Michael Barone

The claim that the Russians agreed to push Syria on chemical weapons only because Obama threatened to use force requires a belief they thought he would do so after an adverse congressional vote. Not likely.

Nor is it likely that John Kerry's statement in his Monday press conference in London that the attack could be avoided if Syria submitted to international inspections was part of a calculated strategy. Kerry's next words were, "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."

Kerry was winging it, and so was Obama when he spoke favorably of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's offer to push Syria to give up its poison gas.

So the president's Wednesday night speech included words supporting military action and other words explaining that it wasn't necessary.

It can be argued that Obama's decision to hold off on air strikes and negotiate with the Russians is better for the United States in the short run than the other two alternatives on offer -- ineffective air strikes or a landslide repudiation of the commander in chief by Congress.

But in the long run, it's a terrible setback for America.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger muscled the Soviet Union out of Middle East diplomacy back in 1973. In the 40 years since, American presidents have kept the Russians out.

Now they're back in. A nation with a declining population, a weakened military and an economy propped up only by oil and gas exports has suddenly made itself the key interlocutor in the region.

Obama has allowed this even though it's obvious that effective disarmament is impossible in a nation riven by civil war and ruled by a regime with every incentive and inclination to lie and conceal.

The negotiations and any fig-leaf inspection process can be dragged out for weeks, months and years, as Saddam Hussein demonstrated.

Obama said he hoped to degrade Syria's chemical weapons program. Instead he has degraded his own -- and America's -- credibility.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM