With a “slip of the tongue” Secretary of State John Kerry may have not only averted war, said Alex Seitz-Wald in NationalJournal.com, but also saved the Obama presidency. President Obama was facing the very real likelihood of a political and foreign policy disaster this week after he asked Congress to approve a cruise-missile strike on Syria, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people. A large majority of congressional Republicans—joined by some liberal Democrats—said they’d vote against the resolution, which would have dealt Obama a humiliating rebuke. But then came Kerry’s off-the-cuff comment that if Assad surrendered all of his chemical weapons within a week, a military strike could be called off. Within hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin seized on Kerry’s “proposal” in order to keep his murderous ally Assad in power, and Obama called off the congressional vote he seemed doomed to lose. Call it “foreign policy by faux pas.” Obama got a very lucky break, said William Dobson in Slate.com, but his zigzagging between tough talk on Syria and an obvious unwillingness to take responsibility for any action only made him look weak and untrustworthy. “If your foreign policy has to be rescued by a dictator, you’re doing it wrong.”
“Yes, it has been messy,” said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com,but the final result was good—and not the product of luck. For the first time, Syria has admitted it has chemical weapons, and there is now at least some chance of “a non-violent way” of enforcing Obama’s “red line” on the use of those weapons. This historic concession came about because Obama, “knowing full well it could scramble his presidency,” made a bold and credible threat to use military force against Syria. His persistence “ensured that this atrocity would not be easily ignored,” and led to a diplomatic initiative that—uncertain as it is—may be the best option available under a horrible set of circumstances.
Please—Obama’s Syria policy has been a disaster from start to finish, said Ian Bremmer in Reuters.com.His views on how to respond “seem to change every minute.” After the Aug. 21 chemical attack, Kerry made a retaliatory strike sound inevitable. But when Britain backed out and domestic opposition remained strong, Obama “punted,” asking Congress to share political responsibility for the strike—while still insisting he had the authority to act on his own. By being so obviously “hesitant and conflicted” about intervening in Syria, Obama failed to rally a war-weary public behind him, said Michael Gerson in WashingtonPost.com. “If the president is so ambivalent, why should people rally to his cause, particularly to the legal abstraction of enforcing a ‘norm’?”
“The good news is that we’re not at war,” said Ron Fournier in NationalJournal.com.The bad news is that Obama’s “fumbling and flip-flopping” have badly “undercut his credibility, and possibly with it his ability to lead the nation and the world.” The Russian proposal to remove all of Syria’s hidden chemical weapons is obviously both impractical and untrustworthy, and Obama is using it as “a fig leaf” to hide his failures. But even if Assad never surrenders all those weapons, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, Obama will have achieved his main goal if Syria never uses them again. A military strike would have achieved the same result, at far greater risk and cost. “Having arguably blundered into the precipice of war, the administration seems to have indisputably blundered into a promising solution.”