The American build-up to a military assault on Syria, followed by the decision not to attack, and President Barack Obama's conduct toward Iran were all the subject of extensive coverage in the Arab-language media, with the dominant tone set by highly cynical cartoons and caricatures.
In the Lebanese daily A-Nahar, the president is shown in the form of a balloon hovering above a thorny, rough surface under the headline: "Obama's threats on Damascus -- a balloon filled with air."
The president also bore the brunt of criticism from senior commentators in Arab-language media outlets, including popular satellite television networks like Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, whose analysts would often express anger and frustration at the manner in which Obama views the goings on in the Middle East.
During one particular discussion that aired on one of Al-Jazeera's popular current events talk shows "The Opposite Direction," a heated argument erupted.
"The manner in which Obama is conducting himself with regards to the red line that he drew and then later went back on just goes to show the extent to which we are dealing with an American president who is incapable and ill-equipped to deal with events that necessitate brave decision-making," said one panelist.
"Obama needs to internalize the fact that what he learned about the Middle East in the classrooms and lecture halls of the prestigious universities of the United States is apparently only good for theory and simulation games."
Even the editorials and opinion pieces of some of the most widely read columnists in Arab-language newspapers portrayed Obama and the world's largest superpower as entities that are doing all they can to distance themselves from the Middle East morass.
An editorial in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, which was printed after Obama made the decision to seek Congressional approval for an attack on Syria, read: "In August 2012, Obama characterized the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime as a red line that Washington would not allow to be crossed, yet a year later the Assad regime is unfazed by the warnings from Washington and the Syrian army is making use of chemical weapons. What is the message that can be gleaned from this failed American policy orchestrated by President Obama as it relates to the civil war in Syria? Bashar Assad can continue to butcher his people, just not with chemical weapons."
Even the Syrian media made sure to gloat over Washington's inconsistent policy as it relates to its aborted attack on the country, a development that the Damascus regime considers a victory attained by Syrian determination in the face of U.S. hedonism. In the background of these reports, Syrian television made sure to flash images of the hysteria in Israel, where citizens were anxiously lining up to receive gas masks: "While citizens in Damascus enjoy themselves, take strolls in the public parks, and fill up the local coffee shops and shopping malls, panic and the distribution of gas masks has gripped Israel, and the U.S. citizens are wondering why they need to be drawn into another Middle East war that has nothing to do with them."
One of the most popular political satire programs in the Arab world is a show aired on the Lebanese satellite station LBC. The show, which is similar to the Israeli hit "Hartzufim," uses doll figures to spoof politicians. In one particular episode, a figure representing Obama is mocked when he is certain that he has the backing of a coalition that comprises the British, other European countries, and the members of the U.N. Security Council.
The Obama doll figure, who is seen brimming with self-confidence, rings up the Syrian president. "The U.S., Britain, France, and the European Union are planning to attack in Syria," he says. "You will pay for your crimes."
On the other side of the call is Assad's doll, who mockingly makes noises as if to feign fear and concern. He can allow himself to ridicule Obama since he knows that there won't be any attack forthcoming.
"Are you sure that Britain, Germany, Greece, and Italy support an attack?" Assad's figure says before breaking out in hysterical laughter.
Embarrassed and hesitant, Obama responds, "Actually, Britain doesn't, and Germany doesn't, and Italy also doesn't, and Greece doesn't. Oh, and France is also a no. So I too will not attack you."
Another satirical program shows Obama waiting for the death toll to reach 200,000. "We vowed that once the number of dead reaches 200,000, a red line will have been crossed and then we can give Bashar Assad the Nobel Peace Prize."
Like a monster in the night
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the organization he heads were not spared the criticism and scorn to which Obama was subjected. In one cartoon published by the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is sympathetic to the anti-Syrian political bloc in Lebanon, the U.N. is portrayed as a weak, elderly man with no teeth, and Ban is the little child that simply doesn't know how to cope with the situation, asking the man: "A chemical attack in Syria is like a monster in the dark. Is it true that if we close our eyes, it will disappear?"
Nonetheless, alongside the blistering criticism, there were also some commentators in Arab-language media outlets who said that the manner with which the American president and the West dealt with the chemical attack in Damascus in particular and the Syrian conflict overall aroused great concern.
In Saudi Arabia, one analyst on a popular talk show on Al-Arabiya even went so far as to say that the decision to refrain from an attack on Syria was the result of intense Israeli lobbying. According to this logic, Israel would much rather see Assad remain in power rather than al-Qaida form the next regime.
"The U.S. made a decision not to attack Syria because Israel has no interest in topping the Assad regime," the commentator said. "Apparently, Israel understands something that the Americans don't see. The Israelis prefer the known Assad over whoever comes after him, and they are not keen on the regime falling in Damascus."
Conversely, the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Salim Idris, said that Obama's decision to back down from his original intention to bomb Syria constitutes "a death blow to the uprising in Syria and a boost for Assad."
In interviews granted to Arab media after the U.S. and Russia announced an agreement stipulating Damascus' approval to decommission its chemical weapons stockpiles by 2014, Idris said that the decision not to attack in Syria and instead to strike a deal with Assad gives the Syrian leader and his regime much-needed breathing room and an opening to continue to slaughter opponents of the government.
"While negotiations were ongoing over the outlines of the agreement, and even before the parameters of the agreement were presented, the Syrian army began to transport equipment and armaments to Iraq and Lebanon," he said.
