Checkmate – How Obama Outsmarted Putin, Assad & The Media


By Jay Kirell

It’s a few hours before President Obama is scheduled to give an address to the American people, but more broadly the world at large, on the current state of events regarding Syria.  The Americans he addresses, according to polls, are very skeptical of his rationale for intervention in Syria.  The world opinion Obama faces, would appear divided at best on military intervention – as world opinion tends to be.

The stage has never been larger for the President, who is still considered a beloved figure around the world, regardless of his current stance on Syria within the United States.  What he says in this speech will go a long way in determining how serious he considers the notion of Syria voluntarily turning over is chemical weapons stockpiles to the UN & Russia.  The suddenness of how quickly this all seemed to appear – from the end-of-week meeting at the G20 summit to the breaking news yesterday that Russia took the notion floated by Obama to Putin and ran with it – hard.

This has more than a few shades of a 21st Century Cuban Missile Crisis.  An American President had contact with his Russian counterpart at a time of extreme global tensions over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, this isn’t about nuclear weapons off the coast of Florida.  America isn’t in such needed urgency.  But can you imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis occurring today?  What would the movie “13 Days” have looked like if JFK was checking twitter or watching CNN or MSNBC to check what ex-4-star general is advising him (and the public) to do about nuclear annihilation?


Obama, on the other hand, has to deal with the 21st century version of that crisis.  But it is a crisis about an international standard on chemical weapons that needed to be upheld, in an ultra-volatile region of the world, that had the potential to spread across the globe if nothing was done in response.

And what has been Obama’s response?  These are 5 indisputable facts in sequential order.  Everything else is spin.

1.  He mentioned a “red line” about chemical weapons use.

2.  He was presented with evidence of Syria using chemical weapons, he called for military action.

3.  He said before taking military action he wishes to hear congress.

4.  He met with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit and then went on tv and reiterated his support for military authorization to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.

5.  He said Syria’s offer to turn over its chemical weapons was a positive sign.

This speech tonight will define the two roads Obama has mapped out for how this Syria mess plays out:

Scenario 1:  Obama pledges full support for the offer to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons to control of Russia and the UN.  America and allies are granted immediate access to Syrian weapons programs and  observe the transfers, do a thorough investigation and, having disarmed Assad at this point, begin to address the humanitarian crisis and work with the world community to bring a swift resolution to the civil war that caused the crisis in the first place.

Scenario 2:  Obama cautiously acknowledged the offer, pledges to work with the international community to immediately intervene and investigate, from top-to-bottom, Syria’s entire chemical weapons program without delay or interference.  Should Syria or Russia stall, or try to do shady dealings with the weapons transfer, the United States will consider that a violation of the agreement.  (hint- this is the more likely scenario)

Either way – Obama wins.

Under the first scenario, which we’ll call the MSNBC wet dream  – everything goes right without a drop of blood being on US hands and liberals and libertarians fall back in love (or some libertarian equivalent) with Obama the peace-maker.  AKA –  speak loudly and carry a big carrot.


Under the second scenario, which I’ll refer to as reality – Obama gets to keep using the threat of force to further his ultimate case for global intervention in Syria, betting on the notion that Russia and Syria never wanted the US to intervene, but Assad and Putin figured public opinion and congress’ unwillingness could allow them to get away with Assad’s gassing.

When Obama’s resolve in the just use of military intervention failed to wane over the last week, and Putin got to see it first-hand,  lo-and-behold, two days later Syria is all like, “hold up, you won’t bomb us if we give you this? Here you go!”

But if they stall or pull tricks…

Then in all likelihood the deal is off, and Obama (and England, France and other allies) have a stronger case to make that they tried, literally, EVERYTHING they could to avoid military action.

And it becomes much more likely support in congress for intervention rises and in turn, public support will rise.  Obama gets his military authorization after exhausting all options.

…which just looks better than heading into Syria without congress’ approval or any other allies.  Which is what the nutjob talking heads, partisans and spinmeisters on cable news would leave you to believe was a serious consideration of Obama.

Who has never shown any inclination to act like that in his presidency.

The notion that the smartest guy in the room was, for the first time in a while – the US President, is something many people on both sides of the aisle are still coming to grips with.

It shouldn’t.  Obama was elected twice for reason.  Part of the reason was the patient and caution he brings to serious issues, regardless of the cries of ‘indecisive’ being hurled at him.

And you know what?  That ‘indecisiveness’ might have just created the greatest achievement of high-stakes international diplomacy in 60 years.


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