The front cover of this week’s The Economist bears a photograph of Syrian president Bashar Assad and carries the headline “Hit him hard”. Its leading article asserts: “…before the missiles are fired, Mr Obama must give Mr Assad one last chance: a clear ultimatum to hand over his chemical weapons…. If Assad refuses, he should be shown as little mercy as he has shown to the people he claims to govern.”
Nevertheless, the current proposal to try to resolve the crisis through diplomatic channels is an unexpected turn of events, which has resulted, if we are honest with ourselves, from President Obama’s inability to persuade his allies and people back home that military action was an acceptable option at this stage.
Who would have thought that Vladimir Putin would be the one to provide a ladder to enable Mr Obama to step down from the tree he climbed in August 2012? Back then he declared: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized…. That would change my calculus.”
However, it is Russia, Iran and Syria who are calling the shots today and not Obama’s calculus.
His indecisiveness over the past weeks has led some to question his leadership. The word “barack” in Hebrew means “gleam” or “shine”. A leading article in today’s Israeli internet newspaper Y-net suggests that Barack Obama has lost his shine. Even his most ardent supporters for the presidency oppose his plan to take military action against Syria. And so what began with a bang is ending in TS Eliot’s words – at least for the time being – with a whimper. (Incidentally, the words appear at the end of his poem “The Hollow Men”.)
We in Israel wonder what this is likely to portend in terms of the other red line that Mr Obama drew, namely, ensuring that Iran does not become a nuclear power. President Hassan Rouhani was quick to understand the implications of the West’s reluctance to take military action against Syria when he declared this week: “(Iran) won’t relinquish even a grain (of its right to become a nuclear power).”