US President Barack Obama has dug himself out of the Syria hole, for now. Russia’s surprise initiative to convince Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad into giving up his regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons has, in effect, given Mr. Obama the breathing space to recalibrate his approach to a conflict that has put America’s prestige on the line.
Indeed, Mr. Obama can breathe a sigh of relief. There is no need to press the US Congress into giving him the authority to launch a military strike in Syria to punish Assad for gassing his people. That vote was doomed anyway, although the White House did make a desperate bid to sell the Obama line to both Republicans and Democrats.
The President couldn’t even rally the American people to his side. A survey revealed that Americans disapprove of any US military intervention abroad, especially if US interests or lives are not at stake.
This “it’s-not-our-fight-so-why-should-we-go” attitude can only mean that Americans have grown weary of war. Too many young Americans have died or been maimed in Iran and Afghanistan. And to many of their countrymen, the sacrifice is not worth it.
Mr. Obama also found out the hard way that taking the moral high ground nowadays can be politically dangerous. There was a tsunami of rage after deadly sarin gas was unleashed by Assad’s forces on civilians on the outskirts of Damascus. Mr. Obama tried to make Assad pay for the unspeakable atrocity, but eventually he found that nobody else was willing to go that far.
Let’s face it. The role of the US as global policeman is over. No more Captain America defending the oppressed peoples of the world.
Mr. Obama may be reluctant to give up that role, but his hands are tied.
Now that Captain America has retired, what happens to the countries that rely on his defense shield?
The question touches a sensitive nerve among Filipinos. For as long we can remember, the US has projected itself as our staunchest ally. America considers the Philippines as a key ally as it shifts its military attention to Asia. Washington has not only pledged to contribute generously in modernizing our armed forces, it has given assurances that it will help strengthen our border defences.
But that was before the Obama faux pas in Syria. We expect the US to be more circumspect in responding to future crises, to be more wary of the political fallout from its actions, to be more open to compromise.
What happens then if China decides to test the limits of the US’ resolve by, say, intruding deeper into Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea?
Will a breach in our border trigger a swift US response? Will Captain America race to our rescue?
We sincerely doubt it. The US will not risk a direct confrontation with another superpower like China at this time. It will condemn the intrusion, definitely, and call the attention of the United Nations.
But definitely, there will be no US boots on the ground.
It’s time we ask the United States what exactly its game plan is if a loyal ally like the Philippines comes under threat from a neighbor.