A desperate and foundering White House and a fearful Congress were cast a lifeline yesterday by ' get ready for it ' Vladimir Putin. This is the same Vladimir Putin who has consistently enabled Bashir al-Assad to survive. While Obama has waffled and squirmed and attempted to escape the consequences of his own ill-chosen words; while Obama attempted once more to vote "present" and toss the responsibility to Congress, Putin has maintained a consistent policy in Syria.
The Russians have no cause to sympathize with jihadi rebels. They have their own history with them in Afghanistan and Chechnya, not to mention an upcoming Winter Olympics that is threatened by Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. Syria has long been a sort of Russian client state and hosts the Russian fleet at Tartus.
In other words, the Russians have more reason to be involved in the Syrian conflict than does the United States.
An off-the-cuff remark by Secretary of State John Kerry to the effect that if the Syrians agreed to surrender their chemical stockpiles they might avert an American strike, "but they'll never do it," was seized upon by the Russians. The State Department quickly characterized the Secretary's remark as meaningless, but the Russians spotted an opening through which to insert themselves forcefully into the debate and forestall American military action. The Russian statements were clasped to the quivering bosoms of American legislators and the administration as an unexpected and welcome excuse to avoid making a decision.
Ever since Obama dove into the rabbit hole of foreign policy, an area in which he has demonstrated no expertise, he has tumbled headlong down a slippery slope with little control over his rate of descent. His own off-the-cuff remark (there seem to be a lot of off-the-cuff remarks from this bunch) regarding a red line in Syria ended up being a red line that painted the president himself into a corner. Casting about desperately for a way out, he tossed the eight ball to Congress. Now Putin, who plays chess while Obama is barely adept at checkers, looks like winning the day.
Actually finding and removing chemical weapons from Syria will not be a simple task. A civil war abetted by outside forces is underway there. Remember the travails of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq when no war was underway? Any similar effort in the midst of the Syrian battle space is likely to be tentative and extended over many months, if not years.
If there is a silver lining here, it is that Putin's maneuver provides Obama with the excuse he was seeking to do nothing. I would rather have this president and his gang of irresponsible neophytes do nothing than see them do anything.