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Pundits Weigh In: Reaction to Obama's Syria Speech

  • Cecily Hilleary

Today is Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s 48th birthday, but he has more to celebrate today than his age. Last night, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Congress would delay its vote on a military strike against Syria and consider Russia’s proposal that Syria hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community. But judging from headlines and editorials across the globe, not everyone is celebrating America’s decision.

Here at home in the U.S. capital, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin calls the decision a “debacle."

“Gone is the demand that Assad ‘must go.’ Gone is any penalty for using chemical weapons. Gone is the demonstration of resolve meant to signal seriousness about chemical weapons. Gone is the notion that we care about the plight of Syrians or that 100,000 dead stir something beyond empty rhetoric. Gone is any deterrent effect to Iran.”


Marina Ottaway, senior scholar at the the Wilson Center, says that chemical weapons diplomacy is a win for everyone except the Syrians themselves.

“All but a couple of thousand of the 100,000 victims of the war so far were killed by conventional weapons. The millions of refugees and internally displaced persons did not move to escape clouds of nerve gas. Unless international diplomacy makes a serious effort to also tackle the conflict between a regime determined to remain in power at all cost and a large section of the population determined to get rid of him although divided about what should come next Syrians will become the victims of the international effort to bring the country’s chemical weapons under control.”

Meanwhile, from London, in an editorial titled, “Obama's Syria Address: Do We Look That Dumb?, The Guardian’s Michael Cohen comments on inconsistencies in Obama's speech:

“On the one hand, he argues that ‘if fighting spills beyond Syria's borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel’, but then said later that ‘neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force.’ Well, which is it?"


In France, which among U.S. allies has been most supportive of a U.S. strike on Syria, Le Figaro’s Phillipe Gelie criticizes both U.S. and French leaders.


“The art of diplomacy sometimes resembles that of saving face. With remarkable swiftness, the warlike Barack Obama and [French president] Francois Hollande have seized on the outstretched hand that the Russians have proffered to them. Who can blame them? Even if it were eventually to prove less than solid, it could suffice to extricate them from the mire into which they have placed themselves…Obama and Hollande have the opportunity to backtrack with their heads held high.”

Qatar strongly supports the Syrian opposition, so it is not surprising that its media is disappointed with Obama’s latest move. In an editorial called, “Stop Dithering,” Qatar’s Peninsula online describes Obama as “confused, uncertain, wobbly and timid” on Syria.

“There is no wonder that the president’s latest decision has caused huge disappointment among Arabs and Syrians who have been expecting the president to take a firm step and punish Bashar Al-Assad for crossing not just the red line on chemical weapons, but all lines on everything else…Assad will feel emboldened, and even if he doesn’t use chemical weapons again on his people, he will kill in larger numbers and not rest until every opponent is decimated. The West will continue to fiddle.”


Meanwhile, noted political analyst Rami Khouri writes in Lebanon’s Daily Star that despite Obama’s earlier claims that diplomatic solutions had been exhausted, in fact, they were not.

“The many conflicts playing themselves out in Syria these days essentially mean that four main actors shape the fighting today, and therefore can resolve it politically: Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The governments of these four countries must meet and negotiate regularly with the same diligence that they now apply in sending arms to fighters on both sides in Syria.”

And Khouri adds, “…we may be witnessing a historic transition in the United States in which ordinary citizens start to debate their country’s place and role in the world in a sensible, rational and, above all, humble manner."

Former Egyptian Ambassador to Washington Abdel Rauf El-Ridi spoke by phone to Cairo ON TV’s Amani al-Khayat, host of the “Morning” talk show.

"Syria has always refused to sign the treaty without Israel joining the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Now, Syria breaks that condition. This means it agrees that the international inspectors will have to assume responsibility for searching for chemical weapons."

He added, "That is what Putin is selling the Americans. He [Putin] seizes the opportunity to turn a problem into an advantage. If achieved, the international community will secure an acceptance that has always been far-fetched."

The former ambassador described the Syrian acceptance as "the keyword" of putting an end to what he calls a "dilemma."

"When this happens [Syria signs the convention], Obama will appear to announce to the world in his rhetorical language that the US has made a significant diplomatic achievement that serves the US national, as well as global, security."


Herb Keinon writes in The Jerusalem Post Online, that Obama’s decision is a mixed blessing.

“The good news is that if Syrian President Bashar Assad honors the deal -- a huge 'if,' considering that Assad is a butcher who has killed tens of thousands of his own people to stay in power -- then a very deadly weapon will be removed from Israel's doorstep. Israel will no longer have to worry about chemical warfare with its bitter enemy to the north...The bad news in the Russian-brokered deal currently under discussion is that Assad remains at the helm. This is bad not only because a man who murdered so many will remain standing to kill another day, but also because Iran will retain a vital strategic ally."


In Iran, one of Syria’s closest allies, a Resalat Online editorial by Sa'id Sobhani subtitled, “The Lose-Lose Gamble of Uncle Sam in Damascus," celebrates the American "defeat."

"The United States of America has turned into the all-out loser in the Syrian war...China and Russia are still supporters of the Bashar al-Assad government and are also opposed to any sort of attack on Syrian soil by the White House. While Germany and England, as two of the White House's European allies, have abandoned Obama due to public opinion pressures, the continuation of the support of Damascus by Russia and China has caused fresh defeats for Washington."

China, along with Russia, has staunchly opposed a strike in Syria. China's official Xinhua website says Obama’s move heralds changing times.

“The sharp turn from military action to multilateral diplomacy signifies the changing times in which Americans are ready to look inward.

Obama surprised many when he decided to seek Congressional approval for his planned strike to punish Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons, as it reversed decades of precedents in which the decision for overseas military ventures remained a presidential prerogative.

But the political climate in the United States is fast changing, and the public are weary from years of military interventions in distant lands and the state of perpetual war they bring, including thousands of American soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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