Tonight Barack Obama will address the nation on the showdown in Syria. We are told by Jay Carney that Obama will continue his push to convince the American people to support an “unbelievably small” strike. But over the last 24 hours, the landscape has changed.
In a press conference yesterday in London, John Kerry opined how it would be nice if Syria would hand over its chemical weapons to the international community, but “he isn't about to do it and it can't be done. Obviously.” Well obviously Kerry was wrong. The Russians called his bluff and guess what? The Syrians have now accepted the Russian's proposal to put its chemical weapons stockpile under international control. France is drafting a U.N. resolution embracing this idea for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. According to Reuters, “Syria would have to put its stockpiles of chemical arms under international control and face 'extremely serious' consequences if it violated the conditions.”
So now we have the Russians acting on a diplomatic resolution to rid Assad of these horrible weapons, leaving the Obama administration scrambling and bewildered. They are trying desperately now to spin Kerry's off-the-cuff remark as being the plan all along. But if that's the case, why did the administration spend much of yesterday trying to explain away Kerry's remark as hypothetical? But now that Russia has seized control of the idea, the Obama administration is trying to take credit for it. Some pundits have accurately described this as “accidental foreign policy.” It's not even leading from behind, it's fumbling and feckless.
Another laughable PR spin by Kerry and others is the idea that we would never have arrived at this point of Assad surrendering his weapons to the Russians if it weren't for Obama threatening a military strike. In other words, Obama threatening a pinprick was enough to scare Assad into submission. I'm not buying that for a second. The idea that all of this was Obama's plan all along is difficult to believe. The fact remains that there has never been a clear strategy. The Obama administration, looking more like Keystone Cops, is simply reacting and doing a very poor job of it. By the end of yesterday, the narrative had changed to: Obama and Putin had been discussing this option all along. If that's the case, then why does the administration seem caught off guard and flat-footed by Russia's proposal?
So we have this new plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. Obama told ABC News yesterday that if that happened that would “absolutely” put a strike on hold. Meanwhile, based on Kerry's statements earlier today to the Armed Serviced Committee, and based on what Jay Carney said this morning, the administration will still push for Congressional approval of a limited strike. But Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided to delay a Senate vote on the issue. This is likely because there isn't enough support to pass a resolution.
Many in Washington are skeptical of Russia's plan. John McCain is one of those people, who explained this morning, “I’m very skeptical, and we should be since Bashar Assad has refused to acknowledge that he even has chemical weapons. I think the best test right away would be the Syrian acceptance of international monitors to go to these chemical weapons sites and get them under control immediately. … If he’s serious, then let the monitors in there right away.” Kerry says that it must be “swift, real and verifiable.” The White House says it will take a “hard look” but warns of the potential of this being a stalling tactic. The Obama administration must now decide how credible it wishes to treat Russia's plan, considering that Obama has been at odds with Putin for quite some time. But Obama also knows that he doesn't have support at home for a strike. So Obama now has angry constituents at home and looks weak on the world stage, thanks to Putin's diplomacy. That's not exactly an ideal position for any president to be in. It seems as though Putin may have just saved Obama and Kerry's backsides, at least politically in the United States.
What could Obama say tonight to possibly convince us to get involved in Syria? Unless real, credible evidence is presented that U.S. national interests are at stake, then Obama's effort will likely be wasted on millions of Americans who are not interested in getting involved in a civil war in the Middle East. The latest polling released yesterday from Fox News finds: “Disapproval of Obama’s handling of Syria has jumped to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in May. And more voters describe him as a “weak and indecisive leader” on foreign policy (48 percent) than a “strong and decisive leader” (42 percent). Overall, 40 percent approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, while a record-high 54 percent disapprove.”
This now calls into question Obama's potency as a world leader and as a domestic legislative force. Another Fox News poll finds that 48% of Americans believe that the United States is less respected around the world today than it was five years ago. That's up ten points since last year. Also a new CNN/ORC International survey finds that Obama's approval rating on foreign policy is at an all-time low of just 40%. Only 30% approve of his handling of Syria.