Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran." On September 10, 2013, prior to President Obama's address on Syria, she briefed the Middle East Forum in a conference call.
According to Ms. Pletka, the confused Obama administration has had no coherent policy to address the escalation of the Syrian crisis - from peaceful demonstrations to a fully fledged civil war. Having laid out a "red line" on the use of chemical weapons during the US presidential elections so as to counter accusations of weakness on national security, and faced with international outrage over the Assad regime's latest gas attack on its own people, which reportedly killed some 1,400 civilians, Barack Obama saw no choice but to seek a limited military retribution.
Yet as the roster of his international supporters unraveled rapidly, the president unexpectedly sought Congressional authorization for such action, something he had failed to do during the military intervention in the Libyan civil war. A further unexpected twist came from Secretary of State Kerry's off-the-cuff remark that Damascus's surrender of its chemical weapons could change the political calculus.
Capitalizing on this comment, and the clear lack of public appetite for military action, Moscow quickly offered to broker a diplomatic deal with Assad, but only if the US took the military option off the table. In an ironic twist of history, the Russian government - a non-compliant with the chemical weapons convention and the main supplier of Syria's chemical arsenal - has positioned itself as the guardian of Damascus's chemical weapons disarmament. In light of an unsupportive Congress, this initiative may just provide Obama with the face-saving formula to back away from the use of military force.
But what do his mixed signals say about the office of the president of the United States? And does anyone still believe that this president, deterred by potential Syrian threats and outsmarted by his Russian counterpart, will ever take a stand against Tehran's nuclear weapons program?
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Associate Fellow with the Middle East Forum