Idris reiterated his view that the Syrian armed forces scattered their chemical stockpiles in dozens of secret installations around the country so as to conceal their contents from inspectors due in Syria to enforce the terms of the agreement.
"Assad will never give up chemical weapons," Idris told Al-Jazeera. "He will lie in order to mislead the inspectors and the West. The agreement that the U.S. and Russia signed won't be worth the paper it was written on."
"Whoever expects a murderer who butchered 100,000 people, including tens of thousands of innocent children, women, and elderly to stop the killing is deluding themselves or refuses to acknowledge reality," he said.
The scornful tone in the Arab media's analysis of President Obama in the wake of his moves toward Syria continued following the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York. This was manifest in editorials published by two of the most important Arab-language newspapers around -- Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat, both of which are printed in London.
After Obama held a phone conversation with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, Al-Hayat wrote: "Hussein [Obama] fell into the honey trap set by Hasan [Rouhani]. Like a butterfly attracted to the light, Hussein went blindly after Hasan. Today, even Netanyahu's government in Israel is more credible than that of Hussein Obama in Washington."
Iraq as a test case
The overt contempt toward Obama as expressed in the Arab-language, anti-Syrian press is tinged with concern that the president's capitulation to Russia's Vladimir Putin and the Syrians was the factor that triggered the emerging friendship between Obama and Rouhani. There is fear that the change in the American attitude toward Iran stems from a reassessment of Washington's regional interests.
A news talk show that airs on the Saudi satellite station Al-Arabiya floated the argument that Obama's zigzag toward Syria and his fall for the Iranian president's "charm offensive" are nothing less than acts of "betrayal" of Saudi Arabia, the U.S.'s most important ally among Arab countries.
Some of the more prominent Arab-language press outlets cited interviews given by Assad after the agreement on his chemical weapons was consummated. In those interviews, the Syrian leader mocks Obama, describing him as a man whose conduct weakened him not only on the international stage but also on the domestic political scene.
In an interview Assad granted to state-run Chinese television, the Syrian president said that since he agreed to decommission his arsenal of chemical weapons, the volume of sophisticated arms deliveries from Russia has only increased. According to Assad, his military now possesses "weaponry that is capable of blinding Israel in a moment's notice."
"We don't need chemical weapons for that," he said.
According to the Syrian leader, the American bid to attack his country stemmed from pressure applied by Israel, yet "Obama came to his senses at the last minute and realized that while attacking Syria would serve the interests of Israel and some Arab states, it would seriously harm U.S. interests in the Middle East and Europe."
Egyptians are also quick to point an accusatory finger at Obama. Officials in Egypt say the president supported the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the al-Qaida-affiliated rebels in Syria that are part of the global network of jihadists. When the Muslim Brotherhood was in power and Mohamed Morsi was president, Cairo supported the rebels in Syria. After Morsi's ouster, the interim government completely reversed its policy.
Senior Egyptian military commanders who orchestrated the Muslim Brotherhood's removal from power do not hesitate to express their full support for the Syrian government's efforts to eradicate the rebels and maintain the stability of the regime in Damascus.
Hossam Zaki, who served as spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry during the Hosni Mubarak era, explained to Israel Hayom the reasoning for Cairo's shift.
"Obama absolutely betrayed Mubarak, his most loyal ally and the U.S.'s most loyal ally in the Middle East for three decades," he said. "Obama's support of Morsi after his removal, the punitive measures that he took against army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, and the moves he made that led to the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime have led to a situation where we no longer have the same level of faith that the Americans will stand by Egypt during its time of need."
"Who can promise Egypt that tomorrow Obama won't threaten to bombard Cairo because a regime that would have set the country back to an Islamic dark age, a la Iran, was toppled?" he said. "His hesitancy on the issue of the chemical weapon attack in Syria caused tremendous damage to the U.S. standing in the Middle East, and as a result the one that has been strengthened is Russia, led by Putin."
Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, a senior political analyst and one of the leaders of the People's Assembly of Egypt, an umbrella organization that encompassed all of the groups that lined up in opposition to Morsi, wrote a column for the popular Egyptian daily Al-Ahram in which he bitterly criticized U.S. plans to bomb Syria. If Obama were to go ahead with his intentions, he claimed, he would go down in history as one of the most belligerent, blood-spilling presidents since the 1960s.
Meguid went on to argue that there is no definitive proof that the Syrian regime was the one responsible for the chemical attack in Damascus last month. "The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 claiming that Saddam Hussein's government had chemical weapons," he wrote. "This despite the fact that the U.S. supported that same regime in 1988, when he used chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels."
"The U.S. made agreements with Saddam Hussein, and they absolved him of this heinous crime, instead blaming Iran," he wrote. "Reliable evidence proved that the U.S. turned a blind eye from the crimes of Saddam Hussein's regime because it formed an alliance with him to counter Iran."
In another column, Meguid compared the American zigzag over Iraq with its recent about-face in relation to the Syrian chemical weapons affair. "Similarly, the U.S. was once an ally of Syria," he wrote. "It made agreements with Damascus, it treated Assad's father quite gently despite the massacre of his own people that he committed in the early 1980s, and afterward it was kind toward Assad after he inherited the presidency. And why was this?
"Because Washington had a laundry list of interests that it needed addressed, with the Syrian regime's help. Yet, now, the U.S. is quick to attack Bashar Assad's regime despite the lack of conclusive evidence that it was he -- and not the terrorist organizations from the armed opposition -- that attacked Damascus with chemical weapons."