U.S. President Barack Obama's speech on Saturday was eloquently worded, but once you peel away the flowery rhetoric, here is what he really said: The U.S. is tired of wars, but it also understands its special role in the world and therefore will not ignore Syrian President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians. Obama has decided to employ military force against the tyrant in Damascus.
But what is also clear, even though it was left unsaid, is that Obama is looking for an excuse to back down and he is disappointed in America's historic allies, who left him by the side of the road. Canada and Britain were first, followed by Germany. Canada and Britain not fighting alongside the U.S.? This is a severe blow to Washington, whose traditional coalition unraveled before the eyes of the world. This happened before the offender -- Assad -- was even punished, which is a shame to international diplomacy.
Russia applied diplomatic pressure, but it also signaled that it would not interfere with Western military action in Syria. Even Hezbollah indicated that it would not lift a finger as long as Lebanon was left untouched. Turkish and Israeli officials could whisper in Obama's ears the words of Haim Nahman Bialik: "I have seen you again in your impotence."
What has the U.S. been doing since the chemical massacre took place a week and a half ago? If Obama intended all along to hide behind the apron of Congress, why did he have U.S. Navy destroyers arm their missiles and move into position? Why is he seeking congressional approval if he views it as unnecessary? Obama simply abandoned the battle, which is unbelievable.
Obama did not rally America's allies and did not stand up to international pressure. Even if ultimately he still strikes Assad, Obama's speech on Saturday further hurt America's already shaky international standing.
What a difference there is between Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, the decorated Vietnam War veteran who on Friday explained to the world America's unique role in protecting humanity. After Obama's speech on Saturday, it seems the right thing for Kerry to do would be to leave his keys on his desk at the State Department and go home.
What happened over the past two days? Did Assad's threats frighten Obama? Was it the Iranians? Or Russian President Vladimir Putin? Was Obama concerned about domestic criticism from the Republicans? It is likely that all of these played a role in causing Obama's knees to buckle. The U.S. president is supposed to be the world's strongest political figure, but Obama is not.
For Israelis, Obama's dithering response to Assad's use of chemical weapons brings back memories of then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's speech to the nation ahead of the Six-Day War in 1967. During the speech, Eshkol stuttered and exuded doubt and insecurity. This led to Eshkol being forced to hand the defense portfolio over to Moshe Dayan and bring Menachem Begin and Yosef Sapir into the government, all moves that turned out well. But in the American system, Obama does not have the ability to take similar steps. Everything rests on his shoulders.
Obama can still fix what he spoiled, but whatever action he takes will not leave the same mark as it would have if it had been carried out at the right time.