Jamie Fly and Robert Zarate have an important piece on the implications of President Obama’s paralysis on Syria. They write:

If the United States still can’t bring itself to stop the mortally wounded Assad regime (which lacks nuclear weapons) from murdering its own people and destabilizing its neighbors, then how likely is it to deal with much harder cases in the Middle East—like a nuclear-armed Iran that starts inflicting Syria-like mass atrocities on its own people or menacing its own neighbors? Indeed, not only Damascus and Tehran, but also America’s allies and partners throughout the world, are waiting and watching to see whether the Obama administration and Congress will truly side with the Syrian people and show resolve against Assad.

In short, if it were “only” a human rights atrocity it would be bad enough. But the image of fecklessness it projects undermines our effectiveness in dealing with Iran.

And then consider Egypt. The Post editorial board wrote:

It’s been five weeks since the Obama administration granted Egypt its full $1.3 billion in annual military aid despite its government’s failure to meet conditions set by Congress for advancing democracy. In granting a waiver on national security grounds, administration officials argued that continuing the funding was more likely to encourage cooperation with the United States and progress on human rights than a cutoff would.

As it turns out, the administration was wrong. In a number of tangible ways, U.S.-Egyptian relations and the military’s treatment of civil society have deteriorated since the waiver was issued March 23. The threat to nongovernmental organizations, whose prosecution triggered the threat of an aid suspension, has worsened. Conditions for U.S.-backed pro-democracy groups elsewhere in the Middle East have deteriorated as other governments have observed Egypt’s ability to crack down with impunity.

As in Syria, we have lost any credibility in Egypt with those fighting for human rights and democracies. In both countries we are seen as passive players in which strongmen and their allies (e.g. Russia and Iran, in the case of Bashar al-Assad) still dominate the scene.

The notion of “leading from behind” has always been preposterous. Not only do stragglers not lead, but they give up the lead to those willing and able to impose themselves on events.

In the meantime, our claim to the moral high ground evaporates. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies comments on Obama’s inconsistency in the region when it comes to democracy and support for human rights. He notes that “the White House issued an executive order to stop technology companies from helping Iran and Syria commit human rights abuses. The two countries have become what members of Congress have called ‘zones of electronic repression,’ where the regimes use modern technologies to crush those seeking democratic reforms. “ But then Obama turns a blind eye elsewhere::

Obama is missing an opportunity to promote positive change in a government over which the United States has much more leverage: Mahmoud Abbas’s increasingly repressive fiefdom in the West Bank.On the same day as the White House issued its executive order, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported an explosive story detailing how Palestinian officials have “quietly instructed Internet providers to block access to news websites whose reporting is critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.”

This wasn’t a rogue operation. All signs suggest the order to shut the website came straight from the top. The Ma’an article, citing a Palestinian official, claims that Palestinian Authority Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni personally delivered the order but that he “was acting on instructions from higher up in the government -- either from the president’s office or an intelligence director.”

As he did for Egypt, Obama released a huge amount of aid with no conditions. (“The president, however, issued the waver without first demanding that Abbas take measures to guarantee free speech in the West Bank. This was a lost opportunity. Only direct intervention by the United States will ensure greater freedom of expression for Palestinians engaged in this important struggle.”)

U.S. leadership is not established and maintained by raid or single battle, however critical and well conceived. It is the result of consistent efforts over an extended period in which nation states an third parties learn that we will defend our values and interests. That is not what this administration has done.