It is no secret that the White House of President Barack Obama has been systematically cautious about any type of intervention in the Syria crisis, and when a series of chemical attacks last month shocked the world, this caution has moved into high gear.
It is also no secret that the nature of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria which has been in the works at the theoretical level for over a week, was going to be a face-saving exercise for the White House, and not a life-saving exercise for the Syrian population, who have seen at least 110,000 people killed thus far in a brutal war.
For the entirety of the two-and-a-half year crisis in Syria, the statements of condemnation coming out of Washington have featured disappointment after disappointment, with lethal consequences for many Syrians who believed that they were championing the same things that the U.S. has claimed to support.
Now, the world is being treated to the latest chapter of this sorry saga. A series of media leaks after the White House indicated that it would seek to punish the regime of President Bashar Assad helped build a huge crescendo of expectations that the U.S. would finally act. The wave of information and disinformation had a profound effect on the economies of the region and the world, in anticipation of a “zero hour” that seems to be receding further and further in the distance.
If Obama believed in the notion of obtaining congressional approval for a military strike, which is a commendable position, why didn’t he push for such a move before launching the political and psychological preparations for a strike via the media?
Perhaps he and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who sought and lost his bid for similar parliamentary approval, didn’t spend enough time coordinating their game plan? The media blitz of a few days ago, when the public suddenly received access to lists of likely military targets, has already backfired, as Syrian regime forces conducted a series of measures to offset the consequences of being attacked by moving around military command centers and shuffling around the many detainees they hold to position them as unwilling human shields.
In the final analysis, Obama has given Assad an unexpected political victory and permitted many around the world to mobilize against a military strike, for all manner of reasons. The lack of coordination with Syrian rebel leaders has already shaken up their fragile ranks as they wonder exactly what the White House is up to.
Obama is doggedly pursuing policies that continue to destroy confidence in the U.S. as a world power, and empower the kind of people he claims to oppose. Is he planning to act decisively against the ongoing horror in Syria, or is he desperately searching for a way out?
Assad is the only winner in this puzzling and disappointing episode, whether Obama meant it or not.