Boy, was that ever painful, watching Russian President Vladimir Putin attempting to pry U.S. President Barack Obama's fingers off the Tomahawk missile trigger and convince him not to go ahead with an attack that Obama most likely didn't want to launch in the first place.
America won, and so did Russia. I realize that sounds bizarre, but this isn't a football game with a winner and a loser. It's not like Obama is going to have to give his Nobel Peace Prize to Putin as if it were the Lombardi Trophy and only one team at a time can have it (although some have suggested as much).
A lot of people are saying that the United Nations Security Council's resolution forcing Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control -- and the explicit absence of any military force in the event of noncompliance -- is a major diplomatic victory for Russia. A friend working in the American intelligence community told me that he thought Putin had managed to outsmart Obama using his chess-master, spymaster and other Russian-cliché-master talents to get exactly what he wanted in Syria.
Putin is a black belt in judo, and it seems that he adopted that sport's strategy of capitalizing on the momentum of an opponent's punch to throw him to the ground. In this case, the punch was being thrown by a U.S. president bringing his nation to the brink of war in the absence of public support or the evidence to win it.
Still, it would be a mistake to see this as a zero-sum game. What is America's loss here? If anything, it's a net gain, because if Islamic extremists are flooding into Syria, as has been reported, then responsibility for the war on terrorism in the region is placed directly onto Russia's shoulders. If Obama can let Putin handle it without crying about Russians infringing on the humanitarian rights of those extremists, simply because it's Russia leading the cleanup and because Cold War rivalries die hard, then everybody wins. Odds are slim to none that Russia is going to drop the ball on an opportunity to eradicate Islamic extremism -- or risk such an opportunity by letting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad behave like a nut job.
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