Weeks of remarkable vacillation by the Obama administration on the crisis of Syria have landed the U.S. in the worst possible position — looking indecisive, ineffective and weak. In effect, President Obama shot himself in the foot and handed a stunning victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who must be relishing it.
While nobody within their right mind would dispute that the U.S. and Russia are far from equals at this time in history, Mr. Putin understands much better than our own leader that the true global currency is not the dollar — it’s power.
The president’s gross mishandling of the Syria situation has dramatically weakened America’s power in the world. It has given strength to those who declare that we are a paper tiger. Opportunists, including Mr. Putin and other despotic autocrats who don’t share our values, smell blood. Through its incompetent bungling of Syria, the White House has managed to empower America’s enemies, undercut American credibility and jeopardize more than just Syria. We have inadvertently sent the Middle East and potentially many other areas in the world onto an even more dangerous path.
Mr. Putin understands that power, and often just as importantly, the perception of power, is perhaps the most vital ingredient in steering global affairs toward the course that best serves a nation’s interests.
Russia is undeniably a shadow of the country that it was during the height of the Cold War. During that time the U.S. and the Soviet Union stood head and shoulders above their nearest competitors in terms of military strength. The threat of mutual assured destruction through nuclear war kept the two superpowers on a level plane until the bankrupt philosophy of communism began to unravel and the Iron Curtain tumbled down.
What Mr. Putin has cannily managed to do in recent weeks is to resurrect the stature of Russia in the world. Remarkably, he has done it not by improving the country’s flatlining economy or cutting through its dense layers of government cronyism and corruption, but simply by being an anti-American.
As it has done on the Iranian nuclear issue and countless others, Russia has successfully thwarted efforts at the U.N. Security Council for the U.S. to use that forum to pursue its own agenda. Mr. Putin has outplayed all American moves at the U.N., denying us global legitimacy for the steps that President Obama has wanted us to take. Despite Mr. Obama’s declaration that Syria had crossed a red line for the world by gassing his own people, the refusal of the Security Council to threaten force and the fact that our closest allies, including Britain, refused to go along with Mr. Obama exposes the absurdity of this notion.
Mr. Putin has managed to checkmate Mr. Obama in a high-stakes foreign policy chess match. Russia, not the U.S., now has positioned itself as the driving force behind the current approach to Syria — a U.N. resolution requiring to Syria disarm but with no explicit threat of force.
Several months ago, when the U.S. implored Russia to return NSA contractor Edward Snowden to stand trial for his crimes, Mr. Putin played dumb and then refused. Mr. Putin seems to enjoy every opportunity to poke a stick in the eye of the U.S. president.
It is safe to assume that the very day that Mr. Obama took office Mr. Putin sized him up and that the cagey former KGB spy liked what he saw. Mr. Obama, a constitutional law professor, academic and community organizer has championed the notion that many of the world’s most vexing problems can be resolved through respectful dialogue, debate, and political and diplomatic discussions.
Meanwhile, Mr. Putin correctly intuits that the Middle East is not unlike Africa and countless other places in the world. In those tough neighborhoods, those who survive and thrive are not necessarily the most thoughtful, the most elegant, the most sophisticated and the most eloquent. They are the strongest.
Despite the gap in strength across nearly every metric you could employ, Russia is currently outplaying the U.S. on the global stage. We must be honest with ourselves about this fact so that we create a sense of urgency. We presently seem to lack the will and fortitude that we must display if we have any hope of remaining the world’s superpower. We must show Mr. Putin, the rest of the world and perhaps even ourselves that the U.S. can be a credible and strong leader. We can and must do better. The power is in our hands.
• Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” Join him from 4 to 5 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.