The Morning Memo returns after a six-week summer break. Here are the five things you need to know on Monday 2 September 2013...
1) 'WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO BOMB'
Obama, say his friends and supporters, is a 'reluctant warrior', the 'anti-Bush'. Really? Yesterday, the Guardian reports on its front page, a day after the president "vowed to put any intervention in Syria to a vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives, [Secretary of State John] Kerry said the administration was confident of winning a motion of the kind that David Cameron unexpectedly lost last week. 'We don't contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,' Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action 'no matter what Congress does'.
No matter what Congress does? Huh? Then why bother going to Congress and asking those "pesky elected representatives" (copyright: Douglas Carswell MP) for their views? President Obama should have a word with Candidate Obama, who remarked in 2007, in an interview with the Boston Globe, "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." The then junior senator from Illinois added that a president can only act unilaterally in “instances of self-defense".
President Obama announced his decision to go to Congress - which returns from its summer break next Monday (9 September) - in the Rose Garden on Saturday evening, specifically citing Cameron's defeat in the Commons on Thursday evening as a factor in his (belated) decision to consult with lawmakers on Capitol Hill before ordering any air strikes. (The New York Times reports that Kerry, who claims to have evidence of sarin use by the Assad regime, began a "lobbying blitz" of Congress over the weekend: "Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, the administration presented classified intelligence to any senator or House member who wished to attend." )
Two points are worth considering here: 1) Who says the British parliament is irrelevant? That the votes of MPs don't matter or don't have influence on the international stage? If only the Commons had voted down Blair's Iraq motion, too, back in March 2003. Who knows what effect that would have had on hawks and doves in the United States a decade ago. 2) With the US Congress expected to meet no earlier than next Monday, and the French parliament debating Syria on Wednesday, questions once again have to be asked as to why a (melo?)dramatic David Cameron insisted on recalling parliament four days early to hold an 'emergency' vote on Syria - which he then promptly, and humiliatingly, lost by 13 votes.
Meanwhile, despite George Osborne's insistence on the Andrew Marr show yesterday that "Parliament has spoken" and Britain would play no part in any attack on Syria, the Times reports on its front page that two former party leaders (Tory Michael Howard and Lib Dem Paddy Ashdown) and a former foreign secretary (Tory Malcolm Rifkind) have "urged the Prime Minister to seize on President Obama’s decision to delay military action" and "reverse his decision to rule out military intervention in Syria."
The paper adds:
"Some Labour figures also urged the Prime Minister to retain the option of intervention. Mr Murphy said that if there were 'really significant developments in Syria' or al-Qaeda obtained chemical weapons, 'then of course the Prime Minister has the right to bring that back to Parliament.'"
But will Labour pay the price for such a move? Boris Johnson seems to think so. "If there is new and better evidence that inculpates Assad, I see no reason why the Government should not lay a new motion before Parliament, inviting British participation – and then it is Ed Miliband, not David Cameron, who will face embarrassment," writes the mayor of London in his weekly Telegraph column.
We now await the vote of the US Congress and, of course, the report of the UN weapons inspectors, who left Damascus over the weekend. Watch this space.
2) 'BREATHTAKING LAXITY'
Late last week, my colleague Asa Benn, the HuffPost UK's new business reporter, broke the story of how Vince Cable's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had approved export licenses for "nearly £2.2m of "chemicals and related products" over the three months of April to June 2013" and spoke to arms control experts who expressed their concerns.
The rest of the press has now caught up with him, with today's Independent splashing on the story:
"The Government was accused of 'breathtaking laxity' in its arms controls last night after it emerged that officials authorised the export to Syria of two chemicals capable of being used to make a nerve agent such as sarin a year ago.
".. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that although the licences were granted to an unnamed UK chemical company in January 2012, the substances were not sent to Syria before the permits were eventually revoked last July in response to tightened European Union sanctions.
".. The Labour MP Thomas Docherty, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, will today table parliamentary questions demanding to know why the licences were granted and to whom.
