U.S. President Barack Obama now wants to have military equipment delivered to the insurgents after all: small arms and ammunition — but no anti-aircraft missiles. That is as if a doctor were prescribing cough syrup for a seriously ill tuberculosis patient.

There is a work by the great master Rembrandt van Rijn from the year 1692 showing “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” In the painting, a group of venerable gentlemen is seen crowded around a corpse on a table. A further venerable man, precisely that Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, explains the muscles of the underarm to the bystanders.

The West’s Syria policy — with the U.S. leading the way — is strongly reminiscent of Rembrandt’s painting. Many venerable gentlemen watch with concern, at times even in disgust at the carnage that is taking place in Syria. But they have been unable to bring themselves to do more than to comment upon the ill-favored situation of the rebels — and millions of defenseless civilians — with regret. Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and his allies in Moscow and Tehran have fewer scruples. They are firing from all barrels. If it continues this way, then it will not take long for the Syrian rebellion to be as cold and dead as the corpse on Rembrandt’s table.

Alarmed at the intervention of the Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria and the use of poisonous gas by Assad’s troops, U.S. President Barack Obama now wants to have military equipment delivered to the insurgents after all: by all accounts, small arms and ammunition, perhaps tanks, but no anti-aircraft missiles. That is as if a doctor were prescribing cough syrup for a seriously ill tuberculosis patient. Assad’s army is shooting with heavy artillery, with tanks and scud missiles; they deploy fighter jets and helicopters — and, apparently, also the nerve gas sarin in particular attacks. A few new Kalashnikovs for the insurgents, compliments of the CIA, will not turn the military situation around. To save the rebels, the prospective help from America is insufficient — too little, too late.

The President Is Ashamed

That could also be considered Obama’s attempt to save America’s credibility. The U.S. president had designated the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a game changer — in other words, an event whose occurrence would change the overall assessment of the situation and shuffle the cards anew. An event of any kind whatsoever would trigger a strong American reaction in any case. Yet the planned delivery of weapons is far from that. Obama is apparently so ashamed that he didn’t even openly mention it in the White House statement.

The game changer now exists, yet Obama continues to hesitate to respond correspondingly to it. He remains an observer, a Dr. Tulp, who will competently explain after death what the patient died of.

Obama’s restraint may somehow be of advantage in the Syrian poker game with Moscow. But it leaves behind a dramatic impression of weakness. Governments in the whole world, America’s enemies as well as friends, will register this weakness closely — with pleasure or dismay.