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Smart Power: In Stark Reversal, Obama Embraces Putin Plan...Which Putin Promptly Rejects

Scroll down for the latest indignity visited upon our president by his Russian friend.  But first, some background.  Yesterday afternoon, I offered the following analysis:


Did Kerry's comments transform themselves from a gaffe into official policy in less than an hour? ... Earlier this afternoon, the Senate began debate over an authorization of force resolution that's losing steam on Capitol Hill.  A third poll out today details widespread public opposition to a Syria intervention, which has only increased since the administration began its media push in favor of military action.  With those political realities as a backdrop, the administration might very well lunge at this opportunity to extricate the president from his self-inflicted "red line" trap.  If Assad is willing to at least make a show of turning his chemical weapons over to the "international community" at the behest of his friends in Moscow, the result would amount to a bizarre, serendipitous, and imperfect win-win: Dangerous weapons would (theoretically) be confiscated from the regime, the US could claim that our "pressure" led to this concession, an unwanted intervention would be avoided, and the "red line" conundrum would be essentially resolved.  Just this morning, the White House was staring a bruising political defeat in the face.  Kerry's screw-up may have provided an off-ramp.  All that's left is for Obama to hail this "progress" during his interviews tonight, scrap or totally re-write his Tuesday address, and withdraw the war resolutions from Congress ... Would Harry Reid -- who invoked Hitler and Satan in arguing in favor of bombing Syria just this afternoon -- be willing to perform a complete about-face to do Obama a solid? One would expect so...I suspect Team Obama will line up behind the Kerry/Putin "breakthrough" in fairly short order, declare victory, then sprint away from Syria.  


Less than 24 hours later, what have we seen?  With public opinion still sliding, and the Congressional whip count in disarray, (a) President Obama has hailed the gaffe-caused Russian proposal as a "breakthrough,"  (b) the usual suspects have begun congratulating Obama for the alleged "progress" to which he's contributed exactly nothing, (c) Harry Reid has dutifully delayed Wednesday's Senate vote on the unpopular resolution, and (d) the media is laying the groundwork for a clean pivot away from this whole mess.  And what a mess it is.  Here's Julia Ioffe, writing in the liberal New Republic, recapitulating the unmitigated "clusterf--k" over which Obama has presided: 

The Russians immediately jumped on the impromptu proposal, calling Kerry to check if he was serious before going live with their proposal to lean on Syria. An hour later, they trotted out Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, who said he too was down with the proposal, which was a strange way to get the Syrians to finally admit they even had chemical weapons to begin with. Before long, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the English, and the French were all on board, too.  Meanwhile, back in Washington, the White House was just as surprised as anyone. Asked if this was a White House plan that Kerry had served up in London, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken was unequivocal. "No, no, no," he said. "We literally just heard about this as you did some hours ago."  While the Russians are already cutting deals and drumming up promises from the Syrians—with whom, as they've insisted for years, they have no leverage—and as the world lines up on the off-ramp, the White House was still marshalling its case for a military strike, trotting out National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and poor Tony Blinken, who was left making the case for two mutually exclusive things: "We'll talk to the Russians," he kept repeating even as he hammered on the intelligence and the need to degrade, deter, et cetera, et cetera....This, in other words, is no light at the end of the tunnel. This, to borrow a phrase from a Congressional staffer at his wits' end, "is an unmitigated clusterf*ck."


Kerry's mindless musings -- upon which the Russians and Syrians instantly seized as an American offer -- don't present a workable geopolitical, military, diplomatic or humanitarian "solution" in any sense of the word.  See, for instance, this analysis of how disarming the regime of every shred of its WMD programs -- in the midst of a vicious civil war -- is pretty much impossible.  What the new plan does afford Barack Obama is an acceptable political escape route -- and he's eager to take it.  Yesterday's spectacle developed so quickly that various elements within the administration weren't singing from the same hymnal as it unfolded.  Now that everyone's in line, the faux-triumphant climb down is in full swing.  Remember when the White House said the United Nations couldn't be counted on in Syria?  Remember when Assad was the spawn of Hitler and Satan whose actions demanded swift punishment?  Remember when Kerry's brain fart was a "major goof," rather than a stroke of genius?  That's all gone.  Obama's punted this back to the UN, is totally cool with a deliberate pace, and considers SatanHitler's alleged acquiescence meaningful "progress."  Kerry's also now lying about how this is all playing out exactly as he intended when he devised his brilliant plan days ago (even though that's not what happened at all, according to both our State Department and the
Russian foreign ministry; but then again, Kerry lies).  But wait.  Hold the presses.  Putin is just trolling our president at this point:

Surreal.  I can't say I envy Obama's speechwriters.  First, they were instructed to draw up a "case for war" speech.  Then that got scrapped, in favor of a "diplomatic breakthrough" face-saving address, replete with empty tough-guy language.  Now what?  Obama's Syria policy is changing by the hour.  I'm not sure even if he has the faintest idea of what he'll say tonight.  Think about that.  His message may depend on whatever machinations the Kremlin dreams up this afternoon -- to which our leadership will invariably respond like headless chickens.  This Keystone Cops routine would be entertaining if it weren't so serious.  The administration is completely adrift.  The president is a laughingstock.  America looks weak and disoriented.  All this, courtesy of the crowd that practically dislocated their arms patting themselves on the back for their "smart power" diplomacy.  Place your bets now: What does Obama say tonight?  Does he revert to trying to persuade Congress to authorize military force against Syria, or does he play along with Putin's charade?  Or maybe he just sits there and eats a bowl of oatmeal on camera, awaiting Moscow's next move.  I'll leave you with two parting quotations.  John Bolton:


“I think that proposal is an Alice in Wonderland proposal,” Bolton told the Washington Examiner in a phone interview. “Kerry says something that’s offhand, the State Department within hours says, ‘Oh, that’s just a hypothetical.’ Russians see an opportunity, they seize on it. They basically have the Syrians agree, and the next thing you know, Obama buys it. And I think if he didn’t look utterly foolish before, this pretty well takes the cake.”

And a final assessment from the Julia Ioffe piece linked above:

There are two clear winners in this slow-motion train wreck, and they are not Obama or Kerry. They are Assad and Putin. Both wanted, for their own reasons, to avert a military strike, and a military strike was averted. Putin insisted on a diplomatic solution while doing everything to make a diplomatic solution impossible, and now he gets his phony, unenforceable diplomatic solution. Assad wanted to go on killing his opposition, and he will continue to do so. Obama, on the other hand, found himself constantly check-mated, either by his own hand, or, this time, by Kerry's.

And that was before Putin punk'd Obama again. Utter incoherence.

UPDATE - Putin keeps on trolling, apparently confident that he can dictate US foreign policy:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said that if the United States wants Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, it must first ditch efforts to strike Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. “Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the U.S. and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force,” Putin told Russia Today. “It is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration," he added.

Putin gave this (nonsensical) quote exclusively to RT, the Kremlin-funded American propaganda network.  Subtle.  We call off the dogs, and only then can Syria will play nice.  Sure.  Also, the idea that Russia -- the country that has repeatedly denied Assad's use of chemical weapons -- will actively help disarm him of those very weapons is preposterous.  Lefty hacks are actually trying to pretend that Obama has out-maneuvered Putin, who's very very scared of America, or something.

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