America’s prestige and power abroad have been considerably weakened by President Obama’s amateurish handling of the Syrian affair. It remains to be seen whether American troops or citizens will end up paying a price for the president’s weak-willed waffling.
A nation’s prestige — its seriousness in world affairs and its believability — are more than just esoteric matters. A country that engages others in the world arena from a position of strength is one that rogue nations fear to challenge. A weak nation is a target.
Strong nations do not issue threats that they are unwilling to back up with force. Strong nations do not telegraph to their enemy a list of potential military targets and mewling assurances that any war will be mild and of just a few days duration. Strong nations do not worry that their bombs may cause offense among the bombed. Strong nations do not ratchet up their war rhetoric only to back down at the last minute.
Yet President Obama has done all this with Syria and so may become the first American president to have lost a war without ever having fired a shot.
It was more than a year ago that Obama drew a red line for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Obama said that the United States was not interested in intervening militarily in the Syrian civil war. But the use of chemical weapons would “change my calculus” on that matter, Obama said in August 2012.
According to statements from Secretary of State John Kerry, Assad’s government has danced all over that line. Kerry said in a news conference last week that the Syrian government on Aug. 21 attacked rebel-held territory with chemical agents. The attack killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. Samples from the area later tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.