The secretary of state dared the Russian leader to ride to the rescue, and the Russian leader took his dare. The White House can claim all it wants that it was Barack Obama's "toughness" that forced the favorable turn, and Vladimir Putin will smile his snake-like KGB smile and let it pass. The world knows who won this one. John Kerry, the author of the dare, learned a hard lesson: never match wits with someone as clever as yourself and maybe tougher besides. Never assume that the improbable is impossible.
The president and his friends are working hard to make Obama the improbable hero. Nancy Pelosi proclaimed the Putin rescue operation a "victory" for the American president, but Washington and the West can't afford another victory like this one. Putin, as the improbable god in the machine, is entitled to his laugh. "If Obama wants to see it like a Christmas miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue," writes Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard, "that's fine with Putin, because Putin won."
So what difference does it make whether my college graduate missed the reference to (set ital) deus ex machina (end ital)? It's but a reflection of what he didn't learn. The Greek and Roman classics no longer form the roots of a Western education to frame the common cultural knowledge. Thinking with the help of analogies and metaphors, a lost skill, testifies to the ability to reason together (though Vladimir Putin has lately done well enough with neither metaphor nor analogy).
Putting off a vote, the president is grateful to a dissembling onetime KGB agent who delayed the debate of the Syrian atrocity with a clever power play. The chief international supporter of Bashir al-Assad, and his most reliable supplier of guns, will take control now of the civil war and events in the Middle East, delaying help for the rebels who had hopes and promises of something better.
The debate that President Obama said we should have is effectively over, decided by who best exploited and manipulated John Kerry's gaffe. (set ital) Deus ex machina (end ital) indeed. Say what?