Everybody says they love children. Obama really does. He was genuinely and deeply disturbed by the deaths of the Syrian children who were gassed by Assad. But unlike most political leaders he was ready to put his political career on the line for the sake of the rest of Syria's children, that no more of them may die such a ghastly death.
He seemingly set aside his treasured role as an ender of wars and took the predictably unpopular step of threatening Assad with military punishment for the crime of using chemical weapons. He stayed firm in this position even as all around him deserted him: his European allies, the Congress, his party, the American public, and - very loudly - the media. Even the Pope turned against him.
And it worked. He was so clearly determined as to be willing to go it alone. By this stance he persuaded Russia and Assad that he meant business. So they caved. Next, he did something equally clever and equally self-sacrificing. He gave Russia's ferociously proud Putin a way to call Russia's capitulation a triumph. Obama allowed Kerry to seemingly stumble, bumble, and mumble his way into offering Putin and Assad a way out of their corner, giving Putin a chance to grab a seemingly careless remark by Kerry and wave it as a banner of Russian "leadership".
Be clear on this. Kerry's "stumble" wasn't. It was a deliberately planned ploy. Had he offered Putin a formal deal, Putin would have been obliged to turn it down. Russia has a powerful tradition of almost 70 years of saying "nyet" to the USA. Putin might have wanted to say yes to a deal, but he couldn't. The Russian people have been humiliated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1989 in a matter of months they went from being a world power to being a world nothing. Burdened with that humiliation Putin desperately needed two things: (1) a way to ensure Assad's chemical weapons don't get into the hands of extremists who have anti-government friends in Russia, and (2) a way to save face in working with the USA toward getting rid of the weapons.
Thus Obama and Putin each played their part perfectly, with the help of the gracefully "stumbling"
Kerry. As a result - quick as lightning - Assad has signed up at the UN as a denouncer of chemical weapons. He has actually signed the international treaty against them! In all-time record time! What was it - three days? Nothing ever happened so fast in the history of the world!
The talking heads and the "experts" who never understood the game that was afoot are now left sitting in the dust in the middle of the road, the parade having passed them by. They are worrying about how the weapons will be gathered in the midst of a war and how the inspections will be conducted and whether we can trust Russia, etc., etc.
Forget all that. It is irrelevant. First of all and above all else, Assad isn't going to use the weapons now or ever. He's on the hook to Russia not to do so, and Russia is not just his number one ally, it's his lifeline. And Assad also knows that if he even thinks of using the weapons, Obama will blow him to bits and with Russia's blessing. Second and equally important, Russia is now responsible for getting the weapons out of Syria and into non-existence. And it will gladly do so. Russia still mourns all those people killed in that theater by terrorists and still mourns the hundreds and hundreds of school children massacred by terrorists. Yes, you forgot all about those events, didn't you? But the Russians haven't. Those massacres were their 9/11. Therefore the last thing Putin wants is for the Muslim extremists in Russia to get the chemicals the Syrian rebels may soon wrest from Assad.
And that seems to be a point that everyone is missing. Putin apparently fears Assad is about to lose control of Syria. He wants to be very sure that when Assad goes down he doesn't leave the keys to the weapons cupboard on the kitchen table.
All in all, it has been an extremely interesting week in international politics. Seldom are things so clear and so rapid. Seldom does an outcome appear to be possibly so good. Seldom do key players play their parts so skillfully.
Sadly, however, the obtuseness of the media has been as it usually is where Obama is concerned, i.e. immense. They just can't see what he has pulled off. In part it's because the media loves political disasters. After all, political successes sell no papers or air time. The media have been predicting Obama's demise since he ran for the Democratic nomination against the vaunted "Clinton machine" in 2008. There was no way, they pronounced, that a one-term little senator from Illinois could win against Hilary and Bill and their practiced tribe. Then there was no way he could save the auto industry or get health reform enacted or overcome the economy to win a second term. No way, no how! But he did all that and more. And he killed Bin Laden, something his predecessor had in fact been unable to do.
Sure, a GOP Congress has blocked desirable legislation. But the sin be on their heads, not Obama's. In fact, in the Syria matter he played Congress like a fiddle. But that's another story for another time.
For now, the man who loves children has likely saved hundreds more from being gassed. And maybe moved us closer to an end of the Syrian war. Let us prayerfully hope so. For there can be no greater goal in politics than to end violence. And Obama is still the man who ends wars and saves children no matter the risk to himself.
A note in the interest of fairness: One commentator has understood Obama's Syrian game. Howard Fineman, formerly of Newsweek and now with the Huffington thing has stated (and I paraphrase) that we are through with Syria. The problem of Syria, he explains, is now entirely Russia's. Good for you, Howard. You got it!