When Bashar Assad took the decision to kill his own subjects with chemical weapons, he can hardly have calculated the collateral damage he would do at long range in the West. It remains to be seen whether President Obama has moral convictions and the will to act on them. The resolution of this crisis will decide Obama’s place in the history books. Assad has become the test for Obama that Fidel Castro was to Kennedy in the Cuban crisis.
Assad has already won a partial victory by means of the irreparable collateral damage inflicted to the standing of British prime minister David Cameron. No doubt sincerely, Cameron had a moral reaction to chemical mass murder in Damascus. He wanted immediate action to ensure that Assad could not repeat the crime with impunity. Parliament was recalled. International law legitimised taking out the chemical weaponry. But as preparations for an immediate military strike were being finalized, morality was suddenly swamped by political considerations. The Labour party, the BBC, and the media, as well as a number of Conservatives, whipped up public opinion. Tony Blair got the country into invading Iraq on the false pretenses of seizing weapons of mass destruction, and Cameron was about to do the same in the context of Syria. Assad has only to sit back and enjoy how a democratic prime minister who tried to stand up to him is hamstrung and humiliated by his own people. Sic transit gloria mundi, which is the Latin for “That’s one enemy who’s properly stuffed.”