If Barack Obama and his team have succeeded in doing anything on Syria, it’s in making a ketch-up. Follow the president’s statements since he first made the threat to punish the Syrian regime if it crossed the red line on chemical weapons, until his remarks at a meeting with Democrats and Republicans yesterday in which he expressed his desire to choose the diplomatic option, and what we can say with certainty is that this is a president who is confused, uncertain, wobbly and timid on Syria. There is no wonder that the president’s latest decision has caused huge disappointment among Arabs and Syrians who have been expecting the president to take a firm step and punish Bashar Al Assad for crossing not just the red line on chemical weapons, but all lines on everything else.
Obama asked the Senate to delay a vote to authorize the use of force against Bashar Assad’s regime and instead focused his efforts on a diplomatic solution, by choosing to work on a proposal by Damascus to place its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision. The president has been sending conflicting signals and shifting goalposts in the past few days, and has dithered at every step.
There is nothing wrong with exploring a diplomatic solution, but in the current situation, it’s highly unlikely that it will work. The surrender of chemical weapons is a ploy set by Russia and Syria which Obama has bought. Putin and Assad have never listened to the West on ending the war, and had spurned their proposal. Assad had used previous diplomatic proposals to sabotage international intervention and buy time. Moscow and Damascus are unlikely to agree to western terms on handing over the chemical weapons, and when the West gets frustrated, the options before them to punish Assad for gassing his people will further narrow down. Russia will veto any meaningful punishment against Assad if it’s done through the UN Security Council.
Obviously, his decision has been influenced by the public opposition to action against Syria. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans are emphatically opposed to a military strike on Syria, even though most think Assad’s forces probably used chemical weapons against civilians.
Arab countries have been hugely disappointed by the latest developments. A Gulf official said the new plan would not help end the bloodshed in Syria. The Syrian rebels have warned that the Russian proposal would fail and lead to more death and destruction of Syrian people. Assad will feel emboldened, and even if he doesn’t use chemical weapons again on his people, he will kill in larger numbers and not rest until every opponent is decimated.
The West will continue to fiddle•