Putin to the Rescue?

by John Yoo

The American presidency has reached such a nadir that Barack Obama has found a savior in the person of Vladimir Putin to help him escape from tough choices. Obama’s floundering reach for the Russian lifeline reveals the growing cracks in the facade of his presidency.

First, the goal of Assad’s eliminating chemical weapons is not really the product of deep strategic thinking; it is really just a tactical maneuver. In its promised strikes, the administration expressly seeks not to achieve any strategic outcomes, such as changing the regime in Syria or cutting off Iran from Hezbollah. As a tactic, Obama’s move can be easily defeated. It would take years to secure Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and reliable verification would be difficult. By the time their transfer to secure hands is complete, the Assad regime — now emboldened with direct Russian and Iranian support — may well prevail in the civil war.

Second, Obama’s grasp for Putin’s proposal shows that Obama does not truly understand the nature of his office. President Obama does not like to make hard decisions. He shows a desire to keep putting off tough choices. Russian diplomacy — which sadly has outclassed John Kerry and Foggy Bottom — offers Obama yet another chance to just put off the difficult question of removing Assad and ending the Syrian civil war. Obama does not realize that the virtue of his office is its singular ability to act with speed, vigor, and energy, not delay and slowness. By the time he does decide to act, the costs to the nation will be much higher and the benefits lower, just as they are now compared with the likely results if the U.S. had intervened in Syria two years ago at the start of the civil war.