During a visit to Sweden, President Barack Obama made the case for military intervention in Syria. | Frank Augstein~AP Photo
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:59PM
President Barack Obama is in a tough place.
Nobody knows that better than the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
On Wednesday, Obama was in Stockholm trying to show some diplomacy in the wake of threats to retaliate against the Assad administration for its alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
And Jackson was in Great Britain speaking at a tribute to Operation Black Vote, an organization that advocates for racial justice in the United Kingdom.
“We are in tribute to Operation Black Vote, which is directed by a very dedicated team to promote, and in particular, to persuade blacks to engage in the political process,” noted John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, in a brief telephone conversation.
It was a sheer coincidence that Jackson had the ear of Bercow one week after the British Parliament failed to give the government the green light on taking military action against Syria for President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
But I have no doubt Jackson used the opportunity to push for the president’s decision to use military force against Syria even though he has been virtually shut out of the inner workings of the Obama administration.
“The president can’t be guilty until proven guilty in this. We have to back him up,” Jackson told me.
In 2006, I traveled to the Middle East with a delegation Jackson put together to seek the release of two Israeli soldiers whose abduction had sparked a 34-day war that left sections of Beirut in rubble.
After 10 days of traveling back and forth between Syria, Beirut, Jordan and Lebanon, Jackson returned to the U.S. without accomplishing his goal.
It was a rare defeat.
At that point, Jackson had successfully negotiated a string of releases, including dealing with Syrian President Hafez Assad for the release of U.S. Navy Pilot Robert O. Goodman Jr. in 1983, and with Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia to gain the release of three U.S. soldiers.
So while some may dismiss Jackson as a meddler for jumping into an international crisis, you can’t discount his ability to break a deadlock.
I asked him what he thought about the course Obama is taking with Syria.
After all, seven years ago, Jackson had a private audience with Bashar Assad at “The People’s Palace,” a massive marble-wall structure surrounded by pristine gardens.
Now, Assad is being accused of using chemical weapons against his own people, crossing a line in the sand drawn by Obama.
“It is an incredibly difficult issue for the president. Even those who have doubts don’t want to leave him hanging on a limb,” Jackson said.
“Britons like Americans are war weary. They felt they were misled about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.”
Obama opposed the Iraq war, as did many African Americans. Now the president has to convince the Congress and the American people that Syria is not Iraq or Afghanistan.
“It was a very wise thing for him to go to Congress to debate this issue so he is not by himself,” Jackson pointed out.
But he also urged Obama not to give up on the United Nations or on diplomacy.
“When the U.N. agrees with us, it is relevant. But when we don’t want to use it, we tend to dismiss it,” he said.
As Obama has noted, the Syria crisis is a test for the international community. But it is also a test of this president’s leadership.
We can’t get so weary that we turn a blind eye when mad men slaughter civilians, women and children. If there were ever a reason for the U.S. to use military force, the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria would be it.
But Jackson also points out that because of the fighting, 2 million Syrian refugees are on the move and 7 million have already been displaced.
“We are focused on losing the 1,300 [people estimated to be killed by the chemical attack], when we could lose a million more,” he said.
“What I would hope would happen in the interval while the president is putting pressure on the international community, is that an aggressive diplomatic effort gets under way that tries to avert this. No rock should be left unturned.”
“I’m going to be speaking to members of [British] parliament while I’m here,” he said.