Introduction to a presidential disaster: In September, 2009, President Obama set a full settlement freeze in the West Bank a pre-condition to negotiations with the Palestinians bringing his priority of peace talks to a screeching halt. In August, 2012, President Obama made Assad’s use of chemical weapons a “red line” triggering military intervention. In August, 2013 Assad crossed the line in a sarin nerve gas attack that killed more than 1400 civilians, affording to Secretary Kerry. Moments before the anticipated attack the president decided he needed the consent of a Congress deeply divided and unlikely to vote in favor of Obama. And with that presidential “blink” whatever authority he and the United States still retained in the Middle East evaporated.
Not a moment for waffling, if “settlements” in September, 2009 marked the president shooting his presidency in the foot, “second thoughts” in August, 2013 was a second shot in the foot. But this time the ricochet hit him in the head, a devastating blow to what remains of his presidency. Enter John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two prominent Republicans and “hawks” regarding Syria who said they were leaning against supporting the Obama attack.
On September 3 the two Republicans left the White House suggesting they would back the president if he expanded the operation, and publicly announced a long-term strategy in Syria. The Republicans made in clear they were concerned for the credibility of the presidency and the nation.
Once Britain bowed out it was just a matter of time before President Obama would return to his customary state of irresolution and avoidance. It should surprise nobody that following five years of threatening, then retreating in face of Iranian intransigence over its nuclear program that Obama would suddenly find the courage to actually carry through on a threat. Secretary Kerry provided a compelling description of Assad’s use of Sarin nerve gas against his own civilian population. This American president entered office “committed to nuclear non-proliferation, a “people’s president.” Five years later Iran has run circles around his irresolution in acting against Iran’s nuclear weapons program (indeed, ridiculed by Iran as lacking commitment and courage to act on his purported principles). And now, finally about to take a principled stand, spending weeks publicly announcing his intention only to, at the very last moment…
And should anyone believe that the US Congress will approve attacking Syria consider that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives routinely votes against everything this president brings before it. And even in the Senate two otherwise “hawkish” Republicans,
Having changed his mind at the last moment President Obama, regardless of action taken or not in the end, has represented himself and the United States as lacking in both principles and reliability. If America was not, as I have long described, following a policy of retreat from the region and the world, by this single act has that policy been proved.
I have provided below several headlines and accompanying text describing the perception of Obama and the United States in the region, and what the “anticipated consequences” of this decision, and what it portends for continuing general American avoidance of difficult choices. What, for example, might the US do in the event of spillover of the Syrian civil war into neighboring countries? And what if Assad uses Sarin on one of those neighboring countries “allied” with the United States? And what of Obama’s “red line” regarding Iran and the atom bomb?
Each of these situations present real, perhaps likely challenges, with an unreliable American protector, what “unanticipated consequences” might result from those states locally threatened?
Below is a survey of Israeli and international press reacting to Obama’s most recent flip-flop, his failure of courage:
Kerry: US has evidence sarin gas was used in Syria
(YNET): Administration officials have said that Obama appeared set on ordering a strike until Friday evening. After a long walk around the White House grounds with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the president told his aide he had changed his mind.
Israelis disappointed by Obama decision
(YNET): Poll shows most Israelis root for US strike in Syria, some think president''s call to wait for Congress'' green light shows weakness. ''Obama looks spineless,''
(YNET) says expert.
“It seems quite clear that if the president is not able to make a decision on a limited strike as he defined it on Syria, it’s questionable if he’s going to do anything on Iran,” Inbar said.
Obama blinked first
(YNET): Analysis: What kind of message is this sending to all those al-Qaeda terrorists who are flowing into Syria or are operating in Central Asia and the Middle East? The answer is not encouraging. They are learning that the US is easy prey and that it cannot be trusted by its allies.
Even if Congress approves military action in Syria after it returns from recess, the whimpering message delivered on Saturday by Obama will resonate in Damascus, Tehran, Moscow and Beijing, and further hasten the end of the American era.
The most painful question of all is: If, heaven forbid, we in Israel were to be attacked with chemical weapons by Syria or another enemy, can we really be sure that the United States will stand by our side, or by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which have also received American pledges of eternal loyalty?
Obama unleashes horror in Jerusalem
(Times of Israel): The Israeli political and security leadership is privately horrified by President Barack Obama’s 11th-hour turnaround on striking Syria… It is worried, furthermore, at the ever-deeper perception of Obama’s America in the Middle East as weak, hesitant and confused… And it is profoundly concerned that the president has set a precedent… that may complicate, delay or even rule out credible action to thwart a challenge that dwarfs Assad’s chemical weapons capability: Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons
From the Arab media:
Syria''s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused Obama of indecision. "It is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion as well," he told reporters in Damascus.
In a front-page editorial following Mr Obama''s unexpected announcement, The Al-Thawra newspaper declared that Mr Obama''s reluctance to take military action stems from his "sense of implicit defeat and the disappearances of his allies."
"Whether the Congress lights the red or green light for an aggression, and whether the prospects of war have been enhanced or faded, President Obama has announced yesterday, by prevaricating or hinting, the start of the historic American retreat," Al-Thawra said.
The Syrian daily said the American leader worries about limited intervention turning into "an open war has pushed him to seek Congress'' consent."
Syrian Rebels: “Obama has Failed as a Leader”
(Jerusalem on-line): Syrian opposition has criticized Obama’s decision to seek the approval of Congress for an attack, saying that it would just boost Assad and strengthen his forces. A speaker for the opposition called the President’s decision a “failure to lead.”
“Obama backed down from his decision. Victory is Syria’s,” said an official cleric of the country. “Syria won the military intervention because of our leader, our people and our army. This proves once again that we must not give into anyone but Allah.”
At the end of Obama’s speech last night, Syrian political insiders ridiculed him: “Obama’s political positions mocked the U.S government and exposed their weaknesses,” stated Syrian Deputy Prime Minister, Jamil Qadri in an interview with the Lebanese media.
Arab allies of US exasperated by Western stance on Syria (JPost quoting Saudi journal): Washington “is making these costly foreign policy fumbles” and Obama’s statements “are likely to lead to disasters today, and these could engulf the entire region tomorrow.”