This week began with a tangible American threat to attack Syria, followed by a public relations campaign by U.S. President Barack Obama aimed at Congress and the American public. The week is ending with a defiant article by Russian President Vladimir Putin in The New York Times, in which he explains to the Americans why they are not "special," and with a list of conditions set forth on Thursday by Syrian President Bashar Assad -- preconditions before Damascus gets rid of its chemical weapons.
Yet there are those who say we have nothing to worry about, that it is all part of Obama's elaborate plan. The plan is so elaborate, actually, that it is unclear whether Obama himself understands it. And maybe because of this the U.S. president is not taking any chances, telling us instead that he is simply returning to deal with domestic issues because "even as we have been spending a lot of time on the Syria issue … it is still important to recognize that we've got a lot more stuff to do here in this government." I wouldn't be surprised if some Syrian child screams at the world that the king has no clothes.
The week that began in Washington is culminating in Moscow. This is not analysis, it is fact. Once the threat of an American attack evaporated in favor of talks, the momentum shifted to the Russians. This is not analysis, it is fact. Obama went into suspended mode, allowing Putin to go into activated mode. And to think that on August 21, the day of the chemical atrocity in the suburbs of Damascus, Obama could have, in the name of morality, life and justice, used a muscle other than his tongue. Obama was free of any limitation, moral or legal. Today he is boxed in (almost by choice) on all sides: public opinion, Congress, the U.N. Security Council, the European Union, the onset of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov -- and mostly by Putin.
Incidentally, it was the last line of Putin's article that is the most problematic for Obama. The Russian president resisted Obama's claim of American exceptionalism, countering that "we are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal," essentially challenging the way Americans traditionally think of themselves -- as a special nation responsible for liberty and justice. Putin did this because he knows that even Obama in the new America does not see America as any more special than the way the British or Greeks see themselves as special.
A long-time American radio talk show host who visited Israel this week told me yesterday evening that even though the Americans oppose an attack in Syria, because they can't even find it on a map, they still want to feel strong; the strongest. But the conduct of their president has allowed Putin to declare that we are all equal, and has also allowed Assad to rise up and set conditions. "That is how unafraid they are," he told me.
The president's nightmare scenario
It is amazing to think that Assad today is establishing conditions for his country to get rid of its chemical weapons. If someone had pondered such a thought on August 21, the day the world first saw the images of the horrific atrocities in Damascus, we would surely have sent that person to get his head examined. Today Assad is permitting himself to actually demand from the United States that it cease threatening him, because otherwise he is not interested in a deal -- thereby negating the Russian solution. Assad understood that this is actually Obama's nightmare scenario.
And while we're discussing conditions, then why not ensure his future and demand an end to aid for the rebels – particularly after the news reports about the CIA beginning to train and arm them?
Assad, encouraged by his place in Russia's leading axis, has even put Israel on his "to-do" list, calling on it to relinquish its weapons of mass destruction. Assad is suddenly confident? It is unclear who he owes more to: Putin for his professionalism or Obama for his amateurishness.
In the meantime, talks between the Russians and Americans began in Geneva on Thursday evening. In 2009, in the exact same hotel, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat with Lavrov and began a "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations. Four years later, devoid of pomp and ceremony in front of the media, one can say that America and Russia yesterday once again pressed the reset button, this time as equal superpowers. Ronald Reagan must be turning in his grave.
There is no doubt this past week was unique, perhaps Putin's best since succeeding Boris Yeltsin in 2000 and perhaps Obama's weakest since succeeding George W. Bush. However, it is completely uncertain that Obama and his supporters see things this way: From Obama's perspective, hitching the U.S. to the brilliant Russian plan saves him from having to attack Syria and from a defeat in Congress, and primarily from being Bush. It could be that he would rather be like Jimmy Carter. Either way, those are three reasons why Obama also joined Putin's fan club this week.
As per the norm, Michelle Obama once again came to her husband's rescue. In Wisconsin on Thursday, while promoting her campaign for healthy living, her slogan was "drink water." The only thing she and her husband are missing is a boat so that the legacy of Abie Nathan can take over Washington once and for all.