Kim Ghattas (current BBC correspondent) was raised in Lebanon where American-foreign policy was taught to her first-hand. She discusses her time as state department correspondent, and tackles the question of limits in American influence.

Kim Ghattas arrived at Erasmus University in the Paviljoen on Monday to discuss a hotly-debated subject – the limits of American power in the context of Syria. BBC and state department correspondent Kim Ghattas had a unique position with decision makers of the White House. During her time in Washington she travelled, shared breakfasts, and late nights with many high-ranking officials whilst never failing to ask them the important questions.

Tea time

Ghattas begins: “The debate on American power is very cyclical. Under certain circumstances, the nation’s government is painted as an unstoppable power. During Reagan’s time in office, the news headlines predominantly spelled out a decline in America’s influence while forecasting shameful retreats from the middle-east.”

Ghattas experienced the government’s body of officials as on which hold contrary opinions on foreign policy among whom, Obama weighs and cautiously deliberates the various opinions. Even differences exist between close advisory boards on the level of involvement with international issues. “Obama generally takes a protectionist approach fraught with memories of Iraq while officials like Hilary Clinton would prefer even deeper involvement. With enemies like Iran and Libya, current objectives primarily concern neutralization or at most, modest military attacks. Public action was only prompted due to the use of chemical weapons by Assad.”  Before published words about a strike against Syria broke out, Ghattas was having breakfast with a high-ranking official where he explained that internal matters like civil wars had to stay internal. Death and conflict reigned over Syria but then Assad’s use of chemical weapons dissolved any rationale behind inaction.

Fickle loyalties

“To rally allies was very difficult”, Ghattas continues. “Britain (the U.S.’s closest ally) remembered the fabricated evidence of WMDs, and subsequent carnage left from the war on Iraq. On August 29th, Edward Miliband rose against typical principles of bipartisanship, and refused David Cameron from legitimizing all grounds of involvement at the House of Representatives. The public agreed and Cameron suffered aching defeat.”

Ghattas received a readout (a distributed briefing or private meetings), outlining Cameron and Obama’s meeting, which happened to gloss over Cameron’s defeat. Instead, Obama offered his gratitude for Britain’s past loyalty. “Allies are indispensable, and their absence factors in when the White House deliberates on interventionist measures, and calls their scope of influence into question.” In regards to the Middle-East, she elaborates that America’s past mistakes have grossly restrained their persuasive powers with allies, and especially with international audiences.

The will of the people

Ghattas continues to explain: ”Obama is in-tune with the desire of the American people, of which the majority (may it be democrats, republicans and independents) are diametrically opposed to an intervention. The lack of transparency during the Iraq war prompted people to evaluate the agenda, and hoped outcome from Syria. The consensus? That the outcome was both unclear, and very unlikely to bring any good… In London on September 9th, Kerry makes a statement in a press conference presenting the impossibility of Syria giving up their chemical weapons, to avoid an attack. Sergei Lavrov hears this, calls him and sees the statement as a proposal and a way out of military strikes.”

Ghattas and her coworkers were told that Kerry’s statement had been “off-the cuff” and didn’t represent any chance in policy. Obama could still execute a strike without the approval of congress or the American people. “Instead, on September 11th he delays the congressional vote and works with Russia towards sending inspectors to destroy the chemical weapons. It relieved space for ideas, negotiations and stances to develop. The stereotypical image of the hyper powerful America has greatly subsided mainly because of such approaches attributed to Obama’s personality. In the past, media outlets have largely contributed to shaping the image of a highly strategized American foreign policy but happenstances and fallibility shape progressions as well”.  NAH