As leaders from eight of the most powerful countries in the world gather at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, there are many topics for them to discuss. Some traditional and highly important topics are certain to be discussed, including food and nutrition, poverty, and other major topics of human rights and well-being. British Prime Minister David Cameron has laid out his own agenda for the summit, which seeks to foster greater trade, compliance, and transparency among the parties.
However, when President Obama delivers his keynote address, the focal point should be the ongoing conflict in Syria. The opportunity is perfect, and must be seized.
First, Vladimir Putin and President Obama have already had one meeting during this summit to discuss the civil war. This is in light of Putin’s now apparent isolation among the participants in the G8 Summit as the only supporter of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Now that the United States has authorized direct military support to Syrian rebels, the lines are clearer than ever between Putin and Obama. In spite of the mutual interests expressed by Obama and Putin to address Syria through peaceful negotiations, the reality of the situation appears to be far from a consensus.
Secondly, even if Putin’s support were removed entirely from the equation, escalation is clearly taking place in the Middle East. President Obama is hearing some calls to implement a no-fly zone over Syria. At the same time, Iran is reported to be sending 4,000 Revolutionary Guard soldiers to aid Assad’s defense, raising further concerns for neighboring nations that are worried about possible spillovers into their countries. As if that isn’t enough, concerns are increasing that extremist groups may be establishing a solid foothold in the country, as Hezbollah made an appearance, and against the wishes of Hamas.
Finally, what better place to make a speech urging for peace in a land filled with internal strife than Northern Ireland? The President alluded to this when he spoke to a crowd in Belfast. The President should utilize the continued peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after decades of violence.
With all of this information in mind, the President needs to take advantage of his opportunity. He can paint a clear position of the United States with respect to Syria, while also taking the opportunity to lay out the way forward from here in light of certain conflicting viewpoints. He can also point out the importance of a resolution in Syria, or the world can face the possibility of jihadist intervention and a government left in a constant state of flux. Finally, he can capitalize on the historical context of the location of the summit, and use it as the ideal face of the future for Syria.
While the intention for the G8 Summit may not have been to discuss Syria, President Obama needs to capitalize on his opportunity as the keynote speaker to bring this issue to the front at this meeting of world leaders.