The American people served their president with a weak hand, let his opponents in on the fact that he had no aces, no kings, and no negotiating power, then complained that he let the Russians win at the poker table.
When the bulk of the bi-partisan Congress and the majority of the American people expressed their loud opinion (and it was quite deafening) against the use of military force in Syria, Obama was stripped of the only support he hoped to have in his efforts to stop Assad’s mad dash toward further use of chemical weapons. The president understood that employing military force following a ‘No’ vote by Congress would be a significant political setback.
Obama was not the only one to come to this conclusion. Everyone with IQ above room temperature (as measured in Fahrenheit), including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could see that the gunman (the president in this case) was running out of bullets. Congress and the American people weakened America’s negotiating power, intimidating power, and enforcement power. The American nation did not want to use military force and Obama could not ignore it.
Although the threat of using military force had never been removed from the table, it lost a great deal of credibility in the eyes of the president’s adversaries. The probability of employing military force to punish Assad and deter his future use of chemical weapons spiraled down and crashed like Wall Street in the wake of the 2008 Lehman Brothers’ collapse.
This is why the American-Russian agreement looks, on the surface, like a positive outcome for the American administration. It was the best possible aftereffect given the empty hand Obama had been dealt with by the American people and their representatives. The only problem—in all probability, the actual implementation of the agreement’s details may not be adhered to by the Assad regime.
The Syrians may not cooperate, deceive the UN inspectors and everybody else; the Russians will continue to protect Assad and veto any UNSC proposition calling for the use of force; and the Americans will complain but will be stonewalled by the process they had signed on to, which called for the UNSC to resolve any violation committed by the Assad regime. What’s more, the American people, will again, voice their rejection of enforcing the disposal of Assad’s chemical weapons by resorting to the military threat.
The other bigger problem is Iran. The Ayatollah and his newly elected president have been watching the Syrian development. They have witnessed the American president’s lack of bold leadership as he shifted critical decisions to an uncooperative Congress; they have seen the war-fatigued American public’s rejection of a military strike on another Muslim country; they believe they are watching a light turning green on the road to their nuclear ambitions.
Israeli leaders have also concluded that the American president may rerun the unacceptable Syrian scenario when it comes to the Iranian nuclear situation. Recent comments by Israeli officials stating an old idiom: “If I am not for me, who will be?” have clearly signaled that when it comes to Israel’s security, the Jewish state will not trust anyone else but itself to watch over and safeguard its existence. In other words, Israeli officials have made it clear that Israel would take it upon itself to launch a preemptive strike against Iran without waiting for a US initiative or even a mere nod when the Ayatollah crosses the nuclear red line.
I believe that President Obama erred when he asked a reluctant Congress to back him up. He did not have to travel that route. He should have been bolder and demonstrate to the Iranians and to the Syrians that his word should be taken seriously. Consequently, thanks to the American Congress and their voters, he found himself negotiating with the Russians from a point of weakness. Still, he was able to come out of the negotiations with a meaningful result—on paper. But in the Middle East, and in Syria or in Iran in particular, the same paper would probably end up being flushed down the toilet as soon as it becomes clear that the same agreement and the same Congress practically nullify the use of force as punishment and deterrent when it comes to Muslim nations’ noncompliance concerning their development and use of WMD.
America’s holding off punishing Assad in the short term may very well give rise to a catastrophic war with Iran down the road.