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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 30th, 2013
06:39 PM ET

Analysis: Limited action in Syria will not restore U.S. credibility in region

The newly-sworn in President Barack Obama sat down with Al Arabiya news, and offered "a hand of friendship" to the Arab world in January 2009.

Today, the Arab world has mixed feelings when it comes to the president, and view potential military action in Syria with skepticism.

"President Obama's stature and reputation in the Arab world has taken a beating long before the war in Syria," said Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya television, who conducted that first interview with Obama.

Melhem listed several reasons why Obama's reputation has dimmed, saying he did not deliver on his strong position against settlements in Palestine; his policy of engaging Iran did not appeal to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or the gulf; and when Arab leaders saw what they viewed as Obama's thumping of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, they felt, 'If he's not going to stand by an ally for 30 years, he's not going to stand by any of us.'

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday a key issue for the U.S. now is credibility. The U.S. needs to take some kind of action against Syria to maintain credibility around the world.

But carrying out a limited strike will not be enough for the United States to maintain, or indeed regain its credibility in the region, said Melhem.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad already "violated, crashed" Obama's credibility by crossing the president's so-called red line and using chemical weapons, said Melhem. A limited strike that does not change the regime in Damascus will not help Obama's reputation.

"Any option that will allow Bashar to remain in power, if he absorbs it, he will look powerful. The Arab states will be frustrated, the opposition that's close to the United States will be also be frustrated, the Islamists in Syria will be emboldened, they will say, 'This is America, who turned you down again.' And the moderate Arab states will see it as another sign of weakness, and Iran will be emboldened," said Melhem.

Arab nations have spoken out against the alleged chemical attack in Syria and Assad, but are not willing to support any kind of military action.

"The Saudis and Jordanians and others, their intent is to get rid of this regime," said Melhem. "But they're not going to participate openly like some did, like the UAE and Qatar in the operation in Libya."

There is no leadership in the region, said Melhem.

"One of the reasons we have this tragedy in Syria is the regional powers are unable to provide the leadership, Europeans on their own cannot provide leadership, and because of the dithering of the Obama administration, there is no international leadership," said Melhem.

People in the region have been waiting for more than two years for leadership, an "American umbrella under which they could move also, but they cannot lead by themselves," said Melhem.

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