If Obama’s plan had come up for a vote in Congress, it would almost certainly have been defeated. If he had nevertheless proceeded with military action, he would have been impeached. Either way, he would have been humiliated.
No wonder he tried to blur his original statement by declaring, “First of all, I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line.” That didn’t quite make it to “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” territory, but it still was a bit of a whopper. It was pretty clear to everyone that the administration had do idea where to turn.
And so, seeing a chance to make himself look good, Putin threw the foundering Obama a lifeline. And Obama, having no other realistic choice, is using it to reel himself back from the brink of a looming disaster. It’s at best a face-saving compromise, not an ideal solution. If it works, Obama will owe Putin big time. But it’s probably the best we can do, because we can’t go it alone and must depend on the kindness of strangers.
Jack White, a former columnist for Time magazine, is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor at The Root.