Americans are not keen to get involved in further Middle Eastern unrest.AP
I had a special teacher in seventh form history, a guy everyone called Fudge, one of those teachers who didn't so much teach classes, but lessons. I remember a rainy fifth period in a Christchurch winter. A class arriving in singles and pairs. No one would've been particularly rushed (least of all Fudge) but as we walked through the door he was sitting waiting. To each of us, he gave a highlighter pen.
We began doing essays or something equally tedious until halfway through the class.
"Has everyone got their highlighter?" Fudge asked.
Apparently, everyone did not.
There was the shy blonde girl in the pretty-girl group who said she hadn't got one when she came through the door. There was the girl who had turned up halfway through from an oboe rehearsal, flustered and pink in the cheeks. And then there was Aaron.
Compared to the oboist and most of seventh form history, Aaron was a bit loose. He wasn't exactly Pythagoras in the bookwork department or particularly interested in being at school, except maybe to swear at teachers, throw the odd fist and lope around with his belt round his knees.
But I'll tell you what, that Aaron was a cunning little sod.
"Should I give them a pen?" said Fudge to the class. No one bothered to oppose.
"Those highlighters ..." he said with a smug grin, "are weapons of mass destruction. They're power for whoever holds them. Your job, by class end, is to negotiate for them all to be handed in."
Of course, confusion and chaos ensued: no one except Fudge had counted the pens.
The oboist definitely had only one highlighter - we'd seen it handed over. But what about sneaky Aaron? Were we really to take him on his word? It was an impossible task for seventh form history.
I remember the bell ringing at the end of fifth period. The boring girls had agreed to hand their singular pens in. I, staunchly, had not. Aaron stood up and withdrew a half dozen highlighters from his bag that Fudge had given him before class.
I thought of Fudge's lesson on Wednesday as President Obama spoke live to the world. He was preparing to delay Congress' vote on intervention in Syria, to consider the possibility of seizing the regime's chemical weapons.
Such an agreement might save a missile strike. It might save the President a little bit of face. It won't save any more Syrians, though. And it won't stop Assad from storing gas.