A dozen years after 9/11, Barack Obama’s address on Syria provided a sobering insight into US strategic hesitancy. It underlined the extent to which prevarication and weakness have become the hallmarks of the president’s administration in dealing with the challenges of jihadist extremism and global terrorism.
As a reluctant belligerent, he has clutched, understandably, at Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. He has used this to delay the congressional vote on a retaliatory strike against the Assad regime. No one can reasonably criticize Obama for that: a diplomatic way out would be better than military action. But what he could not disguise is the extent to which Syria, like so many current security and strategic issues, is bedeviled by Obama’s penchant for leading from behind.
His case for a retaliatory military strike against Syria is well made. It was indeed the “worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century.” But the case against Bashar al-Assad has been compelling for two years (long before the Syrian rebels were infiltrated by al-Qaida-linked militants). In that time, 100,000 Syrians have been slaughtered. Yet Washington has allowed itself to be outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now Obama is beholden to Mr. Putin to get him off the hook.
Apart from giving the orders that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama has failed to provide the firm leadership the post-9/11 world needs. During his re-election campaign, Obama pronounced al-Qaida “decimated” and “on the path to defeat.” …
Obama has sometimes bordered on apologetic about America’s global role, sending all the wrong signals to the likes of Iran and North Korea. No wonder governments from Riyadh to Seoul are worried about their reliance on the US. There should be no shame in wisely asserting American power. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi rapidly surrendered his WMDs when he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein.
Military force must always be a last option, but we need more decisive leadership from Washington. Former president George W. Bush had to work assiduously to muster backing from allies and instill fear into enemies after 9/11. Yet, in deriding the legitimacy and success of the US in Iraq, Obama increased his challenges on Syria.