Addressing the nation on September 10, Obama reiterated and defended the justice of his decision to attack Syria and at the same time backed away to give Russia a chance to relieve Assad’s regime of its chemical weapons. On the same day, the New York Times published an item on the US which sheds light on the president’s inability to convince his nation of the justice of his path.
Under the header “The rich get richer through recovery,” the newspaper published the results of a study which shows that in the years since the economic crisis of 2008, the top decile has taken home more than half the country’s total income, while the top one percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans. This trend becomes even clearer when we look at the income of the top 1% compared with that of the 99%. This 1% experienced a sharp drop of 36% in their income during the recession, but recovered rapidly, their income rising again by 31%. The rest of Americans, on the other hand, experienced a drop of 12% during the recession – but enjoyed no recovery, with incomes rising by just 0.4%. In other words, since the recession, the top 1% has taken home some 95% of profits.
When Obama was first elected, he promised two things: to change the social order of priorities, and to get the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has kept his second promise, but has failed miserably regarding the first. Thus Obama has become the greatest disappointment America has known in recent decades. Some 10% of the population lives on welfare and 90% hardly makes ends meet. The Americans no longer believe Obama’s words, and for this he is paying a heavy political price. If the White House were to conduct a survey on economic policy, Obama would get the same poor ratings he received on the Syria attack.
Americans don’t want to hear about Syria because they are tired and dispirited. American youth has lost hope of finding a decent job and faces dead-end work at minimum wage in McDonalds, Walmart and Amazon. Unemployment is high, and labor force participation rates are the lowest they have been for 35 years. Americans ask, why should we go to war for the Syrians when nobody bothers to address our needs? Why should the US spend billions on war when our schools are collapsing, infrastructure is crumbling, and there is no investment in creating real jobs? The pictures of children asphyxiated by Sarin gas in the Damascus region are indeed shocking, but those who struggle just to get by will not have the strength to identify with distant victims.
Obama could have ordered an attack on Syria without the approval of Congress. But he hesitated and sought the support of the Republican Party, thus continuing the destructive dynamic that has emasculated him since the beginning of his term of office. The desire to keep the Republicans happy has paralyzed his administration; he has lost his majority in Congress and has tied himself up over Syria where his piteousness is exposed to all. His stated intentions may be good, but a leader he is not.
Assad is done for
On the other side of the equation is Bashar Assad, the complete opposite of Obama. Assad owes nothing to public opinion or democratic institutions and can lie barefacedly while his people owe him complete allegiance. Assad inherited his regime from his father, while Obama reached his present position on his own merit. Nonetheless, they have one thing in common: Assad too represents the 1% of his nation, while the 99% drown in poverty.
There are some differences: Americans enjoy a much higher standard of living and may express themselves freely, while Syrians have no free press and the country’s prisons and graveyards are full of political opponents. Therefore the Syrian people has risen up against the regime and is paying a high price in its struggle for freedom, while the Americans make do with elections and public opinion surveys. But both peoples have the same aim: to create a society that benefits the 99%.
Obama’s lack of leadership and his political failure will not save Assad. The 1400 Sarin gas victims left the world aghast, and it is no longer possible to ignore the regime’s crimes. The Syrian issue has at last taken center stage on the world’s agenda, although 100,000 dead and seven million refugees have paid the price for the world’s disregard until now.
Assad has had to admit that he holds a huge chemical weapons arsenal, even though he had earlier denied this in an interview with American television. His agreeing to the inspection and destruction of chemical weapons is tantamount to admitting that he is responsible for the atrocity that took place on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus. Without the threat of an American attack, the Russians would not have gone to Assad’s aid and proposed a deal that indicates Damascus’ guilt, thus contradicting their own account. If it were the rebels who had used chemical weapons, as the Russians claim, why would the Russians propose a deal that puts the weapons arsenal under international inspection?
Those who suppose that the deal being hammered out between the US and Russia will save Assad are making a grave error. The Russian proposal is the first step to accepting the demand that Assad must go. If the Americans are convinced that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, it’s clear they do not view him as a possible partner in a future arrangement. Moreover, so far Assad has taken advantage of every diplomatic initiative to extend his murderous spree against his nation. Now his time is up. Obama may exit this round battered, but Assad is now under the world’s steady gaze and his room to maneuver is rapidly shrinking.
A diplomatic arrangement for Syria must include the active participation of the official Syrian opposition, and this opposition will lose the support of the people if it agrees to negotiate with Assad. The US attack can be postponed through various diplomatic maneuvers and attempts to gain time, but any future arrangement must be backed by both sides. Assad cannot be partner to such an arrangement, and he must go. His use of chemical weapons shows how much pressure he is under and how unable he is to overcome the uprising. It seems that after two and a half years of diplomatic maneuvers, aided by the Russians who silenced the UN Security Council, even Putin’s patience has run out. Assad has made things more uncomfortable for Russia in the international arena than Russia is willing to bear.
Obama is mired in mud of his own making. Assisted by the American media, he weakened the democratic opposition in Syria, emphasized their Jihadist elements linked to Al-Qaeda, and tried to create a balance between Assad and his opponents. Thus a distorted picture of reality was created and in the end, when he tried to persuade his nation that Assad was the bad guy, he merely reaped the seeds of doubt he had long been sowing in American public opinion.
In his appearance before the American people, Obama was finally compelled to acknowledge reality. As he explained, “It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But Al-Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people – and the Syrian opposition we work with – just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom.” These words should have been spoken at the start of the uprising, and they are testimony to the justice of the Syrian nation’s struggle, which is worth the support of every human of conscience.
—Translated from Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger