Obama’s Russia-United Nations gambit has convinced all but the Kool-Aid drinkers that the president is entirely unserious about punishing the use of WMDs and his “Assad must go” policy (now it’s Assad must stay, but Russia will watch the WMDs).
Moreover, it may have lost whatever residual help from House leaders there might have been. An adviser to speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) clarified that Boehner’s support was only for the original use-of-force resolution and reiterated that Boehner had expressed skepticism about letting Russia into the mix. That may signal the abandonment of the GOP leadership as a whole. In the Senate, meanwhile, John McCain and a few others are trying to rewrite the resolution, but this may be an impossible task. One GOP adviser told me that his boss “thinks this is what happens when you wander into an international situation without a plan or goal.”
Most important, the Russia gambit has put the nail in the coffin on Obama’s Iran policy and done serious damage to American standing in the Middle East.
A Democrat and official of a pro-Israel group who has backed the president’s threat to use force against Syria, in part because of the importance of sending Iran a message, has had it. “If the International Community lets Russia run this process, it’s like having a hyena guard the chicken coop. [Vladimir] Putin can’t be trusted and neither can Assad,” he e-mailed me, adding that Putin “outfoxed the Obama administration again.”
Others see an ominous pattern confirming the United States has checked out of the Middle East entirely and has ceded the dominate role to Russia. Danielle Pletka at the American Enterprise Institute observed: ” I thought it was insane when we decided to subcontract foreign policy to Qatar. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re doing the same with Russia. I don’t know how the president can fool either himself or the American people into thinking that Putin has anyone’s best interests at heart, but apparently he has.” As for Iran, she said, “The simple message to Tehran is that the power brokers are in Moscow. Washington is a sideshow.”
If anything, the Russia move has helped unite some conservative internationalists. Pete Wehner, who wrote perhaps the most thoughtful piece advocating a “no” vote on the use-of-force resolution, is shoulder-to-shoulder with hawks who were willing to support the resolution. He writes:
Russia is now establishing itself as the preeminent power in the region, having displaced the United States. American prestige and credibility lie in ruins. President Obama has succeeded in undermining the moderate rebels he promised to assist. He has strengthened the murderous anti-American regime he declared he wanted gone. A despot who used chemical weapons and committed, in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, a “moral obscenity” will now escape any punishment (which after all was the stated purpose of Obama’s threats to strike Syria). And Iran and Hezbollah, having (along with Russia) come to the aid of Assad, will emerge from this whole thing in a much stronger position.
And true to form, before the day is out, Russia has insisted all use-of-force threats be off the table. Anyone supporting the president’s shenanigans at this point risks suffering the same loss of credibility that Obama has brought on himself.
It will be fascinating to watch the president tonight try to convince himself and the country this is all going according to plan. Meanwhile, the centrifuges are spinning a little faster in Iran tonight. Watch this space for a speech roundup later tonight and tomorrow.