem. The American dream of winning the world round to its way of thinking with armed might as the last resort has failed over the last 50 years.

A great statesman can lead his people into a new view of their place in the world. That must be difficult when you are surrounded by politicians, generals and armament manufacturers who are invested in the current paradigm. But you can be different.

Losing the vote this week could be the best thing that happens in your second term and just perhaps you have known that all along?

Good luck and God bless you, Mr President.

:: George Hepburn is Warden of Shepherds Dene


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