The widespread American backing for the reported Israel Air Force bombings of Syrian targets has three central elements: 1. Deep support for Israel and understanding of its motives 2. Revulsion with President Bashar Assad and a feeling that he had it coming and 3. A certain delight, at least among President Obama’s foes, with the new opportunity to highlight what they perceive as his shameful inaction.
After all, while Obama examines, verifies, calculates and ponders the appropriate U.S. reaction to Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons, Israel is showing the kind of resolute decisiveness that his critics say the president so sorely lacks. “While Obama dithers – Israel acts,” was one such disparaging column published Sunday.
The very same people who claimed that Obama will turn his back at the first opportunity are now derisively portraying his unequivocal support for the alleged Israeli actions as further proof of his reviled “leading from behind” policy. And the apparent ease with which Israel succeeded in penetrating what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has described as the “dense and sophisticated” Syrian air defense systems has removed yet another obstacle – or excuse – for Administration’s idleness, as Republican Senator John McCain explained Sunday.
The dramatic videos and stills of thick columns of smoke and fire spouting from the mountains behind Damascus ensured that the reported Israeli raids on Damascus would receive top billing on the influential Sunday talk shows. The juxtaposition between the Israeli resoluteness and what was portrayed as Obama’s dilly-dallying fit in nicely with the current bon-ton inspection of whether the president is already a “lame duck”, so early in his second term, or will become one soon.
One should differentiate, though, between the personal, political and public persona challenges to Obama and their translation into practical actions on the ground. On a PR level, Obama is being portrayed as someone who drew a “red line in the sand” and is now trying to ignore it – and the disingenuous effort of some of his confidantes in the Sunday New York Times to retroactively describe it as an unintended off-the-cuff remark only makes matters worse. “Hoo lo gever” – he’s not a man – as Israelis would chauvinistically say, even in the eyes of those who aren’t sure of the wisdom or the necessity of an American military action.
U.S. public opinion, after all, is far from convinced that the U.S. should lend a helping hand to the Syrian rebels and is only slightly more favorable towards a military effort against Assad’s chemical arsenal. Even the most hawkish of Republican lawmakers are wary of a hasty decision to arm the rebels, lest “we replace one terrible dictator with a terrible ideological movement which is aimed at our destruction” as New York Congressman Peter King said Sunday. And everyone, but everyone, agrees that there should be no American “boots on the ground”, under almost any circumstances.
Americans are tired of the toll taken by Iraq and Afghanistan – 11 soldiers were killed over the last weekend alone – and are widely aware of the crippling economic burden that these two wars have placed on the U.S. economy for many years to come. Obama knows full well that public support for a campaign in Syria is limited - and that the same people who are now egging him on will be the first to blast him when things go wrong.
And if and when that time comes, rest assured, Israel will also be asked to explain how and why it got the U.S. embroiled in yet another Middle East quagmire. By then, the widespread support and universal applause for Israel’s initial forays into Syrian skies will be long gone and forgotten.