Thursday, September 12, 2013

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH on the U.S. and Syria: "The nation is sick and tired of foreign wars, and may never play its role of global anchor again. We may live to regret it":

In all the long history of US presidential addresses, has there been an odder one than this? With the solemn grandeur appropriate to a declaration of war, president Barack Obama informed the American people on Tuesday night that a congressional vote on military action had been postponed because Russia was now brokering a diplomatic initiative that might, or might not, put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. A Gettysburg address this wasn't.

There will be many more turns on the road to Damascus, but the politics of these weeks since the criminal use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August already tell us a lot about the US. First and foremost, they tell us what Obama himself acknowledged in his televised address, quoting the words of a letter sent him by a veteran: "This nation is sick and tired of war."

Yes, the shadow of being misled by Colin Powell (of all people) about the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction hangs over this debate, as over European debates. But that's not the main point for most Americans. According to a New York Times-CBS poll this week, 75% of Americans think the Syrian government "probably did" use chemical weapons against Syrian civilians – and still they're overwhelmingly against the US military response that Obama advocated.