I was a fly on the wall in Assad’s office

If I were in Bashar al-Assad's office as Obama's speech at the White House was televised around the world, I think I would hear the following.

If I were a fly on the wall in President Bashar al-Assad’s office as Barack Obama’s speech at the White House is televised around the world, I guess I would be listening to the following:
Assad: What’s going on? We’ve been looking at the podium for the past 30 minutes, and nothing’s happened.
Aide: Maybe he has been speaking and we just didn’t notice? (Laughter)
Assad: Here they come. Let’s see what he has to say.
Aide: More grey hair. The man looks exhausted.
Another aide: Who’s the man next to him? He’s pulling funny faces.
Wael Nader al-Halqi, prime minister of Syria: You moron. That’s Joe Biden, his vicepresident, also a Mossad agent.
Assad: Shut up, all of you. Let me hear.
Silence. Obama speaks.
Assad: What? Did you hear what he just said? He is not waiting for the report of the UN inspectors!
Omran Ahed Zoabi, the Syrian minister of information: This is unfair! After all the work we put into ensuring the success of their visit! (Laughter) More silence. Obama carries on talking.
General Ali Abdullah Ayub, the Syrian army chief of staff: That’s it! He just said it! They are going to attack. I’m going to alert my troops.
Aide: Your troops, or the rebel troops?
A fistfight starts.
Furniture is overturned.
Assad: Stop at once! (His cellphone rings) Yes, Asma. No, not now. Obama is talking about us right now. No, Asma, later. What? My credit card? Another auction? Not the Christian Louboutin shoes again! For God’s sake, you have more shoes than Imelda Marcos. But I have to go now.
Obama is still talking.
General Ayub: I know what we can do to stop them. Let’s put human shields around the targets.
Halqi: Good idea. Saddam was good at that.
Assad: Maybe I’ll put some of you around the targets. (Silence) Relax, gentlemen, it was a joke. (Relieved laughter)
Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister: What hypocrisy! (Jeers while repeating Obama’s phrases) To hold us accountable! When your father, may his soul rest in peace, bombarded those Shia bastards in Hama in 1982 and buried them alive, nobody said a word.
General Ayub (whispering): But the father killed only 30,000, while the son . . .
Assad: I heard that! Besides, Ayub, it’s all your fault. You shouldn’t have used the chemicals.
General Ayub: But Mr President, you yourself ordered me to!
Assad: I remember exactly what I said. I told you to be “nice to them”.
General Ayub: And I heard “gas them”. Maybe the line wasn’t so good.
Zoabi: By the way, I found out that we can kill as many of our own people as we want. The world doesn’t care, as long as we don’t gas them.
Assad: Indeed. Anyway, Ayub, what are your plans in case they strike?
General Ayub: I was thinking about attacking Israel immediately.
Assad: Hmmm. Not such a good idea. Yom Kippur is what, two weeks from now? Last time my father attacked them on Yom Kippur, they were almost on the outskirts of Damascus within a few days. We need to think about something else, otherwise we are lost.
Zoabi: Wait, listen to this! He is taking it to the Congress! Great commotion. Loud cheers. Cries of “Hallelujah” and of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”).
Halqi: We are saved! Obama talks about the need for debate and popular support.
Assad: This is exactly why I love democracy.
Moallem: It’s obvious. He doesn’t want to do it. He saw his buddy Cameron defeated in the British parliament and hopes that Congress will do the same to him.
Assad: I knew I could trust the Brits. They are not as squeamish as the Americans. They know when to leave us Middle Easterners alone so we can do our own thing. But have Argentina take from them a godforsaken island with some sheep in the Atlantic, and they will send their whole fleet across the ocean.
Telephone rings.
Aide: It’s President Putin, sir. He wants to congratulate you.
Assad: Mr President, thank you so much. Yes, of course I watched it. You were absolutely right. I know. The world has changed. No, not one superpower any more. How true. Thank you, and God bless you. But Mr President, before you go, just one more thing. The villa you reserved for me and my family? Is it still available?
Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem. He was the spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments of Israel from 1992 to 1996 
US President Barack Obama on a recent trip to Europe to discuss the Syrian conflict. Image: Getty

This article first appeared in the 09 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.