After threatening imminent military action against Syria just two weeks ago, President Obama's climbdown can only be described as humiliating for his presidency and for American power. The penchant for military violence and the hubris of the 'victory' in Libya in 2011 encouraged the Obama administration to arm anti-government rebels in Syria and then, after the chemical weapons' attack in August, to threaten direct military intervention. In last night's televised address to the nation, and the rest of the world, Obama climbed down from even asking a deeply sceptical US congress and public opinion for a resolution authorising so-called limited military strikes on Syria.
Unusually kindly, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told CNN on Tuesday."There's a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of."
There are a number of questions that are raised by the remarks President Obama made on TV last night:
Why didn't the US come up with a diplomatic alternative to its belligerent and threatening posture over Syria's chemical weapons? If Russia could come up with an alternative, why did the US follow a single-track policy of threatening military violence and bloodshed?
When speaking of the terrible character of chemical weapons and citing WWI and WWII deployments of them, why did Obama omit mention of America's usage of chemical and even atomic weapons in past conflicts - in Korea, Vietnam, and in both Gulf wars, and over Japan in the case of the A-bomb?
In demanding Syria 'hand-over' its chemical weapons, and throw open its chemical warfare facilities to international supervision, why doesn't America also agree to do exactly the same in regard to its own such arsenals? After all, the US is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, while Syria is not.
And if Obama is permitting genuine diplomacy a chance peacefully to resolve the matter, why are US military forces still adopting an aggressive posture in the Syria region? This is especially an issue given that Obama admitted that Syria represents no "direct or imminent threat to our security".
Yet, he retreated to the usual language of American power double-speak when he noted: "Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at
stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to
ensure that the worst weapons will never be used."
Diplomacy might have edged out, for now, American bombing of Syria. Yet, it would be foolish to ignore the words of secretary of state, John Kerry, at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, when he stated that "nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a
President Obama may on one hand appear to accept that the US should not attempt to be the world's policeman, but his overall posture is that the United States has the right and moral duty to act as the world's self-appointed militarised conscience because America's exceptional, different and, basically superior.
And forgetful, even on recent history. Obama's memory of the past few years is that he's been, for "four-and-a-half years working to end wars, not to start them."