For a while, it looked as though Barack Obama would suffer his most humiliating political defeat ever. Congress was about to tell the President a loud and emphatic “No!” to his request for legislation authorizing a military strike against Syria, when suddenly who should come galloping to his rescue other than his longtime nemesis, Russian President Vladimir Putin?
What the heck is going on here?
The present charade began last Monday, when Secretary of State John Kerry made a supposedly off-hand remark at a press conference in London. When asked if anything could avert the United States from taking military action against Syria, Kerry said there was. All that was necessary was for Syrian President Bashar Assad to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community.”
But Kerry then said, “He isn’t about to do it.” And referring to the fact that it would be impossible to verify that all chemical weapons had been surrendered, even if Assad were to agree, Kerry added, “And it can’t be done.”
But it looks like we’re all going to pretend that it can be. The Russians promptly grabbed the Kerry fumble and scored a touchdown with it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country would be delighted to supervise the compliance by its longtime ally.
And Assad — who up until now had denied that his government even possessed chemical weapons, much less used them against any of its citizens — said he’d go along with the plan. Sure he will.
Prior to these latest developments, the White House had been lobbying Congress day and night to give the President permission to attack Syria. We’d do it all long-range, you understand, without a single American soldier ever stepping foot in the country. “No boots on the ground,” we were promised, just “unbelievably small” air strikes.
President Barack Obama said he really didn’t need Congress’s permission to launch the missiles, he just thought it would be a good idea to get the support of the people’s representatives. Not only would his people lobby hard on Capitol Hill, the President would take his message directly to the public. The White House asked the major television networks to carry Obama’s remarks live on Tuesday night.
In a lifetime of watching Presidential addresses, I have never seen a bigger waste of time than Obama’s speech that night. The best thing about it was that it was short: only 16½ minutes long. But what was the point of it?
In her blog, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called the speech a “time filler.” That it was. She wrote:
He should have canceled the speech. It was halfhearted, pro forma and strange. It added nothing, did not deepen or advance the story, was not equal to the atmosphere surrounding it, and gave no arguments John Kerry hasn’t made, often more forcefully, in the past 10 days.
True. The original purpose of the speech — to rally support for military strikes against Syria — was no longer valid. Instead, the President said he had asked Congress “to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force, while we pursue this diplomatic path.” He’s called for meetings of the U.N. Security Council in New York City. He’s sent Kerry to Geneva to meet with the Russian foreign minister. He himself will continue to talk with Putin. Meanwhile, he’ll keep all U.S. military forces in place, just in case.
In another post, Noonan wrote: “The president will keep the possibility of force on the table, but really he’s lunging for a lifeline he was lucky to be thrown.”
Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan said the same thing, but more colorfully: “Kerry fumbled the ball into the end zone and Obama fell on it, and now we’re not going to have a war,”
Don’t be so sure. Just after all the glad-handing and merrymaking, Putin dropped a major fly in the ointment, saying that Russia would pursue the deal only if the United States would promise that it would not take any military action against Syria. And he followed up that demand with the announcement that Russia was going to supply Iran, its other ally in the area, with sophisticated air defense missile systems. Not only that, but it would also build a second nuclear reactor in the country.
As if that weren’t insult enough, yesterday The New York Times published an op-ed piece allegedly written by the Russian president. In it, Putin lectures the United States about what could happen if Obama proceeds with his oft-threatened military strikes against Syria. And he actually claims: “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” Sure thing, buddy.
The whole idea of “the international community” getting hold of Syria’s chemical weapons is absurd. There is no way to rid Syria of chemical weapons in a few weeks, even if Assad were to agree. Remember what happened in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted? It took authorities more than two years to complete their search of the country. And that was after “peace” had allegedly been restored. Syria is in the middle of an incredibly savage civil war.
The rebels are just as barbaric and bloodthirsty as the government’s troops. Many of them are fanatical jihadists with links to al-Qaida. And these are the people we want to see overthrow Assad?
Yes, the price being paid in Syria is dreadful. More than 100,000 people have been killed. Several million people have fled the country; more people are trying to do so every day. But for now, the United States will stand down. And the grand charade will continue — at least for a while.
By the way, the next time Obama wants to address the Nation, I hope he’ll do it from the Oval Office. That location conveys a certain majesty and gravitas, which should be appropriate for a Presidential address.
By comparison, the long, empty corridor behind the President on Tuesday night seemed bleak and insignificant. At least this time the location matched the content.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.