The dénouement of the Syria crisis provides a learning opportunity for two inimical groups of Americans. For Obama’s admirers there is the uncomfortable revelation of his and his team’s unimpressive behaviour. They will have to process this revelation.
A more conflicted group, however, are the anti-Obamites. They are to a degree delighted to have Obama shown up; they gloat that Putin “schooled him”, made a fool of him and so forth. On the other hand some are starting to complain that the agreement legitimates Assad to a degree and, in the end, may not destroy any weapons. Some, convinced, as these people are, that Putin is not only the sworn enemy of the USA but also devilishly cunning (a favourite gibe is that while he plays chess, Obama plays tick-tack-toe or some other childish game), have decided that the agreement is a huge victory for Russia. Of course this gives them another opportunity to bash Obama’s leadership which is 90% of the point of these pieces, actually.
But none of these people notice the big news. Or, rather, the big non news. And that is that we are not today hearing and seeing attacks – attacks that while “unbelievably small” are not “pinpricks” – commanded by the uncertain; attacks that are unsupported by Congress, the American population or by allies. We do not see an intervention in a savage civil war that will benefit only the jihadist enemies the US is fighting elsewhere. We do not see the light-hearted beginning of another “short sharp” intervention that will drag on and on like the eight month Libyan intervention or the three month Kosovo intervention followed by 12 years of military occupation. That is the big news: the US is not getting stuck into another mess. Were Putin the cunning enemy so many think he is, he would have encouraged Washington: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Instead, he extracted it.
That is what was so unforgiveable about what he did: Putin the Evil saved America the Great from the folly of its leaders.