But he may have found it harder to say no to Putin, his chief ally and his protector in the UN Security Council, where Russia had blocked action against Syria. His regime probably could survive an attack that Kerry had promised would be "unbelievably small." But its long-term prospects would be dim without Russian help.
Valerie Hudson, a professor of international relations at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, told me this turn of events could hardly be better for the president. Once the UN Security Council takes ownership of the deal, she noted, "the United States is off the hook." The heavy lifting to secure and monitor the chemical weapons stores will fall to Russia and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
While the deal won't be leakproof, she argued, that's not crucial. What's crucial is "for Assad to have no incentives to use chemical weapons, but only disincentives." The disincentives are the risk of antagonizing Putin, kissing off Russian support and uniting the Security Council behind military action.
It's an uncannily fortunate turn of events for Obama, but this is the guy who won his 2004 Senate race after his chief Democratic opponent, and then the Republican nominee, fell victim to lurid scandals.
This is the guy who got Osama bin Laden after his own experts said there was only a 40 percent chance the al-Qaida leader was in the targeted building. This is the guy who got to run against John McCain and Mitt Romney, both masters of self-destruction.
Right now, it looks as though Obama's good luck will pay off again by saving him from his mistakes on Syria. In that case, his next memoir can borrow the title of boxer Rocky Graziano's: "Somebody Up There Likes Me."
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