Mehdi's Morning Memo: Obama Comes Off The Fence On Syria

The five things you need to know on Friday 14 June 2003...


From the Guardian:

"The US government said last night that it would provide military support to the Syrian rebels after confirming it now believed there was concrete evidence of limited nerve gas attacks by government forces against rebel groups.

"The assessment, based on CIA tests on blood, urine and hair samples from dead or wounded rebel fighters, is the first time Washington has supported claims previously made by British and French intelligence services. Assad has repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons in the bitter civil war.

"The White House believes its assessment means Syria has crossed the so-called "red line" that Barack Obama established early in the conflict as a test for further western intervention to support the rebels.

I've never quite understood why the chemical weapons issue should be a game-changer. Yesterday, the UN revealed that 93,000 people had been killed in Syria since the fighting began in 2011, with an average of 5,000 killed each month since last July. Does it matter how Syrians are killed? With bombs, bullets, knives or sarin? Surely the only questions that matters are: will giving the rebels more weapons prolong the civil war, or help bring it to an end? Create more bloodshed inside Syria, or less?

Shameless plug alert: At 8pm tonight, you can listen to me live on BBC Radio 4's 'Any Questions', alongside Tory MEP Daniel Hannan and others. At 9pm, you can watch me interview New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, on US foreign policy, on my new Al Jazeera series, 'Head To Head'.


That's the splash headline on the front of the Telegraph. Personally, I'd like us to fight fewer wars (and, let's be honest, we don't we win many wars to begin with, these days, do we?) so I can't say I'm too bothered by the headline.

The paper reports:

"Forcing more spending cuts on the military would be dangerous and disruptive and would damage the country's ability to win wars, the head of the Army has warned.

"Gen Sir Peter Wall said that further savings would place the Army's plans in jeopardy and seriously damage its "professional competence" in some areas.

"His intervention comes at a critical stage in spending negotiations between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury."


From the Times:

"Four former home secretaries today accuse Nick Clegg of putting lives at risk by blocking sweeping new powers for the security services to track e-mails and online messages.

"In a cross-party letter to The Times, the quartet urge the Lib Dems to lift their opposition to the Communications Data Bill, which has split the coalition.

"The signatories say that the so-called 'snoopers' charter' is a vital tool in allowing MI5 and the police to combat the kind of extremism behind the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

"Three former Labour home secretaries — Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Alan Johnson — signed the letter. Other signatories include Lord Baker of Dorking, Home Secretary under John MaJor; Lord King of Bridgwater, the former chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and Defence Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, and the Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation."

As I noted on Question Time a few weeks ago, the last people we should be taking advice from on counter-terrorism or on civil liberties are former Labour home secretaries, with their authoritarian bent and awe of the security services.

To pretend that the murder of Lee Rigby, say, would have been prevented by the draft Communications Data Bill is disingenuous; in fact, as we now know, the two suspects were on MI5's radar already.


Ahead of Father's Day this Sunday, watch this mashup video of the worst movie dads ever.


That's the aim, say the Lib Dems. From the Guardian:

"The biggest campaign theme for the Liberal Democrats between now and the 2015 election will be a commitment to helping the creation of 1m more jobs.

"Strategists hope this will make the party central to the big economic debate likely to dominate the run up to the election.

"The decision was made after polling showed that apart from its commitment to increase tax allowances, the public do not associate the party with recognisably distinctive economic policies."



How's the 'Britishness' project going? From the Telegraph:

"The British citizenship test is a 'bad pub quiz', with too much focus on culture and history at the expense of practical knowledge, an academic has claimed in a report submitted to Parliament.

"The Life In The UK test, which is taken by about 150,000 would–be citizens each year and must be passed to qualify for indefinite leave to remain in Britain, does not require knowledge of everyday life in the country, said Dr Thom Brooks of Durham University.

"But new citizens need to know 'trivial' facts such as the year Emperor Claudius invaded Britain or that Sake Dean Mahomet opened the first curry house in the country. Dr Brooks, a US immigrant who passed the test in 2009, becoming a British citizen in 2011, said it was "unfit for purpose'' in its current form."


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 32

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 86.


Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Labour’s addicted to meddling, not spending."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "Stephen Hester wanted to turn RBS back into a normal bank but, after £45bn, the government can do what it likes."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Politicians place too much faith in figures."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol