The Associated Press reports: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says NATO’s decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey is a clear message to Syria: Turkey is backed by its allies. Clinton says the Patriots are solely for defensive purposes. But she says Damascus should take it as further evidence of the U.S. and its allies’ resolve.” That is nonsense; Bashar al-Assad knows a useless gesture when he sees it, and he observes no American resolve to aid the Syrian opposition in meaningful ways.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me, “While I see the important role Turkey plays in the overall effort to bring down the Assad regime, I have serious reservations about rewarding a country that was behind the flotilla to Gaza, the sanctions-busting activities that have breathed life into Iran’s economy, and continues to squelch free speech at home.”

Moreover, it is far from clear that deploying the Patriots for defensive purposes (as opposed to using them in establishing a no-fly zone as Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-Conn.] suggested last week) does anything to speed Assad’s departure. An old Middle East hand remarks that there is “no downside, I think, though not much upside either. They will never be used; Assad will not attack Turkey.”

Isn’t that the perfect metaphor for President Obama’s foreign policy? Pick the wrong horse (Assad is a “reformer”!). Move with glacial speed to translate sentiment into action. Then defer to the United Nations to be kicked around by Russia. Add more high-minded sentiments while doing nothing. Show up late, be uncertain of which are the good and bad guys (which happens when one is late) and then engage in meaningless gestures.

Clinton and Obama might be kidding themselves but they are not fooling Assad or his protectors in Iran. The latter must certainly be convinced that if the U.S. won’t take minimal, relatively risk-free action (e.g., provide arms to rebels, set up a no-fly zone), it will never undertake high-risk, big military action against Tehran. And who could quibble with that analysis?

 The president might be expert at painting Republicans into a corner on taxes, but he has never developed (his heart surely isn’t in it) the technique of making threats credible to the mullahs. Syria is not simply a disastrous episode in American foreign policy because we allowed a humanitarian disaster to unfold and lost influence with whoever will follow Assad; it is a debacle because of the message it sends to Iran as well as China, Russia and other foes.