The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What should conservatives be for?

With yet another zig-zag — the notion that we could embrace a Russian scam that allows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to pay no price and lets Russian President Vladimir Putin to be the one to save him — the flow of “no” votes on the Syria resolution, including that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), suggests that the Russian gambit was the last straw for serious-minded conservatives. To make matters worse, Secretary of State John F. Kerry in testimony today warned against the Russian stalling tactic, something the president apparently will entertain in his speech tonight.

One school of thought is to go along with the Russian scam, put a timeline on it and commit to military action by the United Nations if Assad doesn’t comply. This is ridiculous.

The haggling by Russia and Syria will go on, the United Nations will delay and refuse to act. Nothing will have been accomplished. If it is even possible, President Obama and the United States will look even more feckless. Conservatives shouldn’t encourage a delusion.

Before the latest Russia gimmick, it might have been possible to cobble together a majority in support of use of force. Now, it is highly doubtful. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today that he was “skeptical” about a deal. Around the Web, on Twitter and from even the most optimistic conservatives, the deal gets a resounding thumbs down. A Senate Republican says bluntly: “Russia should be viewed as part of the problem, not the solution.”

Lee Smith at the Weekly Standard writes:

Who knows what the Russians told Assad? For God’s sake, just say it’s your chemical weapons arsenal you’re turning over for safekeeping. Send them canisters of perfume, or cat urine. The Americans just want a deal, the president thinks he’s saving face. If the Americans are smart, they’ll let the whole thing drop and call it a win, but knowing them they’ll come back later and complain that you’re not keeping your end of the bargain. No problem. We’ll stall them. And then every time Obama whines it will remind your adversaries and U.S. allies around the world that the Americans are empty suits, a bunch of legalistic bureaucrats who are incapable of standing with their friends.

For now the vote is off the calendar in the Senate, and I suspect it may stay this way. There is no real “plan” at this point (Russia will no doubt make it up as it goes along) and no discernible consensus. Moreover, House GOP leadership tells me the House always planned to go after the Senate. That may well be never.

This is fitting in a way. The president went to Congress for political cover. Then he went to Putin. Congress at this point is entitled to tell the president to solve his own mess.

UPDATE (3:40 p.m.): A former foreign policy official who has been very critical of Obama’s Syria policy observes, “The fact that Russia, Syria, and Iran are very happy is about all you need to see who won and who lost. Russia tried this before the Gulf wars too, but we didn’t fall for their intervention then. This is impossible: removing all the CW in the middle of a war, in a country whose regime was denying to Charlie Rose this week that there are any chemical weapons and will lie and cheat to keep as much of it as they can.” He adds: “Just watch now for the Russians to try this on behalf of Iran, and the administration to fall for that too.”