President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
It’s tempting to enjoy the moment, that is, the humiliation of President Obama and the short-circuiting of his war push by a brilliant coup conducted by Vladimir Putin, that sly old dog and ju-jitsu expert, along with Russia’s ally, Syria. President Obama might as well not bother giving his Oval Office speech tonight, because the chances that Congress will approve Obama’s Authorization to Use Military Force are zero, and the possibility that the United States will go to war against Syria without congressional support are now less than zero.
But here’s the thing: the Russian proposal, now accepted by Syria, ought to be seized on by the White House enthusiastically, because it could open the door to, first, a political settlement of the war in Syria and then an accord with Iran.
Perhaps the signal failure of the Obama administration in the past five years has been its utter inability to achieve a decent working relationship with Moscow. Despite some successes, including limited success on arms talks and a cooling-down on NATO expansion and the placement of missiles in eastern Europe, Obama has allowed US-Russia relations to drift toward a Cold War–like hostility. That’s unfortunate, because a positive US-Russia approach toward issues such as the war in Syria, the confrontation over Iran, the struggle against Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism, and a whole range of disarmament and nuclear-weapons issues could succeed in making the world a better and safer place.
We’ll see if President Obama, stung now by Russia’s Syria plan, embraces a more intelligent strategy in regard to Moscow.
Meanwhile, the incompetence and bumbling of Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on Syria is staggering. Obama’s mistakes on Syria make a long list: first, calling for the fall of Assad in 2011, without any means to make it happen; second, drawing a “red line” on chemical weapons in 2012, thus boxing himself in when reports of Syrian gas use began piling up; third, promising to arm the Syrian rebels months ago, thus escalating the war and getting the rebels excited, with no real follow-up; fourth, oddly allowing Qatar and Saudi Arabia to take the lead in Syria policy, led by Prince Bandar and Saudi intelligence, while the United States took a back seat and the war was taken over by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda types; fifth, opting for a military strike with no obvious strategic value; and sixth, tossing the whole mess into Congress’ lap.
Today, facing defeat in Congress—perhaps the first-ever rejection of the use of the American military by a president who sought the approval of those 535 experts on foreign policy on Capitol Hill—Obama finds himself bailed out by Putin.