Whatever happens next in the ongoing drama between the U.S. and Syria over the use of chemical weapons, it would be difficult to conclude that President Barack Obama has performed impressively in his handling of the crisis in Syria. Obama’s response to the slow-motion disintegration of that key Arab state has been marked by a combination of neglect, ambivalence and improvisation.
The latest chapter, played out over the past couple of weeks, showed the president at long last responding to what by all appearances was a massive use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That triggered a decision by Obama to use U.S. military force against Assad, followed by a sudden and unexpected detour—taking the matter to Congress—and then an accidental, inadvertent proposal by Secretary of State John Kerry to allow Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international representatives. The plan, put in motion by Russia, is filled with complications, and there is no way of knowing if it will come to a successful completion.
Even if it does, the Russian diplomatic proposal plainly allows Assad to continue killing by conventional means, in a war that has already left more than 100,000 dead and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.