A couple of years ago during a book-signing tour a famous athlete denied events that appeared in his “autobiography.” Referring to being misquoted in his autobiography, he said, “That was my fault. I should have read it before it came out.” I guess he wanted to get on the same page with his life. I found this line comical because his fictional autobiography had absolutely no impact on anything or anyone; it was and remains irrelevant. This is not the case when similar comedy emanates from the White House. I refer to the statements concerning Syria by the Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, and his deputy, the second most powerful politician in the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry. They are either Comedy as Tragedy or Tragedy as Comedy.
President Obama’s was immortalized on video in a speech a year ago using the term “red line” referring to Syrian use of chemical weapons as the act which Assad under no circumstances may do without facing consequences by the United States. Now, a year later, the putative Leader of the Free World attributed the “red line” reference to the position of the international community. This denial is a disingenuous, feckless and frankly scary statement if you are living in Israel as we are here in the Solomon home: Comedy as Tragedy.
Secretary of State Kerry going off script and blurting out that if the Syrians hand over their chemical arsenal all will be forgiven, and his inability to express the position of the United States government without ad-libbing and thereby creating an entirely new spin to the situation, reveal him as a tragic figure ill-suited to represent the United States in any negotiations. He is laughable as Secretary of State: Tragedy as Comedy.
Obama clearly grew comfortable with “leading from behind” and in time dropped the gerund and has left America in the flank position. The evidence that Assad’s Syria used chemical weapons against his own citizenry is beyond question after being confirmed in a leaked United Nations report. President Obama was not required to let Congress make the decision. Tossing the decision on whether to strike Assad or not over to Congress was an executive decision revealing a non-executive nature. This was not power sharing between two branches of government, it was power abdication by one. Leaders lead; those who can’t send things to committee, and the United States under Obama, more and more, resembles the European Union and the United Nations in paralysis through bureaucracy.
It appears Obama’s hope all along was to be given an excuse not to enter the fray in Syria. The sequence of events tells the story of a man whose saber-rattling covered the sound of his knees knocking. In August of 2012, when the horrors of the Syrian War were well known but the idea of chemical weapons was an almost unthinkable worst-case scenario, Obama, with full vocal resolve, declared that the use of chemical weapons would not go unpunished. Jumping ahead to August 2013, tens of thousands more were slaughtered in Syria by Assad in the interim. Only then does Assad decide to release chemical weapons on Syrian citizens to questionable benefit on the battlefield. Apparently, it was more a strategic move, a trial balloon, probably orchestrated with Iran, perhaps even with Russia, Assad’s other patron, to test the resolve of the West. To date the West has failed the mettle test.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union over two decades ago, the United States has stood alone as the world’s only superpower, an awesome responsibility. The U.S. has a larger army, arsenal, and military budget than the whole of Europe combined. What the United States lacks is leadership and purpose; an awareness of what is and what isn’t its role in the World. Since Obama came into office offering the chimerical “audacity of hope,” hope throughout the world has diminished as the world notes the inability of the U.S. to protect and defend Western values. Obama’s trips to Russia to restart the relationship, to Cairo to speak words of contrition to supposed wrongs committed by the U.S. in the region, and to Saudi Arabia to kowtow before King Abdullah show weakness.
It is one thing to show respect; it is another to humble oneself towards dishonor. By permitting Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons with Russia as its guarantor exceeds even the wildest definition of the “audacity of hope.” It is being complicit in a lie. A Lebanese daily newspaper reported that Syria has already moved 20 trucks worth of equipment and material used for the manufacturing of chemical weapons into neighboring Iraq in order to avoid detection during assessment of its stockpiles. This “shell-game” that Syria is playing with Iraq is reminiscent of the same game with the same players when Iraq shipped caravans of weapons of mass destruction to Syria in the run-up to the Second Gulf War.
Every nation wins in the Obama/Kerry comedy/tragedy except the Western nations and Israel, the very bloc whose interests the President and Secretary of State were sworn to defend. Syria has averted an attack from a U.S.-led coalition; Iran realizes the West has no resolve and will continue “negotiating” while working unchallenged towards its nuclear objectives; Russia may be the biggest winner as it is now perceived as “peace broker,” a fantastic coup for the nation which is arguably the greatest obstacle to peace in the world.
If this drama seems familiar, the play was staged some 2,500 years ago in the region. Babylon was the world’s superpower of the time and ruled by Belshazzar. While reveling and abusing treasure plundered from the Holy Temple, he saw the writing on the wall. A hand unattached to a body inscribed the king’s future on the wall with the words, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” The quote is from the Book of Daniel (5:25–28) and delivers the message, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.”
Not in a literal way, the West must read the writing on the wall and recognize the fate that awaits if atrocities are left unpunished and leaders do not lead.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com