- - Thursday, September 19, 2013

We now know that President Obama’s national security warnings were written in disappearing ink that fades the moment he gets into trouble.

As reports began appearing with increasing frequency that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people, Mr. Obama tried playing the tough guy, warning the Damascus dictator that doing so would cross “a red line” that would invite U.S. retaliation.

Thinking Mr. Obama was all bluff and bluster, someone whose threats weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, Mr. Assad sent gas-filled, rocket-propelled missiles into civilian-populated areas outside the capital that were supporting the rebel freedom fighters.

Mr. Obama sent U.S. naval ships into the region, armed with cruise missiles, then went before the country to say he would punish Mr. Assad by bombing his military facilities. He also said he’d seek the support of European leaders at the Group of 20 summit and a vote of approval from Congress to show national solidarity.

He flew home from St. Petersburg, Russia, though, with no support for his limited, punitive war plans, a stunning international rebuke for a U.S. president. Then he woke up the next day to a pile of polls showing most Americans opposed getting involved in Syria’s bloody civil war.

That was followed by the ultimate humiliation: Advisers told him he couldn’t win a vote of approval in the GOP-run House, where a number of Democrats planned to vote no, and the Democratic Senate also looked like an impossible sell.

Mr. Obama was in a foreign-policy stew of his own making, looking weak, confused and incompetent as ever, and not knowing what to do next. CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer put it best when he said on the air, “What a mess.”

That’s when Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Assad’s chief apologist and principal arms provider, threw Mr. Obama a political lifeline to get out of the foreign-policy disaster he had created — but only on terms that served Mr. Putin’s sinister interests, as well as those of Mr. Assad.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry grabbed the Russian leader’s plan and eagerly swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Mr. Putin’s devious offer — if anyone believes it will happen — calls for Mr. Assad to turn over his chemical weapons to full international control and to ensure that none have been hidden for later use. That’s a process that will take months, if not years, to conduct and complete.

Mr. Obama quickly put his threat of retaliation on hold for the foreseeable future. War resolution votes in Congress were indefinitely postponed. The stark “red line” has vanished from the administration’s dialogue. No one talks seriously of punishing Mr. Assad for the killing of 1,400 Syrians by the most heinous, agonizing death imaginable.

Meantime, Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin and their Iranian accomplices got exactly what they wanted: unending delays to buy time for their deceitful plans to keep Mr. Assad in power.

Mr. Putin becomes a power player in the Middle East, where he has been merely an arms dealer for every despot who would play his game. Mr. Assad now has a free hand to crush the Syrian opposition.

While his stepped-up military offensive isn’t getting much attention on the nightly network news, Mr. Assad has widened his war dramatically. More than 1,000 people died in the fighting last week, according to The Washington Post.

This is now taking place without a peep from Mr. Obama, who has been busy licking his own political wounds, and is glad to have handed off the ball to diplomats and their endless negotiations to locate Mr. Assad’s chemical tanks and perhaps seek a negotiated settlement to the war. It’s a surreal situation only Neville Chamberlain could love.

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