Leadership? No, just dumb luck
In assessing the feasibility and probability of Russia's proposal to secure Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons, one overlooked factor should be paramount in our minds: Barack Obama is the luckiest politician on the face of the planet. He's always the windshield, never the bug.
In this instance, Obama got himself into a box that would flummox Harry Houdini. In a procession of careless comments, he said Assad had to go and that if he ever used chemical weapons against rebels, he would face “enormous consequences.”
When the Syrian dictator allegedly used them, Obama was forced to prepare for a military strike that found scant public support. When he tried to gain the upper hand by asking for congressional authorization, he got an Arctically frigid reception.
So he faced two unpleasant possibilities: Congress would refuse, in which case he would look like a chump. Or it would agree, forcing him to carry out an attack that was likely to accomplish nothing except to wreck his approval rating.
But then along came the Russians to open an escape route. Acting in response to another unscripted remark, from Secretary of State John Kerry, they proposed to place Syria's chemical gas arsenal under international control. The Syrians responded by not only admitting that they had such weapons, but offering to surrender them.
The proposal sounded implausible and impractical, but it had too many things going for it to be passed up. Most importantly, it serves the interests of every important party. It spares the Syrian regime a damaging attack by the United States. It validates the power status of Russia. It might even win Vladimir Putin a Nobel Peace Prize.
And it saves Obama from looking like an appeaser, a warmonger or an incompetent. It even allows Kerry to portray the administration as unsurpassed in its diplomatic brilliance.
Assad, Kerry says, caved because of the military threat. “Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging,” said Kerry. By that point, if Assad was contemplating the gallows, he probably had concluded that the Americans couldn't tie their own shoes, much less a noose.
But he may have found it harder to say no to Putin, his chief ally and his protector in the U.N. 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 U.N. 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.
So, 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.”
Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- With most starters resting, Steelers turn in lackluster loss at Heinz
- Steelers laud decision, praise Brady for taking on Goodell
- Through the years: Armstrong Central opened with victory in 1990
- Experts warn Kane’s Haiti trip might jeopardize any case from 2014 wiretap
- The Clarks go back to their roots with new album ‘Rewind’
- Pa. welfare workers threatened with firings over financial forms
- Five details you shouldn’t give Facebook
- Officials offer tips to Scott residents after coyote sightings
- Freeport Area to explore options for storing maintenance equipment
- Roundup: Kraft Singles recall grows nearly tenfold; judge OKs $415M settlement in Apple, Google wage case; more
- Liriano struggles as Brewers complete sweep of Pirates