John Kerry, seeing out his last few days as Secretary of State, has discussed 2013 and the red line that never was regarding Syria rather candidly.
“The president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, did decide to use force and he announced his decision publicly and he said we’re going to act, we’re going to do what we need to do to respond to this blatant violation of international law and of warnings and of the red line he had chosen. Now, we were marching towards that time when, lo and behold … Prime Minister David Cameron went to the parliament … and he sought a vote for approval for him to join in the action that we were going to engage in. And guess what, the parliament voted no, they shot him down.”
“So as we were briefing Congress – and I was on one of those briefing calls with maybe a hundred members of Congress on the call – many of them were saying, ‘Well, you’ve got to come to us. You’ve got to go through the constitutional process, get permission from us to do something.’ And the president had already decided to use force but then the question became, ‘Do I need to go to Congress to get that permission?”
We all know what happened next. Kerry goes on to talk about his dealings with Lavrov in the days when a US strike might be possible, and just how willing Russia was at the time, faced with a tricky situation, to try and end the whole thing, very possibly meaning they were willing to turn on Assad to achieve this aim. Now we’ll never know for sure.
I’ve gone on already about how that parliamentary vote in 2013 is one of the darkest moments in the history of the House of Commons. But having a US Secretary of State confirm it like this is still brutal. Oh how things could have been different.
I will say that this account by Kerry doesn’t exonerate Obama on this matter. The president should have gone ahead with what he had planned anyhow, regardless of what the British parliament voted for or against. Now that Kerry has spilled the beans, it makes Obama’s inaction back then even worse in many respects.
What makes it all even worse, whomever is at fault, is what looks like will happen next: the complete capitulation of America’s position in the Middle East to satisfy the whims and ambitions of “V Putin” as Trump likes to call him on Twitter. The 2013 moment of inaction by the US and the UK will probably turn out to be as historically significant as Chamberlain’s “peace in our time”.