The World is a Tough Town
President Barack Obama is back on his heels and that is a dangerous place to be.
The more foreign leaders he met with, the more they made it clear they were not going to be helpful in Syria. The more White House staff he sent to the Hill, the fewer Members and Senators were convinced. The more everyone talked about going to war in Syria - no matter how small that war - the lower the support among regular Americans.
Secretary of State John Kerry after giving an impassioned speech from the State Department on why going to war was not just the right course, but the only course; a week later said that any attack would be "incredibly small."
Vladimir Putin, playing Grandmaster Chess while the U.S. government was playing amateur Chinese Checkers, saw the opening and drove a rhetorical truck through it by offering to get Syria to give up the chemical weapons that Bashir al Assad had previously denied even having.
The White House not only embraced the Russian proposal but almost fell over weeping with happiness.
Russia immediately said it would not allow any Security Council Resolution that included even a threat of a use of force against Syria. The White House wiped away its tears of joy.
On Tuesday night, President Obama gave a speech that lasted about 17 minutes in which the only news was he would ask Congress to put aside the resolution allowing him to go to war - a resolution he was absolutely going to lose on a bi-partisan vote in the House, and might well have lost in the Senate.
At the end of his speech, Mr. Obama said that while we cannot be the world's policeman, "When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes us exceptional."
On Thursday, Vladimir Putin, gave the President and, by extension the nation, a tongue-lashing with his op-ed in the New York Times. Returning to his "each according to his ability; each according to his needs" Communist theology, Putin turned that notion of American exceptionalism back on Obama at the end of his essay:
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."
This, in sophisticated foreign service circles, is known as the "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" gambit.
Meanwhile, no one - NO ONE - is suggesting that Assad be held criminally liable for killing (or permitting to be killed) more than 1,400 people. Giving his CWs to Russia apparently wipes the slate clean.
Thus, after more than three weeks of bluster and hand wringing, President Obama successfully maneuvered the world into a place where Syria is negotiating not with the U.S. or the U.N., but with one of its strongest allies: Russia.
The United States has been reduced to the equivalent of sitting at the kids' table during Thanksgiving dinner pretending to, in the words of Paul Simon, "speak of things that matter, with words that must be said."
Our President is seen as weak and, if not confused, at least indecisive. That means the United States is seen as, at best, tired and bewildered.
If it were just not having the capacity to lead in complex and difficult circumstances, that would be bad enough. But, it appears we have no ability to react to events even after they've occurred.
We can snicker and - as Conservatives - even gloat, over the glaring insufficiencies of President Obama in foreign affairs, but we must realize that North Korea and Iran; the Taliban and the Pakistanis; and places in Africa, Asia and South America that we haven't even thought about may see this as their opportunity to strike at their neighbors, or at the United States. Or both.
If America has thrown its badge into the dust, then it is a dangerous world without its only sheriff.
The world is a tough town.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to Putin's op-ed and to the Simon & Garfunkel tune, "Dangling Conversation." Also a Mullfoto that will make you smile, because that's what we all need to do now and again.