President Obama was his usual smooth-spoken self in his speech on Syria Tuesday night, and his emotional appeals were compellingly delivered.
But like meringue, which takes up a lot of space without much substance, his speech dissolved in an instant, amid events that are leading him, rather than the other way around.
Despite his Pee Wee Herman-like attempt to portray the Russian peace proposal as his initiative all along – “I meant to do that!” the comedic character would say when events spiraled out of his control – it’s clear to most observers that Mr. Obama and his administration have been outmaneuvered at every turn. And the American bumbling now has the perverse effect of making Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad look peace-loving and magnanimous.
We know that’s not the case, of course. Assad is annihilating his own people, allegedly at times with some of the cruelest chemical weapons known to mankind. Putin, meanwhile, has, with China’s help, blocked any United Nations efforts to slow Assad’s assassinations.
How an American president put such people in the driver’s seat will just have to be sorted out by head-shaking historians. But this all made for the most bizarre presidential prime-time address in our nation’s history.
“Here’s a president,” summed up syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, “who urgently addresses a nation on all (television) channels to call for a pause on something that the nation doesn’t want to do in the first place. This is almost unbelievable.”
Putin’s maneuver, a brilliant chess move, forced the Nobel Peace Prize President to back away from a military strike. That, and the fact that Congress and the American people were about to do it themselves. Now the American president is forced to consider a completely disingenuous proposal. Who truly believes the Syrians would hand over their complete stockpiles of chemical weapons, or that their chief patron at the Kremlin even wants that?
The terms are a nonstarter, as well: Obama must agree to have the American military stand down. In short, unconditional surrender. What exactly is there to mull over?
“A farce,” is how Krauthammer characterized the Russian proposal.
To understand the magnitude of Obama’s folly and its collateral damage to the prestige and credibility of the office of president, imagine the Cuban missile crisis – only with the Russians winning.
Whatever the klutzy, accidental outcome, it should not involve a strike on Syria. What Assad has done is pure evil, but it is simply not in our capacity to eradicate all the planet’s evil, or to punish its incarnations militarily. We have no business in Syria, our national interest is not obtainable with the nose of a missile, and Mr. Obama has yet to explain away the possible consequences of a strike.
All the blundering, too, will likely have repercussions.
For one thing, the next president will have to get a color other than red to draw lines. With his reckless talk, inept actions and incoherent policies, Mr. Obama has made red lines an international joke.