But there it was, in Wednesday’s edition: “suddenly Mr. Putin has eclipsed Mr. Obama as the world leader driving the agenda in the Syria crisis.” Putin, wrote Steven Lee Myers for the Times, “appears to have achieved several objectives, largely at Washington’s expense.” Chief among these was that “Russia has at least for now made itself indispensable in containing the conflict in Syria, which Mr. Putin has argued could ignite Islamic unrest around the region, even as far as Russia’s own restive Muslim regions, if it is mismanaged.”
Barack Obama, meanwhile, has been revealed as being spectacularly dispensable. The Syrian jihadis who were counting on his aid are bitterly disappointed that he has (at least for now) backed off on committing the U.S. to intervening militarily; true to form as ever, they are blaming it all on Israel. He and his administration’s top officials, most of whom spent years excoriating George W. Bush for lacking sufficient evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, are definitively unmasked as hypocritical, self-serving and partisan in repeatedly glossing over the fact that Obama still has not proven his central contention, that it was Assad who used the chemical weapons unleashed in Syria on August 21.
Putin talked a lot of sense, while simultaneously issuing Obama a veiled threat, in his op-ed. He warned, quite accurately, that a U.S. strike in Syria could risk “spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders” and added: “Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it,” without quite getting around to mentioning that if the U.S. intervened, Putin himself would be one of the prime movers behind the escalation of the conflict.
Putin also scolded Obama for his reference Tuesday evening to “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” Putin pontificated: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
The irony was thick. Putin may have been aware that Obama notoriously denigrated American exceptionalism at a town hall meeting in Europe during his first Presidential trip there in 2009. Obama denigrated American exceptionalism by equating it with nationalistic chauvinism: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, every country is exceptional, and so none is.
And now Putin was rubbing his face in this, admonishing him that America itself was not exceptional, and driving the point home by saving the world from a wider war in Syria when Obama was itching to get in it, despite failing to provide any proof of his claims that Assad used chemical weapons.
That proof proved to be more elusive by the day. Jason Howerton reported Wednesday in The Blaze that “two Europeans who were allegedly abducted and held hostage for several months in Syria claim they overheard a conversation between their captors suggesting the Syrian rebels were behind the deadly chemical attack in Damascus.…Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin and Italian journalist Domenico Quirico both say they were able to eavesdrop on an English-language Skype session between their abductors in which they allegedly revealed that it was the Syrian rebels who perpetrated the attack so that the West would intervene.”
Likewise, Matthew Schofield reported for McClatchy on Tuesday that Assad “has repeatedly rejected requests from his field commanders for approval to use chemical weapons, according to a report this weekend in a German newspaper.”
These were just the latest additions to a growing mountain of evidence that, as Putin put it in his op-ed, “there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.” In support of that claim, Russia submitted a detailed 100-page report to the United Nations; the Obama Administration, by contrast, has offered only circumstantial evidence that hasn’t convinced even our closest allies to join us in a military strike on Syria.
On May 29, 1453, Ottoman jihad warriors finally conquered Constantinople after a prolonged siege (and seven hundred years of trying) when a careless city worker left a gate open to the city after taking out the garbage, thereby offering an entrée to the Muslim forces, who rushed into the city and laid waste.
What happened this week could prove to be just as accidentally momentous. Russia has suddenly reemerged as a major player, if not the major player, in the Middle East and on the world stage in general. And it has happened not because Putin’s plan for a resolution to the Syrian conflict is particularly imaginative, or even workable (how will anyone be able to be sure that Syria has turned over all its chemical weapons?). No, Russia’s reemergence is due not to Russia’s power or Putin’s statecraft, but because Barack Obama left the gate open for them. The consequences of their rushing into the city have yet to be determined, but they’re unlikely to be good in the long run for free people.
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