President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. President Obama blended the threat of military action with the hope of a diplomatic solution as he works to strip Syria of its chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:25AM
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s threat of force to punish Syria for using chemical weapons is creating a diplomatic opening, bringing his untrustworthy adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the bargaining table.
Following a roller coaster surprising series of events over the past two days, Putin just may be bailing out Obama.
Obama dodged an embarrassing, diminishing congressional defeat over Syria. Skeptical, war weary lawmakers in both chambers are reluctant to authorize an attack to take out President Bashar Assad’s capacity for another mass killing of civilians.
The Obama team originally scheduled Obama’s primetime address to the nation Tuesday to buttress the case for Congress to authorize Obama to launch a limited strike on Syria in the wake of evidence the Assad government launched a horrific Aug. 21 chemical attack on its citizens.
The 16-minute speech — on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks — was designed originally to be an explainer, with Obama promising Syria would not morph into Iraq or Afghanistan or even Libya.
Obama presented the various cases for U.S. military action against the Assad regime to his widest audience to date.
The president stressed the moral grounds for action.
“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory.”
Obama reminded all that in “World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.”
There is also national self-interest and the well-being of our allies at stake. If Assad can get away with it, “these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel,” said Obama.
However, instead of building to a crescendo with a plea for yes votes in the House and Senate, Obama announced in his speech that he was asking Congress to put Syria resolutions on hold to see if this sudden spurt of diplomacy is successful.
“Over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin,” Obama said.
“The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use,” Obama said.
With pressure off to secure approval from Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Geneva on Thursday to launch talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Kerry said during a Google chat on Tuesday afternoon that he had talked with Lavrov and expects draft proposals from the Russians on how, exactly, the Syria deal would work.
There are many complicating factors, especially the Russian demand that the U.S. renounce taking military action against Syria.
Of course, the U.S. is not going to do it, since that’s what is bringing about the potential for a peaceful solution.
“Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails,” Obama said.
Obama now has the gift of time.
Time to earn the support of Congress for a Syrian strike, if diplomacy fails.
Lawmakers have before them the reality that Obama’s threat of using U.S. military force has brought together the unlikely bedfellows, Obama and Putin, who has been Assad’s patron.
Congress will continue to work on drafting Syria resolutions, rewriting what was passed by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee last week to incorporate the prospects of getting buy-in from the United Nations. Russia and China had been blocking U.N. action when it came to Syria.
Obama said, “we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”
It’s a coincidence, but the annual U.N. General Assembly — the gathering of all the member nations — takes place later this month in New York.
Obama did not bomb his way to the Syrian bargaining table. Lucky for Obama, on the brink of suffering a humiliating loss in Congress — the threat, for now, worked.