Outrage over the apparent chemical annihilation of entire Syrian communities—including massive numbers of children—reached a tipping point on Thursday when images of the horror were broadcast and published throughout the world.
While most countries offered sympathy coupled their usual condemnations – including the United States -- the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for the use of force against the alleged perpetrator, Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. His goal is to retain power at all costs, even if it means wiping out entire villages in Syria’s ongoing civil war.
France’s throaty rhetoric fell on deaf ears. Due to Russian dissent, the U.N. Security Council failed to pass a resolution condemning the attacks. Instead, they called for an investigation, although the inquiry does not have the mandate to actually determine if Assad was responsible for the genocide.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration was largely silent over yet another “redline” incursion, ignoring calls from Sen. John McCain to adopt a more hawkish stance. Instead, the United States is expected to continue its policy of providing non-lethal assistance to a ragtag alliance of rebels that is now apparently at the mercy of a man who is willing to use weapons of mass destruction on his own people.
Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for non-proliferation Stimson Center's Middle East program, said she believes the United States' ultimate response to the attack depends on its origin and its scale.
“Much is going to depend on whether greater clarity can be brought on these attacks,” Yacoubian said. “Can there be confirmation that an attack took place? It certainly appears that way. Confirmation is going to be tough to get facts because facts are hard to come by on the ground, and scale is important,” meaning whether the dead numbers in the hundreds or thousands.
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he believes the source or scale of the attack make no difference. He said that President Obama has simply abandoned Syria and the rest of the Middle East.
“The administration has not yet to articulate a strategy in Syria. What is the priority? What is our national interest? If you can tell me, that’s be great, cause I don’t know,” he said. “It hasn’t articulated how Syria fits in the regional policy, and it’s anyone’s guess what that regional policy is.”
Badran added that the lack of follow through on steps to stop Assad also makes the United States look weak.
“Assad thinks the word of the United States is meaningless. He can deploy whatever weapon he wants and the United States will convene the Security Council, which is pointless because Russia will upset it every time,” he said.
“Obama has been more concerned about staying out than articulating what’s important. If you declared that the Assad regime has to go, which is a strategic priority, you have to develop a possibility that follows though on that,” he added.
Badran said Washington’s failure to act on Syria, as well as its inability to shape events in Egypt, sends the wrong message to the real problem in the Middle East: Iran.
“What does this mean for the deterrence policy of the United States for others in the region, mainly Iran?” he asked. “The fact that he did declare it, watch it get crossed and did absolutely nothing is abhorrent for a superpower.”
But it’s not just the Middle East where the United States has failed to follow through on threats. Consider these other incidents:
- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un defied the United States and its allies by continuing to test its missile program whilethreatening the West with nuclear annihilation.
- Despite U.S. protests, Afghan President Harmid Karzai is now backing a former terrorist as the next leader of the country.
- Moscow ignored harsh U.S. rhetoric over Edward Snowden and granted the NSA leaker asylum in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it his job to be a professional thorn in Barack Obama’s side on nearly every important international issue.
- Violence in Iraq continues unabated despite U.S. pleas to stop.
The lack of bite behind U.S. threats might simply be a byproduct of Obama’s withdrawal from the world stage. And the U.S. public has tired of overseas military adventures.
But the failure of rivals to even acknowledge a U.S. request is troubling. Simply put, American, which caused nations to tremble during the Cold War, can bark but has no bite.