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Pick one: blundering giant or 98-pound weakling

U.S. President Barack Obama dither over a military response to the Aug. 21 gassing of 1,400 Syrians at the same time as he eloquently defended the moral necessity of punishing the Bashar al-Assad regime for the atrocity.

GABRIELLA DEMCZUK/The New York Times

What's worse: a) a U.S. president who sees the world in black and white and will lie his way into a no-exit war, i.e. George W. Bush; or b) one who "embraces complexity," as his acolytes like to put it, and is thus unable to carry out a simple threat of well-deserved retaliation, i.e. Barack H. Obama?

That's the debate The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente sparked among readers this week with her column on Barack Obama and his nomadic "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. After watching the President dither over a military response to the Aug. 21 gassing of 1,400 Syrians at the same time as he eloquently defended the moral necessity of punishing the Bashar al-Assad regime for the atrocity, her answer was "a." "If there's one thing worse than being a blundering giant, it's being a 98-pound weakling," she wrote.

Online readers, however, were more in the "b" category, judging by the top comment on Ms. Wente's column. "Give me an overthinking 98-pound weakling over a blundering never-second-guessing-himself giant any day of the week," the commenter wrote, a view supported by 167 fellow readers.

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Letter writers, too, were keen on Option B. "It would take a stupid, very vain president to turn away from a peaceful solution to the chemical-weapons crisis for such myths as American leadership and muscle," wrote Margarida Krause of Guelph, Ont.

In general, Globe readers are not pining for the hawkish Bush/Cheney years, a sentiment expressed in various ways. There were also a fair number of readers who doubted that the Assad regime was responsible for the gas attack, instead buying (or selling) the Russian and Syrian line that it was carried out by opposition forces attempting to discredit Mr. Assad.

Ms. Wente was typically more nuanced than most readers gave her credit for. "Mr. Bush's problem was that once he made decisions, he never second-guessed himself," she wrote. And she is "deeply skeptical of the case for intervening" in Syria.

She just happens to believe that Mr. Obama's inability to cobble together a response, after eloquently making the moral case for one, has left him with sand in his face. And she is galled that his stasis has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to control the issue – a position shared by letter writer William Bedford of Toronto: "Barack Obama is making ex-KGB thug Vladimir Putin look like a statesman."

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