09/12/2013 07:51 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

Obama's Syrian Pushmi-Pullyu: Going Nowhere

I watched the president carefully Tuesday night. As a skeptic about any decision to project U.S. military force into Syria, I was hoping to see a sign that Mr. Obama was finally on a decisive path toward resolution. Wrong again. What I did see reminded me of the two-headed llama-like creature called the Pushmi-Pullyu of Dr. Doolittle fame. It is an allegorical beast going in two directions at once, and, therefore, going nowhere all the time.

There is simply no metric by which any of us can measure the president's direction. He is heading neither north nor south, east nor west; his compass is spinning from point to point to point, never resting for more than a moment on a firm heading. The fight is on, the fight is off; the fight may be on, the fight could be on; let's put the fight off for a while... groan. As a result, the American public, our Congressional representatives in both chambers, and the media of all stripes are being whipsawed to and fro by the White House's almost hourly changes in tone and substance (such as it ever is). Pity the poor sailors on the warships stationed in the Mediterranean; they are going around in circles both literally and figuratively.

I'm on record as not wanting the United States to intervene militarily in Syria unless there is long-term end game, with a strategy designed to stabilize the region and hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons. As a layperson, not privy to the machinations of the commander-in-chief and the national command authority or the intelligence agencies or the State Department's outreach efforts, I can only take in what is put directly in front of me. So far, nothing that has been said by the president, John Kerry, Vladimir Putin, or Assad suggests that there are adults in charge of the situation. Any Syrian discussion continues to be a mess of failed promises, veiled threats, evidence-by-video, denials, finger-pointing, and poorly-attempted legerdemain.

There is one other possibility: that all the dithering and indecisiveness is a ruse; that behind the scenes, high-level negotiations are taking place that will bring Assad to heel and force him to turn over his chemical weapons stores to an international authority. If that is the case, then I'm even madder, because then it comes down to the American public being used for pure emotional effect, pushed and pulled in many directions for the purpose of misdirection.

It may all turn out swell. Obama and Putin will hug, Assad will give up his weapons, the international community will collect and destroy them, and there will be a regime change that secures peace in Syria. Who wouldn't want that? Well, if all that happens because the public was played for a fool, I wouldn't want that.