America has developed its own behavioral model, both inwardly and outwardly: In discussions, negotiations or disputes, as serious as they may be, the U.S. grants a lot of leeway — be it in an ally or an enemy. The U.S. believes its citizens' declarations on their tax forms; the U.S. negotiates fiercely but accepts foreign governments' verbal commitments as fact. But if the commitment is not honored, the U.S. metes out brutal, prolonged penalties.
Starting with David Ben-Gurion, Israel's prime ministers have done their utmost not to be caught telling a lie in English. The most extreme, ostensibly, was Yitzhak Shamir, who opted to spar with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker rather than make him promises he couldn't keep. After all, everyone knows the punishment — the American penalty wasn't always just, but it always hurt.
The U.S. was able to maintain this behavioral model during the Cold War, and after, when the U.S. was the only superpower (since the fall of the Berlin Wall). But things have changed, mainly psychologically. American punishment no longer serves as a deterrent. World leaders are no longer afraid to be caught in a lie. Washington can be manipulated without fear of retribution.
At the height of the negotiations with Iran it became clear to the West that Tehran was not going to give up its nuclear program. In Istanbul and in Baghdad the sides discussed lowering the uranium enrichment level from 20 percent to 5%, until it emerged that Iran had surprisingly leaped to enriching to 27%. Iran is not afraid to be viewed as a serial fraud. North Korea already beat them to the punch.
Given these circumstances, why should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be worried about the American declaration that "the time has come" to replace him? He is mercilessly massacring his people, bombing them indiscriminately. In Houla and in Homs the army is filling civilians with cast lead bullets in insane and unprecedented quantities. An honest Palestinian who hates Israel would have a hard time saying anything bad about the Israeli army in comparison to what the Syrians are doing to their Arab brothers.
U.S. President Barack Obama is not keeping quiet. He has suggested that Assad relinquish power in exchange for political asylum. He is even pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the dirty work for him — the same Putin who was responsible for the oppression in Chechnya and who provided the inspiration for Assad in how to wage civil war. It is ridiculous — Putin's clients are Iran, Hezbollah and Assad. He is invested in them, and therefore defends them. And Obama doesn't seriously deter anyone. He doesn't dare.
Assad is no longer afraid. Putin won't come to Obama's aid. Russia regrets having helped the West in Libya, and probably won't repeat that perceived mistake, which undermines Russia's traditional policy of staking a claim in the tumultuous Middle East. And if Obama can't stop Syria, he has almost no chance against Iran and North Korea.