"He said: 'This would seem to be a case of breath-taking laxity – the Government has had a very lucky escape indeed that these chemicals were not sent to Syria.
"'What was Mr Cable’s department doing authorising the sale of chemicals which by their own admission had a dual use as precursors for chemical weapons at a time when the Syria’s war was long under way?'"
Labour's Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, told the paper that "a full explanation is needed as to why the export of these chemicals was approved in the first place. This is important if confidence in the export licence process is to be maintained.”
The Mirror and the Guardian has the story, too. Over to you, Vince Cable...
3) RIP DAVID FROST
'That Was The Life That Was' is the front page headline in the Guardian, reporting on the legendary broadcaster who died yesterday of a suspected heart attack at the age of 74. Tributes have poured in from across the world and across the political spectrum for the only journalist to interview eight sitting British prime ministers and seven serving US presidents.
Frost's famous face appears on the front of the Mirror, the Mail, the Express, the Independent, the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian. The latter's Mark Lawson notes:
"Unusually among broadcasters, Sir David Frost chose to list in Who's Who every single programme he had ever made, with the result that his entry eventually occupied almost 20cm between the diplomat and businessman he alphabetically divided. These credits ran from That Was the Week That Was, for the BBC in 1963, to Frost on Sketch Shows, shown on BBC4 this year."
One of the proudest moments of my own career was when I appeared on his Al Jazeera English show in September 2011 to discuss the peace process in the Middle East. I was supposed to be debating Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath - but the latter pulled out at the last minute and I ended up doing an unscheduled one-on-one interview with Frost! My parents, who had been fans of Frost since arriving in the UK in the 1960s, were over the moon...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this clip of Richard Nixon apologizing over Watergate in his now-legendary interview with the late Sir David Frost.
4) BACK TO THE CLASSROOM
A new political season, a new proposal from the hyperactive Department for Education - from the Telegraph:
"Tens of thousands of teenagers who failed to achieve a grade C in their English and maths GCSE exams last month will be forced to continue studying and resit the tests when returning to school this month.
"Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said last night that young people "must be able to demonstrate their understanding of these subjects".
"This year is the first in which teenagers will have to remain in school – or studying for a vocational quali–fication – until they are 17. The school leaving age will rise again to 18 in 2015.
"Pupils aged 16 will no longer be able to drop maths or English unless they have achieved at least a grade C in their GCSEs."
5) 'ALLOWED HOME TO DIE'
From the Times:
"Nelson Mandela was released from hospital in Pretoria yesterday after almost three months of treatment for a recurrent lung complaint, but his condition was still described as "critical", raising fears that he was being allowed home to die.
"An official statement from the Presidency said that Mr Mandela, 95, would continue to receive treatment at his home and would be readmitted if doctors deemed it necessary.
"'His team of doctors are convinced that he will receive the same level of intensive care at his Houghton home that he received [in a Pretoria hospital],' said the statement, signed by Mac MaharaJ, an official spokesman.
"It added that his home in the plush Johannesburg suburb of Houghton had been 'reconfigured to allow him to receive intensive care'."
"You'd think Blair would shut up and go away... but he's unembarrassable.. He's lost he plot, he really has." - former cabinet minister Clare Short attacks her former boss 'TB' over his non-stop commentary on Syria.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 112.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@David_Cameron I understand and support Barack Obama's position on #Syria.
@drwollastonmp To pundits wanting 2nd vote on #Syria action; that action shld be led by an Arab League state with backing from us, not the other way around
@Ed_Miliband Deep condolences to Sir David Frost's family. He defined a new era of the TV interview. Never intimidated by Prime Ministers or Presidents.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Malcolm Rifkind, writing in the Times, says: "Our reputation is in your hands, Mr Miliband."
John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "The lesson from the Syria vote is that Britons are fed up with Blair-style messianic leadership. It should be binned."
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, writing in the Independent, says: "We would be saner about our own destiny without this sad dependency on the US."
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