One of the major arguments for intervention in Syria is that it will be a rescue mission for the credibility of the American presidency, if not for any other reason. John McCain has been making that point repeatedly over the last two weeks, insisting that a show of weakness now would be fatal to American interests in the region and to our alliances with the Arab world. Jake Tapper interviewed the newsman who got Barack Obama’s first televised interview in 2009 for Al-Arabiya, Hisham Melhem, who says that Obama’s credibility in the region has been on the wane for four years:
Arab allies now view Obama as “wobbly, indecisive, not strong enough,” said Washington bureau chief of al Arabiya television Hisham Melhem, who also conducted that interview with Obama back in 2009.
Obama’s style of leadership does not engage Arab leaders, and does not address regional issues, like Egypt, said Melhem.
But “everybody’s crying out for American leadership, the Turks, the Arabs, and the Europeans. And given the weaknesses of the Europeans, given the vote in the British Parliament, given the fact that NATO ally Turkey is unable to lead – everyone is looking for the United States to lead, and there is no leadership,” said Melhem.
“The United States is AWOL.”
Of all the arguments for intervention in Syria, this is actually the only one with any merit at all. A leadership vacuum is dangerous anywhere, but especially in the Middle East, which is why a policy of talking loudly and carrying a small stick is probably worse than just keeping one’s mouth shut entirely. Melhem tells Tapper that Arab leaders have issues with Obama’s solicitude of Israel, but that’s a complaint they have with every American leader. It’s the other points that Melhem makes that gets to the heart of the lack of leadership — abandoning Mubarak, ignoring a popular revolt against the Iranian mullahs, and the sudden pas de deux around Syrian intervention — and why Arab leaders are worried that the US will abandon them to the Iranian-Syrian axis.
That still doesn’t equate to having an American interest in creating another failed state in Syria as we did in Libya, or worse, handing Syria over to an al-Qaeda-run shari’a totalitarian dictatorship that would be worse than Assad’s, as it has already proved to be in areas controlled by the Nusra Front and other terrorist networks. However, American leadership over the last two years should have made that a very public issue with these Arab leaders, rather than offer continuous pox-on-both-houses commentaries along with red-line threats that Obama didn’t have the will to enforce, nor have the support of key allies in doing so either. Throughout the Arab Spring, Obama has clearly been playing checkers while everyone in the region plays three-dimensional chess, and that may be the biggest confidence-sapper among leaders in the region. A few missile strikes won’t solve that problem, either.