When, on September 10, President Barack Obama finally addressed the US about his Syria policy, he said that President Bashar al-Assad shared the infamy of Ypres and Auschwitz for having unleashed his chemical weapons — only to remind them that if a diplomatic deal could be found with Assad through Russia's good offices, America would forgo military action. Can someone be as bad as Hitler and be worthy of a negotiated diplomatic solution that America will support? Can the President of the United States be Churchill and Chamberlain at the same time?
President Hamlet (Credit: Michael Daley)
Obama did not find it contradictory to quote Franklin Roosevelt to justify intervention in a faraway war but then play Charles Lindbergh to reassure Americans that there would be no boots on the ground, no open-ended American engagement and no regime change. Although the crime is heinous, Syria's civil war is not America's business. He also saw no incongruity in his latest delay. America tried diplomacy in vain for more than two years, said Obama. It failed largely because of Russian obstructionism. Yet he still thinks that a Russian diplomatic proposal deserves a chance.
Until a week before, Russia was adamant that there was insufficient evidence of a chemical weapons attack. Even if that evidence were to emerge, Russia insisted it did not prove the Syrian regime was responsible for it. Assad, meanwhile, was still denying it had a chemical arsenal.
Now, he has suddenly remembered he does have one — and Russia is ready to guarantee it will be placed under international control, although still blocking any UN Security Council resolution on the subject.
Obama might as well have said, "The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, That I ever was born to set it right," since it is hard, at this point, to escape the conclusion that he is playing Hamlet in the White House.
First, he told the world that "Assad must go." Then he told the world the use of chemical weapons constituted a red line for his Administration. Then he told the world that the extensive use of chemical weapons, with mass casualties involved, would trigger an American response. When chemical weapons were extensively used, he finally announced that he was going to launch a strike. But then he told the world he had the authority to strike but was going to seek authority from Congress to do so. Though the warships were steaming off and the missiles were loaded, he called the whole thing off and let Congress decide instead.