September 19, 2013

WILLIAMS: Obama played Putin like a fiddle


---- — I’ve followed the Syrian situation closely. In last year’s economic summit, America approached Russia about joining to try to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons. Russia was uninterested although the two countries, despite harsh public rhetoric, never completely cut off behind-the-scenes talks.

Then the Assad regime used its poison gas, killing 1,500 of its own people, over 400 of them children. Yes, lots of people have died in the Syrian civil war and yes, dead is dead, but this is a particularly horrific way to die. It’s one most of the civilized world has agreed should never happen. By now, 178 nations have signed on to the chemical weapons treaty.

So, what was the world reaction when Assad gassed his people? A shrug of the shoulders. Except for our own president. He said the world should live up to its promises. And, of course, he’s right. If all the accords and treaties the countries of the world sign with such fanfare are all just empty words, then we may as well tear them up and disband the United Nations.

Of course, Obama got almost no support. Russia and China voted no to action in the Security Council. Britain bailed. And worst of all, the U.S. Congress displayed what has become its normal gutless, flip-flopping posture. The same senators who were crucifying the president a few weeks ago for not taking stronger measures, such as instituting a no-fly zone, were now decrying him as a warmonger. When he finally agreed to let them have their vote, they were like, “what, you expect us to come back from our vacation early?” They didn’t come back early and they didn’t vote either. They did what they wanted to do all along, which was criticize without actually having to be involved because, you know, uh, what if it turns out wrong?

Then lo and behold, Kerry makes an off-hand comment about the possibility of military action possibly being staved off if Russia could bring Syria around on ridding themselves of their chemical weapons. (And if you believe this truly was an off-hand remark on the part of the Secretary of State, you don’t know much about the delicate dance of negotiations among nations).

In addition, even though they didn’t formally meet, Obama and Putin spoke about the situation at the G8 summit.

And, lo and behold, Putin brought the idea back up as if it was his very own, putting himself in the position of peace-lover who only wants to help solve a problem brought on by the big bully, America. As if he isn’t acting in his own self-interest. Russia will look weak if its client-state, Syria, goes down and besides, they don’t want those chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands either.

If there is one thing Obama is not, it’s a glory hound. He wants to achieve an objective and doesn’t seem to care who gets the credit. So, America let Putin blow off but John Kerry and his Russian counterpart entered into intense negotiations and today, the New York Times reports that the two countries have reached an agreement for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.

Of course, there is a long way to go and it still may not come to fruition but it is a major step forward. And if it does come to pass, it will be almost entirely Obama’s victory.

But what do I see from Fox and the Republicans? They’d rather believe it was Putin. They are lauding him, calling him a statesman, saying he made our president look like a buffoon. Really? If it happens, who accomplished their goal in the end? I think Obama played Putin like a fiddle.

He’ll probably have to wait on history to get the kudos.

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at