"He's caught between his own rhetoric about American leadership — rhetoric that's obligatory in much of the foreign policy establishment — and the reality of what the American public is willing to pay for," said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy scholar at Johns Hopkins University.
Obama still hasn't quite reconciled the two faces of his policy for American voters or anyone else, including Syria's disappointed rebels and Iran's ruling clergy.
And that leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding. In the case of Iran, Obama wants the mullahs to believe that if they cross his "red line" of building a nuclear weapon, they will face a U.S. military strike — unlike Syria's Assad, who crossed Obama's "red line" with chemical weapons but was spared.
The president says the distinction is perfectly clear.
"I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue," he said. "They shouldn't draw a lesson that. we won't strike Iran." Instead, he suggested, "what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically."
Let's hope the mullahs can decipher the message.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanuslatimes.com.
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