Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
If President Obama believes that the threat of military force against Syria—a threat that, given Congress’s “implacable” opposition to, could never have been carried out—scared Russia so much that Vladimir Putin agreed to help dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, then he is living in a fantasy world of his own creation.
In his speech last night—originally designed to rally the country for war, but in which he announced the virtual cancellation of his ill-conceived war plan—Obama said that the developing accord between the United States and Russia emerged “in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action.” Not so.
Even though Obama and Putin discussed the idea of a deal over Syria’s arsenal in Russia last week, neither Obama nor Kerry deviated an inch from the path toward war until it became clear that Congress would not authorize an attack. At that point, it became obvious to all, including the astute Putin, that no American attack was likely to emerge. Obama had created a catastrophically bad situation for himself, all his own doing, and by this past weekend he’d been hoist with his own petard. In fact, had Congress voted down his war plan, Obama’s presidency would have essentially been destroyed, and he’d have served out his last three years as a limping, lame duck.
Although Obama theoretically could have bombed Syria without congressional authorization, practically speaking that would have been impossible—and both Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad know it. Lacking public support for war, stripped of significant international support, Obama was facing complete paralysis, despite his macho touting of “red lines.” So Putin and Assad have bailed him out. The question now is: Will Obama move forward with an actual peace plan for Syria that goes beyond the issue of chemical weapons?
Listening to his speech last night, in which he said not a word about an actual peace plan, you’d have to think the answer is no. If so, the president would be making the biggest mistake in policy toward Syria, on top of a staggering number of what look like the incompetent, rookie mistakes made by a president who, after all, knows very little about international affairs. (Like George W. Bush, Obama had barely traveled the world before becoming president.)