The shillelagh – the craggy, twisted Irish walking stick. The soft voice of American foreign policy, articulated so succinctly by Theodore Roosevelt, is now an arthritic mess of misstatements, distorted history, and diplomatic blunders. The threat of our military might – the big stick of Roosevelt’s vision – is no longer taken credibly by the world as we bump through the night in blindfolds, searching for a foreign policy and reacting to events well beyond our control, not shaping them to meet either or practical or idealistic national interests.

For years, President Obama and the American left complained that the world no longer liked us. It is evident now that the world no longer respects us.

The current crisis in Syria betrays a crisis of American leadership that has been a long time coming. In 2008, President Obama campaigned on a policy of instituting a “reset” with Russia, implying that the Bush administration had bungled that strategic relationship. Again, in 2012, his minions in the press mocked the thoughtful foreign policy statements of Mitt Romney, who correctly stated that Russia is “our number one geopolitical foe.”

What Romney knew that President Obama apparently didn’t care to learn is that Russia is the lurking “Mr. Big” behind the rogue states which cause our diplomats heartburn. Syria, for instance, has been a client state of Russia (and the Soviet Union before it) for the past half century. The Russian navy has a major base in the Syrian port of Tartus and, memo to the National Security Staff, they aren’t going to just walk away from it and throw Assad aside in favor of placing their major strategic investment in the hands of opposition leaders, many of which are Islamic jihadists hostile to any non-Islamic power. Is there anyone connecting these dots among the President’s inner circle? Or do they even care?

The cynics of the world might think that this is a manufactured crisis, a head fake, to distract from the implementation of Obamacare or the looming budget crisis. Whether this is incompetence or deviance on the part of the President is immaterial: he is destroying our credibility as a great power with his gross mishandling of this crisis.

We are now told by the President and his Secretary of State that we must be muscular, yet delicate, with Syria. The president is delaying his request to Congress for authority to move against the Syrian government to stop them from using chemical weapons which, in any case, would in no way alter the course of the civil war in Syria where over 100,000 Syrians have died by means of conventional weapons.

The strikes, we are told by his supporters on cable television, are necessary to “send a message” to Iran. Where was the president in 2009 when the Iranian people sent a message to us for help, protesting in the streets against a regime just as brutal as Assad’s that also threatens the delicate balance of power in the Middle East? The president–when he had the chance to do something significant–ignored the Iranian democratic protests and sat willingly paralyzed, unable or unmoved to act in the defense of freedom and liberty. This new moral outrage at the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which killed approximately 1,400 people, seems misplaced amid the great number of humanitarian horrors of the world.

There is serious doubt that the President’s request for authorization of military strikes in Syria will pass a vote in Congress. At no time in American history has a president faced such a rebuke but, then again, at no time in American history has a president chosen to remain so isolated from not only the American voter but also his fellow officers of state in Congress. Even through the turmoil of the Vietnam era, President Nixon maintained important ties to Congressional leaders; there was never a serious threat that Congress would take legislative action aimed at defunding the war. The overblown hysteria of the modern media over President Bush’s case against the Iraqi regime, engendered in large part over the supposed “stolen” election of 2000, did not influence the vote on military authorization in Iraq as Senators Kerry, Clinton and McCain (in the opinions of the American left, the great thinkers of foreign policy: move over Lodge, Acheson and Kissinger) all voted in favor of the war.

In his address on Tuesday evening, the President recast history implying that President Bush never went to Congress for authorization to strike either Afghanistan or Iraq. The President is lying, but the low-information voters he is speaking to don’t know that. He also ignored his own actions in Libya, saying that removing a dictator as we did in Iraq makes us responsible for everything that happens in that nation thereafter. He used the U.S. military to assist in the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi. There has been little in the way of accountable on the part of President Obama or his administration for the role we played in the murder of four Americans in Beghazi, and how the chaotic situation in post-Qaddafi Libya allowed that to occur.

So, the American people are left with a salesman-in-chief who has no interest in selling his case for striking Syria. He doesn’t want to dirty himself out in the vast and tangled vineyards of the American political scene. We are also left with a media which is now spinning a gaffe by Secretary Kerry, in which he gave Syria one week to surrender their chemical weapons to international control, as the greatest diplomatic achievement of the century when, in fact, Kerry’s bungled remark enabled Russia to fill the vacuum of leadership and take complete control over the situation in Syria.

Meanwhile, in Syria, North Korea, the Congo, and countless other places on the planet, the masses of the oppressed shed tears as the great hope of the world struggles to find its footing. Its falling place among the great powers of the world is a casualty of its feckless leader. While the American military remains the biggest, truest stick the world has ever seen it is a shame that the President lacks the courage or conviction to speak in a clear, soft voice articulating his reasons for involvement in Syria. His appeals to the American public, made mostly on the grounds of a shared humanity of all decent people, do not address his silence on other areas of gross human rights violations.

If we are to be morally outraged, let us be outraged at the deaths of the 100,000 Syrians over the past two and a half years and not merely be outraged at the method by which 2% of that number has died. Unfortunately, the President has not yet found his voice (be it loud or soft) and is consistently afraid to project American power confidently. The world is a worse place for it.


Kyle Sabo | Hunter College | @kps427