Syria's Response to Obama Speech: We Won

(Credit: Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo)


We won.

That's the gist of reaction coming out of Damascus to President Obama's decision to forgo an attack on Syria for now and seek congressional authorization for the use of military force.

Church bells rang out, prayers of gratitude sounded from minarets, ordinary Syrians exhaled in relief, according to media reports and word-of-mouth from Damascus.

Morning TV in Syria blared: "Syria Confronts the Aggressors."

There is an unmistakable sense of triumph in the air throughout the Arab world for those who support Bashar al-Assad's regime - and for many others who just want to see the U.S. stymied. And nothing enhances the stature of an Arab leader like defying the US.

"The Syrian army's readiness is what warded off U.S. aggression against Syria," Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadr Jamil declared in Damascus.

Syrian state TV went so far as to declare that Obama called off the attack because he could not prove the allegation that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons.

On al Manar, Hezbollah's TV network in Lebanon, an analyst claimed a "strategic victory" over America, saying that the joint stance of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah frightened Obama into retreat.

On the other side of the Syrian civil war, however, there was crushing disappointment and disillusionment.

"The Syrian people feel more alone now than ever," said Mouaz Mustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force. "This is absolutely a blow to many in the opposition on the ground who've suffered the brunt of the chemical attacks."

A final observation: Obama framed his decision in ringing terms, drawing on the deepest American constitutional ideals. He made the case that the country's true strength in the world flows from open democratic debate and decision-making, and there may be truth in that - in America. Not so much in this part of the world. Here, strength flows from strength - from the will, pride, ruthlessness and ferocity of a man, of a people. Democracy calls for a very different set of values. And for many in this ancient region, so alien in some ways to the culture of the West, those values - and leaders who turn to them instead of to force - are simply weak.