Suddenly, an apparent peaceful solution in Syria has walked onstage. Who wouldn’t welcome that? Well, we have to hold our applause while we consider the source. It looks like Syria has agreed to a Russian proposal where President Bashar al-Assad will give up his chemical weapons to the international community, whatever that means. Skepticism is in order. This latest development reinforces the impromptu nature of this White House. This is a group who can’t influence events, led by a wandering president whose words and actions reveal him to be a witness to events he doesn’t control. The whole affair is looking more Carter-esque than ever.
Of course it’s a good idea for us to come to a diplomatic solution. But whether or not this proposal is serious and viable or if Russian President Vladimir Putin is just having some fun manipulating President Obama remains to be seen.
The metaphors are many: A classic tease, Lucy holding the football, a head fake, etc. Wise heads will have to determine if this is anything more than a delaying tactic straight from the North Korean and Iranian playbooks: make an appealing, sensible gesture to get us to politely wait for the peaceful breakthrough but, all the while, build their bombs.
The reality is that the risk that Obama is being shamelessly and comically manipulated is counter-balanced by the prospect of securing deadly, dangerous weapons that could kill Americans. Is Putin toying with us? Is all of Washington — including leaders from both parties — now Putin’s puppet? We know that Putin does seem to delight in taunting Obama, but maybe he has overplayed his hand this time. If the votes in Congress become about calling the Russian president’s bluff rather than supporting a bumbling president at home, Obama’s hand could be strengthened.
Even though it is tempting to think the president could now prove a larger point by ignoring Putin and striking hard at Syria, there are still too many good reasons not to engage in military action. Of course, Assad actually giving up his WMDs would be one such good reason, and the prospect is worth probing. Republicans, like me, who have said they are against a strike can’t now insist that the president proceed with an attack.
I sympathize with the tangled conundrum the administration is in, even if much of it is a result of their own hubris, inexperience and sheer blundering. If we have any hope of success, Obama must be clear in his words and performance tonight and demonstrate to the American people that he is not being played for a fool.