Mehdi's Morning Memo: Peace Gets A Chance

Barack Obama, as US President, addresses the nation on Syria, video grab
Barack Obama, as US President, addresses the nation on Syria, video grab

The five things you need to know on Wednesday 11 September 2013...


Is US military action now off the table? For the foreseeable future? That's what President Obama seemed to suggest in his much-anticipated address to the US public late last night. Reuters reports:

"Obama said in a White House speech that a Russian offer to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place chemical weapons under international control offered the possibility of heading off the type of limited military strike he is considering against Syria.

"Speaking from the White House's East Room, Obama said U.S. and Russian officials would keep talking about the initiative and that he would discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Meanwhile, he said, he has asked the U.S. Senate to put off a vote on his request for an authorization of military force to let the diplomacy play out. He set no timetables for action, but said any deal with Assad would require verification that he keep his word.

"'It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. And any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.'"

The BBC adds:

"Mr Obama said that [the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria] was not only a violation of international law it was also a danger to US national security.

"'As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them,' he said."

Nonetheless, Obama continues to look like he has been out-manoeuvred and out-thought by the Russians. The Times headline says it all: "Putin succeeds in stalling Obama's attack on Syria." (Perhaps BO should consider giving VP his Nobel Peace Prize...)

The paper reports:

"The US, flanked by Britain and France, challenged Russia to pile pressure on the Assad regime by tabling a UN resolution that threatened "extremely serious consequences" if Syria did not disclose its stocks of nerve gas and chemical weapons.

"... However, Russia responded to the Western resolution by blocking discussions at the UN Security Council. Under pressure from Moscow, last night Syria pre-empted a UN vote by agreeing to hand over its chemical weapons."

On a side note, shouldn't we all applaud Margaret Brennan of CBS News? As the Standard's Londoner's Diary notes, she's the reporter who asked the question to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday morning - “Is there anything at this point that his [Bashar Assad’s] government could do or offer that would stop an attack?” - which prompted Kerry's ad-libbed response about Assad surrendering his chemical weapons. Her question, the Standard diary notes, could end up being a "life-saver".


Hold your horses, Mr Osborne! The Mirror warns that Vince Cable "will today slap down bungling Chancellor George Osborne - after he claimed he had saved the British economy.

"The Business Secretary will warn Mr Osborne against 'complacency' after he boasted the economy had turned the corner thanks to his cuts programme."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Cable defended Osborne's "tone" but told John Humphrys: "We can’t claim that problem’s been solved. It hasn’t."

The Independent adds:

"George Osborne’s claim that his austerity programme has been vindicated has been thrown into doubt by new research which suggests that tax rises and spending cuts have made the economy 3 per cent smaller... Alan Taylor and Oscar Jorda, two respected and independent US economists, have argued that more than half of the economy’s growth shortfall relative to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) forecasts of three years ago can be ascribed to the Coalition’s fiscal measures."

Nonetheless, the FT reports on how an emboldened and energised chancellor continues to attack "Labour's 'discredited' macroeconomic plan. Mr Osborne compared Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, to the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail film yesterday. 'The limbs are falling off his economic argument,' he said.

"Mr Miliband and Mr Balls have now said they will match Mr Osborne's spending plans in election year - a commitment to fiscal restraint that has baffled some trade unionists.

"The loudest applause during Mr Miliband's appearance at the TUC conference came when one delegate suggested Labour's policies were 'contradictory and confusing'."


From the Times:

"The Deputy Commons Speaker resigned last night after being charged with a string of sexual offences, including rape.

"Nigel Evans, 55, who is to appear in court next week, was charged with two counts of indecent assault, five counts of sexual assault and one count of rape, against seven men. He will appear before Preston Magistrates’ Court next Wednesday.

"The charges against the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley were announced by the Crown Prosecution Service last night and came after his re-arrest by police yesterday."

All of the allegations are strongly denied by Evans.


Watch this video of a kitten trying to work out how to use its own legs.


More bad news for Messrs Osborne and Duncan Smith. The Guardian splashes on the news that

"The United Nations' special investigator on housing has told the British government it should scrap the bedroom tax, after hearing 'shocking' accounts of how the policy was affecting vulnerable citizens during a visit to the UK.

"Britain's record on housing was also worsening from a human rights perspective, Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing, said in a Guardian interview after presenting her preliminary findings to the government.

"Rolnik, a former urban planning minister in Brazil, said Britain's previously good record on housing was being eroded by a failure to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, and more recently by the impact of welfare reform."


Meanwhile, education secretary and leading Tory modernizer Michael Gove reminds us why he is so in touch with ordinary, working people. Or maybe not.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, the Mail reports

"Mr Gove was challenged over reports that one in four parents are having to borrow to pay for school uniforms and some food banks were distributing uniforms to struggling parents.

"He said he had recently visited a food bank in his Surrey Health constituency.

"But he suggested that many cash-strapped families have brought their problems on themselves.

"He added: ‘I appreciate that there are families who face considerable pressures. Those pressures are often the result of decisions that they have taken which mean they are not best able to manage their finances. We need to ensure that support is not just financial, and that the right decisions are made.’"

Yes, those pesky 'decisions' the working poor make - forget the record falls in real wages or the unprecedented cuts to in-work benefits or the afore-mentioned 'bedroom tax'. Gove knows best.


"@iankatz1000 #fail" - how the Newsnight editor Ian Katz allowed his name to appear in the end credits for last night's show, after he accidentally criticised 'boring' Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves in a public tweet on Monday night.


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 33

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 78.


@TweetBrooks So west is now saying 2 #Assad no price to pay + as long as u don't use chemical weapons pls keep slaughtering your people with impunity?!

‏@Paulflynnmp House of Commons finest hour in rejecting easy dangerous military strike and choosing the painstaking task of diplomacy and peace building

@sullydish What we’ve learned most acutely this past decade is that overwhelming military force is not sole criterion for power


Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "The humiliation of Obama as Putin swaggers on his Moscow dunghill>"

John Pilger, writing in the Guardian, says: "This time it's Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and war crimes."

Andreas Whittam Smith, writing in the Independent, says: "Once the West set out to conquer the world. Those days have gone for ever."

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