There will, of course, be some who see a spark of genius, or perhaps even more than that, in U.S. President Barack Obama's management of the crisis in Syria. They will tell us that Obama, by issuing a credible military threat against Syria, put a serious scare into Syrian President Bashar Assad for the first time since the start of the uprising in Syria. Assad was so frightened of being bombed, they will say, that he agreed unconditionally to give up his chemical weapons without even a single shot being fired, obeying the order of the responsible adult, Mother Russia, which probably received a tip to act in this manner from Obama during the G-20 summit in Saint Petersburg last week. And what about Iran? They will explain to us that Iran is now shaking in its boots in the face of America's aggressiveness and might even join its little sister Syria in dismantling prohibited weapons programs.
I wish these people were right. But in reality, the crisis in Syria, even before the most recent developments, has been a reminder to us of Napoleon Bonaparte's phrase: "There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous."
On Tuesday night, Obama delivered a highly significant speech to his nation. Everyone in Washington had been waiting for the speech, in which it was expected that Obama would seek the backing of Congress and the American public for military action in Syria. But in the lead-up to the speech, Obama vacillated, Russia took the lead and Congress chose to delay a decision on the matter. Assad, who, perhaps ironically, celebrates his 48th birthday on Sep. 11, may live for 120 years in his country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons reduced the importance of Obama's speech. Meanwhile, the center of attention has shifted to the U.N. Security Council, Moscow, Europe and even Tehran. Washington is lucky just to remain in the picture.
As things stand now, the big winner, other than Putin, is Assad. First, no one now expects that he will in fact be punished for his use of chemical weapons against his citizens. And second, even if Assad says he is willing to hand over his chemical weapons, the situation is complex and problematic. How will Assad's huge stores of chemical weapons be destroyed? Does anyone really trust Assad to facilitate the work of inspectors? And speaking of inspectors, how will they be able to conduct their work in the midst of the bloody civil war that is raging in Syria?
France, which supports military action against Assad, has turned to the U.N. Security Council with a binding resolution that includes three conditions: that Syria's dismantlement of chemical weapons be quick and thorough, and, most importantly, obligatory. Russia opposes this resolution. A U.N. Security Council discussion on the resolution that was scheduled for Tuesday was canceled due to disagreements between superpowers. The Americans and Russians are now just talking and talking. And this is just the beginning.
We have to admit that the Syrian matter has left an unpleasant taste in our mouths. Obama, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, is the leader of the free world. He is supposed to provide "the sublime": security, peace, justice and freedom. But right now, Niccolo Machiavelli -- otherwise known as Vladimir Putin (whose proposal won global praise and support from leaders who feed on public opinion polls) -- is in charge. Putin's proposal is perceived as simple and logical, but it is in fact complicated and may drag out over years in a country with the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world.
In any case, this whole story is rife with surprises. Suddenly, the isolated U.S. government found a "vital" reason for attacking Syria: concerns in Israel, where, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained, there has been an increase in demand for gas masks. Kerry also mentioned, justly we must admit, fears about Iran.
So perhaps it is not a good time to remind our American friends that chemical weapons are extremely deadly and Assad has only shown signs of willingness to part from them after he had already used them. Here in Israel, we do not want Iran to agree to give up nuclear weapons after having already used them once -- on us.
I hope that Obama will ultimately provide us with the "sublime." This is important for him, and equally important for us. Woe be to the Middle East if Obama ends up on the "ridiculous" side again. We certainly will not be laughing.