It strikes me that the recent turn of events surrounding Syria, the Chemical weapons, threatened military action and so forth, have resulted in President Obama “pulling a Homer”.
For those not-so-dedicated Simpsons fans, the phrase is defined as “to succeed despite idiocy” – in the episode “Homer defined”, Homer accidentally causes the nuclear plant to go into meltdown, then, by dumb luck, manages to avert the meltdown and save the plant, Springfield etc.
With Syria, when Obama declared that using Chemical weapons was a “red line” that Assad could not cross, he effectively forced his own hand into action when these vile weapons were deployed.
If only it were as simple as Fox News would like – The US of A could destroy Assad’s Chemical weapons capabilities, deal a crippling blow to his evil regime, and the “good guys” of the Syrian resistance would sweep Assad from power and a new era of peace, democracy and better oil trading with the West would begin.
Of course, Obama found himself in a far more complex situation. IF, it could be proved that Assad deployed the chemical weapons, IF it were possible to locate the weapons, If it were possible to destroy them without civilian casualties, IF the US could do this as part of a truly International effort with a UN mandate...then, just maybe, all would work out fine.
But, with his major ally showing no stomach for any action (being Britain, and I suspect a possibly relieved David Cameron who may have looked weak when he lost the vote, but at least avoided getting sucked into conflict), Russia and China certainly not letting any use of force to pass through the UN, and the US Congress being mighty reluctant to authorize military action – Obama found himself looking ineffective and guilty of making empty threats.
This is where dumb luck (for Obama) comes in – a casual remark by John Kerry suddenly becomes a Russian Peace initiative.
On the surface, you could say that Obama comes out of this looking terrible - the Russians bat the useless American efforts at sabre-rattling aside, prevent escalating violence and bring Assad to the peace table. And a humiliating address to the American people by Putin in a US newspaper can never be a good thing to happen under your Presidency.
However, looking at this in another way....
With the threat of American force, Obama has made Russia, who have long stood in the way of any sanctions that might have curbed Assad’s brutality, come to step up and actually take some responsible action. Russia may score a few points right now, but if/ when Assad fails to comply with demands to surrender his chemical weapons, they will surely be forced to take a harder line.
So – Obama may succeed in removing Assad’s WMDs, he also may have neutralized future Russian blocks to meaningful further action against Assad; which also means Assad loses a lot of the support of one of his biggest allies. Obama has not handed Syria to a bunch of extreme Jihadists by just cutting Assad’s regime away – and he’s managed to do this without firing a single American bullet.
Bush used shock and awe (and billions of dollars and thousands of lives) to achieve only worldwide contempt for the US and plunge Iraq into bloody civil war. Obama made a threat and may have neutralized a brutal and oppressive regime.
Time will tell of course – I think there is, sadly, a lot more blood still to be shed by the people of Syria. While the various deals/ proposals etc being bandied around at the moment may offer a glimmer of hope that, at least, the Chemical weapons may be taken out of the equation, history tells us that strong words frequently mean nothing.
But, if this does turn out to the good – ie Chemical weapons removed and destroyed, Obama may well have scored a significant victory – even though it might come about in spite of, instead of because of, his actions.