Weak On Syria, Weak In The World

I am sure they are breathing a sigh of relief – if not celebrating – in Damascus, Tehran and Moscow.

By that I mean that it looks like, at least for the short term, that President Assad has gotten away with using chemical weapons on his civilian population.

The President’s announcement that notwithstanding Secretary Kerry’s speech on Friday, he was deferring military action until Congress gives authorization strikes me as far more a political speech designed to get him off the hook than it does principled policy making.

Put another way, the President made it clear a year ago that there was a red line that the Syrians should not cross. All evidence suggests that they have surely crossed it and instead of striking, the President lectures the American people, and indeed the world, on American democracy.

Indeed, just this morning, a Syrian state state-run newspaper called Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval before taking military action “the start of the historic American retreat.” It doesn’t get clearer than that.

This is not a president who shies away from using his executive power. He has altered ObamaCare, pushed his gun control agenda to strengthen national background checks, delayed the deportation of illegal immigrants when Congress wouldn’t agree amongst many other examples. But he has now suddenly decided that before he takes action, action that is within his purview, he is going to seek Congressional approval that is almost impossible to predict as to whether it will be granted or not.

If Obama really wanted to go ahead he would have brought congress back into session immediately and not waited more than 10 days thereby giving the Syrians time to plan for an attack – should one ultimately come. And even then, Obama has made it clear any such attack will be limited in nature and scope and will not involve regime change.

It follows that the message Obama’s speech yesterday sends is a muddled one at best.

It said to the mullahs in Iran and their Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that they can continue to pursue their nuclear program by enriching uranium and refining plutonium without having to fear that they will be precipitously attacked by the US.

And to Russia’s President Putin, who has been an unbendable ally of Assad, providing him with arms and anti-aircraft weaponry, Obama has shown that the balance of power in the Middle East has almost certainly shifted away from the US. This is all the more alarming as Putin said just yesterday that the idea that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons is “absolute nonsense.”

What’s more, with a totally incoherent American policy on Egypt wherein it is unclear who and what we support, the US’s approach to the Syria further paints a bleak picture of American power and potency. Indeed, with our only real achievement in the region being the recent appearance of convincing the Arabs and Israelis to come to the peace table, an image of American uncertainty is radiating across the globe.

And although this would be a serious accomplishment if progress is made, our inaction on Syria signals to Israel, one of our strongest allies, that we are not willing to stick our neck out for them, their safety and way of life.

To our allies around the world who have said that if we do not stand firm we will send the wrong message to the Syrians, Obama offered not much of a response other than to tell them, in so many words, that they may well have to go it alone.

The US has not been sending clear messages. And though it may be apparent to me that the President’s move was calculated to force responsibility on a reluctant Congress and to play to 80% of the American people who have said in polls that they are against intervention in Syria, that does not mean that the US is offering anything but a confused image of our mission in the world to both our allies and foes.

Thus, in the short term the President may have managed to escape from the political quandary he faces. But in the longer term, America looks weaker, feckless and more uncertain.

President Obama has, if nothing else, compounded the view of a weak leader heading an unsure nation. This is an image we can ill afford to project.

And, more to the point, the President’s speech showed that we are now a nation so far from the one Madeleine Albright described as indispensable that it is altogether difficult to recognize both our mission and our national ethos.

Read more at Forbes.com