6 Sep 2013

Obama, who won and what next

After President Putin had rattled off his list of countries that opposed the US planned attacks on Syria and claimed victory at his post summit press conference (very “unG20” behaviour), the US rushed out a rival tally claiming they’d actually won more countries’ support than the Russian leader.

The US list had 11 countries on it (though one of them, Spain, is not a G20 member but one of the countries invited in a national capacity – unlike some like Ethiopia who come representing wider bodies like the African Union). So the US didn’t strictly win 11 of the G20 but 10 of the G20 . It’s interesting to note that Italy appears on both sides’ lists!

What’s changed on Syria as a result of these two days in St Petersburg? Not much. Everyone’s pretty much in the camp they came in. Many blaming President Assad for the chemical attacks, fewer sure that a military rersponse by the US will help. President Obama sometimes literally wasn’t in the room. He was busy phoning US senators, cancelling his schedule for the next few days and planning a television address to the US people.


He’s still throwing everything into his battle to win support for military action against Syria but he spoke in his press conference today about how the more time passes from last month’s chemical attacks the harder it is to galvanise people to react. At his press conference, he ducked the questions about what happens if he fails to win one or both houses of Congress. But he appeared in one answer to be cementing in a constitutional innovation.

He said he was not planning to deploy the military in response to an imminent national threat and so it was right to get Congress’s approval. The suggestion clearly is that in “policeman” roles when the US is upholding international law rather than defending its borders and immediate interests, the president must cede some of his commander in chief powers. It’s very hard not to see that as fully ceding a veto to Congress over certain types of military action and it will be difficult for future presidents to ignore that precedent.

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