Source: The New York Times – by Anne Barnard and Gerry Mullany (In Syria, Anger and Mockery as Obama Delays Plan)
President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike in response to reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria drew a range of reactions from Syrians on Sunday, with rebel leaders expressing disappointment and government leaders questioning Mr. Obama’s leadership.
Syria’s government on Sunday mocked Mr. Obama’s decision, saying it was a sign of weakness. A state-run newspaper, Al Thawra, called it “the start of the historic American retreat,” and said Mr. Obama had hesitated because of a “sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies,” along with fears that an intervention could become “an open war.”
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, told reporters in Damascus that “it is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion, as well.”
Many Syrian opposition leaders expressed disappointment about the move, and called on Congress to approve a military strike. The leaders said any intervention should be accompanied by more arms for the rebels.
“Dictatorships like Iran and North Korea are watching closely to see how the free world responds to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” the opposition coalition said in a statement issued in Istanbul.
Still, some rebel leaders were angry. A member of Syria’s opposition National Coalition, Samir Nachar, called Mr. Obama a “weak president who cannot make the right decision when it comes to such an urgent crisis.”
“We were expecting things to be quicker,” Mr. Nachar told reporters, “that a strike would be imminent.”
In the wider Arab world, still deeply divided over President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the uprising against him, the concern over his government’s indiscriminate use of force coincided with antipathy about American intervention.
The Al-Azhar University in Cairo, considered Sunni Islam’s highest authority, said on Sunday that it opposed an American strike on Syria, calling such intervention “an aggression against the Arab and Islamic nation” that would endanger peace and security in the region.
But the institution said it supported “the right of the Syrian people to decide their destiny and their government for themselves in all freedom and transparency,” and condemned “recourse to chemical weapons, whoever it was that used them.”
The Arab League was scheduled to meet and Washington was hoping to win stronger statements against Mr. Assad. The group expelled Syria earlier in the uprising but has stopped short of backing American action or blaming Mr. Assad for any chemical weapons use.
For others, Mr. Obama’s decision raised questions about whether the United States had diminished its leadership role in foreign affairs, with commentators in Israel fearing a weakening of American resolve in confronting hostile powers.
The Israel newspaper Haaretz carried an analysis on Sunday by Amos Harel, a military analyst, saying that Mr. Obama’s postponement of a military strike against Syria suggested that he would be less likely to confront Iran on its nuclear program going forward, and that in the Arab world, he would now be “seen as weak, hesitant and vacillating.”
“The Obama administration’s conduct gives us insight into the strategic challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” the analysis said. “From an Israeli point of view, the conclusion is far from encouraging. The theory that the U.S. will come to Israel’s aid at the last minute, and attack Iran to lift the nuclear threat, seems less and less likely.
“It’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent,” it said.
In the conservative Telegraph newspaper in Britain, the columnist Tim Stanley said that Mr. Obama gave a “remarkable performance” in his Saturday speech detailing his new approach on Syria. But he said that Britain deserved credit for serving as a model for Mr. Obama’s approach, citing how Parliament’s vote against military action led Prime Minister David Cameron to rule out military participation in any strike on Syria.
“So we basically taught Obama to respect his own constitution,” Mr. Stanley, a historian, wrote. “No need to thank us, America.”
Mr. Obama’s announcement that he would seek Congressional approval came after thousands of protesters held demonstrations in several cities abroad against an American military strike, with an estimated 1,000 people rallying in Trafalgar Square in London and 700 people turning out to protest in Frankfurt. Protests were also held in the United States, including in Washington.
In France, the interior minister, Manuel Valls, told Europe 1 radio that the nation, which had supported a strike, would not act alone but would wait for a decision by Washington. “France cannot go it alone,” Mr. Valls said, according to Reuters. “We need a coalition.”
Reaction from other leaders was scarce on Sunday. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama heads to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a gathering of world leaders at the G-20 summit meeting. There, he is expected to try to lobby his counterparts for military action against Syria.
But he will probably not lobby President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the host of the event, who has been a strong opponent of any outside military action. Mr. Putin said it would have been “utter nonsense” for Syria to use chemical weapons, and he challenged the United States to provide evidence of such behavior by Russia’s longtime ally.
Mr. Obama’s original plans to meet with Mr. Putin at the summit meeting were shelved last month because of American anger over Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret American surveillance programs.
Without support from Russia for a military strike, the United States was unable to secure backing in the United Nations Security Council for a British-proposed resolution to authorize the use of military force against Syria. On Saturday, United Nations inspectors left Syria after a four-day visit to investigate the reports of a chemical attack, and the team is analyzing what it found.
China, another Security Council member, was similarly wary of any military strike on Syria, with the state news media warning Thursday that any armed intervention “would have dire consequences for regional security and violate the norms governing international relations.” Beijing supported the deployment of chemical weapons inspectors and has said that the United States should await the results of their work before acting.
A Chinese expert on the Middle East, Yin Gang, said on Sunday that Mr. Obama’s decision to go through Congress made the president appear weak.
“He doesn’t want to fight; he doesn’t know the outcome,” said Mr. Yin, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “He’s afraid, very afraid.”
All along, China has counseled a political solution, and Mr. Yin said the meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg could lead to momentum for talks about how to handle Syrian behavior.
“All the leaders will talk on this topic at the summit, and maybe it can lead to a new direction, to a political solution,” he said.
A Chinese specialist on Syria, Guo Xian’gang, said Mr. Obama would face opposition from Russia, China and other non-Western countries at the G-20 summit meeting for any military action
“They will suggest to President Obama that if he wants to take action, there should be clear evidence that Syria used chemical weapons,” said Mr. Guo, of the Chinese Institute of International Relations. “They will also say that Obama must get the permission of the United Nations.”