The attack on Syria is likely to be delayed if Barack Obama waits for David Cameron to bring around a sceptical House of Commons, including 70 of his own MPs, on a vote after the UN inspectors present their findings. But the question is can the US President afford to wait without losing credibility?
Waiting for the UN report may take much longer it has been assumed and in any event the inspectors will not apportion blame. There is also the added complication of the G20 summit next Tuesday when Mr Obama will come under tremendous pressure to desist from military action altogether.
Launching the Tomahawks now will be based on intelligence and here, of course, we have echoes of Iraq. I was among a small group of journalists in Baghdad when the inspectors were trying to find Saddam’s supposed WMD arsenal. They were forced to pull out just before the invasion.
At the time anyone who questioned the official view from Washington and London faced virulent criticism. When a group of us journalists visited supposed sites named in the now famous “Dodgy Dossier” as housing chemical and biological agents, we were described by Downing Street officials as “naïve dupes”. We reported that we had seen nothing overtly suspicious, stressing that not having scientific knowledge, ours was a superficial judgement. Nevertheless, our newspapers were apparently printing the Iraqi regime’s propaganda, according to No 10.
There is, however, a strong possibility that Assad’s forces did carry out the Ghouta massacre and delaying the attack will mean the regime will give them the opportunity to move chemical stockpiles. Imagine how embarrassing it would be for Mr Cameron, after all his sabre rattling, if Mr Obama decide to go ahead without the UK with, heaven forbid, the French joining in.