Sadly, that sounds like the way it is, and America's credibility as global leader is at stake. The special relationship with Britain has been damaged and our international friends don't trust us. Eliot Cohen, a former counselor to the State Department, even suggests that Assad used chemical warfare on his own people as a macabre moral test of those countries of the free world that take pride in their morally superior judgment, needing no American leadership.
"One has to suspect that the Syrian government deliberately used sarin in the Damascus suburbs while United Nations inspectors were in the capital and on the eve of the anniversary of Mr. Obama's red line statement," he writes in The Wall Street Journal. It was the message of a dictator imposing his will and showing his people that "no one cares about your suffering, and no one will do anything to rescue you." Hitler couldn't have implied it better.
Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008, is now the senator with military credentials who stiffens the spine of the president, pleading with him to leave the comfort of leading from behind and lead from the front. His counsel, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is not unconditional. He demands something stronger than a shot across the bow. After meeting with the president, the two senators expressed reservations with possibilities. "We still have significant concerns," McCain said, "but we believe there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar Assad." There's a verbal symmetry in "upgrade" and "degrade," but can we believe Obama will actually act on them? Will he change the momentum?
Henry Kissinger insisted that statesmanship requires the ability to grasp the essential in a mass of "apparent facts," and ponder with the intuition to draw out the most plausible scenario for success. That's difficult for the best of strategic thinkers, and it's particularly elusive for a president with no taste for rising above the rhetoric of foreign policy. We can't undo his delay and dithering, but we can hope he can find the courage to play the chess game. Will it be check or checkmate?