Reading handwriting on the walls of Congress, President Barack Obama looks to pivot away from asking Congress to approve a use-of-force resolution to wait-and-see with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest proposal. Barely talking at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Obama was a surprised as anyone that the wily Russian leader would broker a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place his chemical weapons stockpile in U.N. custody. Without the threat of al-Assad’s chemical weapons, there’s no longer any justification for U.S. military strikes. Despite threatening to strike, Obama has big problems on Capitol Hill, especially the Republican-controlled House. Most lawmaker don’t see much coherency to Obama’s Syria policy, now that he insisted on a Congressional vote on air strikes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ruled out any vote this week on Barack’s use-of-force resolution.
Reid’s decision to cancel any vote puts the House vote on indefinite hold, sparing Obama any embarrassment from losing the vote. “The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don’t just trust, but we also verify,” said Barack, referring to Putin’s plan to place al-Assad’s chemical arsenal in U.S. hands. Obama hasn’t caught up to the overwhelming opposition to air strikes inside and outside the U.S. While there’s some limited support from France, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc., the vast majority of U.N. members, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, prefer a diplomatic solution. After a disappointing G20, Putin stepped up big time with his proposal, apparently first suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry, to place al-Assad weapons of mass destruction in U.N. custody. Putin’s attempt to broker a deal to avert war raises his profile as global statesman.
When Obama goes in front of the cameras tonight, he’s diminished as a global leader, having the Russian leader promote his peace plan. Saying he was “extremely skeptical” of Putin’s plan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) played devils advocate, attributing the move to the White House’s credible threat of force. “Perhaps this would not have come about if it hadn’t been for the threat of a military strike,” said McCain. Obama practically handed McCain the keys to the Syrian operation, pressing lawmakers to back the president’s use-of-force resolution. When it became clear that the Congress showed little interest in McCain’s plan, the White House was scrambling for an alternative plan. “So there is some credibility to that course of action,” said McCain, insisting that getting tough with al-Assad paid rich dividends. Whether that’s true or not, Putin came out on top, not Obama.
Obama’s fallback position now seems rewriting the use-of-force resolution contingent on al-Assad allowing U.N. inspectors immediate access to Syria’s chemical weapons sites. “I’m very skeptical [about the efficacy of the resolution],” said McCain, seeing Putin’s plan as buying al-Assad more time. When Obama tossed the vote on the use-of-force resolution to Congress Aug. 31, he was buying himself time before launching Cruise Missiles at Damascus. “Because Bashar Assad has refused to acknowledge that he even has chemical weapons,” said McCain, unconvinced that Putin would deliver on his promise. Whether or not Putin delivers on his promise to put al-Assad’s arsenal in U.N. hands, at least he found an alternative to war. Dispatching six Russian warships to the Eastern Mediterranean, Putin put the Russian navy on a collision course with the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Opposition against Obama’s request for a use-of-force resolution comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Conservative Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came out against Obama’s request. “There are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria,” echoing the views of liberal Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “The effects of a strike are too unpredictable, and because I believe we must give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work,” said Markey, signaling complete confusion on Capitol Hill. Opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria until June 14, Obama has shown no stomach for stepping into Syria’s bloody civil war. Only pushed to make good on his “red line” warning, Obama has shown no prior inclination to get involved. When Barack steps in front of the cameras today, he’s going have a tough time explaining himself.
When former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for air strikes in 2012 to stop Syria’s killing fields, it fell on deaf ears at the White House. Obama’s sudden reversal to now use force didn’t sit well with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “This message seems to be changing mid-sentence,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), highlighting Obama’s inconsistent Syrian policy. “This is a joke,” said McKeon, referring to the administration’s skepticism over Putin’s proposal then sudden change of heart. Jaded by years of Mideast foreign wars and with opposition to air strikes running at 61% in the U.S., the Congress mirrored the same skepticism of another Mideast debacle. Putin warned U.S. lawmakers that for his peace proposal to work, the U.S. needed to remove any use-of-force language to get al-Assad to hand over his chemical weapons to the U.N.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.