And now for the score in the World Cup competition for the world.
Obama 2 and Putin 0 as Obama cleans Putin's clock twice.
My posting yesterday hailed Ukraine's joining with the modern Western world, signing a treaty this week that marked its abandonment of Russia and its alignment with Europe. And I explained how Obama engineered this by squeezing the hot air out of Putin economically and showing the Ukrainians they were safe to stand up to that shirtless man.
Now comes word in the NY Times that the last of Syria's chemical weapons has gone bye-bye, which means gone to Finland to be destroyed. Obama engineered this nine months ago by threatening to bomb Syria unless Syrian ruler Assad turned over the weapons. By several adroit waltz steps Obama then lured Putin into getting Assad to an agreement, leaving Putin monitoring the removal. All the pundits right and left blew raspberries at Obama. He was (a) naive to trust Putin, (b) he was wicked to work with Putin, (c) he came off as weak and Putin as strong.
He was smart to trust Putin. Putin is Syria's near neighbor and didn't want chemical weapons on his doorstep. He also had stuck his neck out as a once-world-leader and needed to come off okay.
Further, it wasn't wicked to work with Putin when the goal was so good. Besides, the Cold War is over and we have to adapt to realities as they are.
Putin did, however, come off as strong. That was the bait for which Putin fell. He desperately needs to look strong in order to keep the support of the Russian people while their "empire" continues to melt away. Obama was right to let him have his empty box. One always has to be aware of what the other guy needs in order to negotiate with him.
And did Obama come off as weak? Only with the media and the American public. This same misperception has blanketed Obama's method of dealing with Russia over the Ukraine. As with Ukraine, the nature of his play made it impossible for him to explain how he had manipulated Putin. Why? Because he may need to do it again about something else.
Obama did not, however, come off as weak in the view of other countries. Any leader of a country big enough to matter knows what Obama has done. And they appreciate it and admire him for his skill. Maybe they even learned a few moves as they watched him.
Nevertheless he gets no credit here at home. His ratings have dropped generally but especially sharply on foreign policy. The media doesn't get what he's doing and he can't explain it to them.
Thus the NY Times today salutes the end of Syria's chemical weapons - not in the front page news story it warranted - but in an editorial. That treatment downgrades the event in the eyes of the news media. Further, in this editorial the NYT buries its acknowledgment that Obama did the right thing. Buries it in the ninth paragraph of the editorial: "…the outcome has proved the wisdom of President Obama's decision to threaten, and then back away from, military strikes against Syrian targets when Russia proposed a negotiated settlement…. The chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator - and all without firing a shot."
What a contrast between that last sentence and the 100,000+ Iraqui dead and the 4000+ American dead gifted to us by George W. Bush. A gift that even now keeps on giving…
Nevertheless, Obama has to pay a fearful price politically for his persistence in doing the right thing to save lives and not squander them. He's gone down personally. The media has let him down. And so have we.
Nor will he get any gratitude from those he most benefitted - those who didn't die because he refused to be rash. They will never know what he did for them.
But he will know. And for a truly good man, that is enough.