President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authority to attack Syria for alleged chemical weapons use has dismayed friends, delighted foes and prompted criticism that he’s undermined U.S. credibility.
In Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad learned the tactics of brute force from his father, Hafez, state-controlled media hailed the start of a “historic American retreat.”
Syrian deputy foreign minister Fayssal Mekdad told reporters in Damascus yesterday that, “The hesitation and the disappointment is so obvious in the words of President Obama yesterday. The confusion was clear, as well.”
“The regime people are taking great comfort from this,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University in Norman, Oklahoma. “They see it as a sign of Obama’s weakness, that he doesn’t really want to hurt them or get involved.”
In 1982, the elder Assad killed as many as 30,000 people in the city of Hama to squelch a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. His brutality gave rise to a Syrian joke about the Angel of Death bringing judgment to Hafez al-Assad, only to have Syria’s secret police return him to God battered, bruised and empty-handed.
Now one possible immediate, unintended consequence of Obama’s move to Congress is that Assad “retaliates with an even more brutal crackdown in civilian areas where the opposition is operating,” said Sean Kay, director of the international relations program at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. “The red line has been chemical weapons; he might see that as a green light for conventional weapons.”