- - Thursday, September 12, 2013

“There’s no use trying,” Alice told the White Queen. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

We can only envy Alice. She lived in a wonderland where the impossible things she was asked to believe numbered only six. In our Washington wonderland, Barack Obama asks us to believe more impossible things than Alice could have dreamed of.

We were first asked to believe that President Obama had drawn “a red line” that Syria’s Bashar Assad would cross with his chemical weapons at his mortal peril, and then we were asked to believe that if he crossed it, Mr. Obama would punish him with missiles so accurate that he could take out the men’s room without disturbing the ladies’. But then we were asked to believe that Mr. Obama hadn’t actually drawn the red line at all; it was the work of someone else, perhaps the “international community.”

Now we’re asked to believe that Russia’s Vladimir Putin leaped to answer a dare by Secretary of State John Kerry, to lean on Mr. Assad to dismantle the chemical weapons he has carefully acquired over the years with the assistance of the Russians. It was the irresistible pressure of Mr. Obama’s toughness and resolve that prevailed.

Anyone watching Mr. Obama’s speech Tuesday night could see the relief writ large in his face. He was freed from the consequences of his bravado and boasting. Mr. Putin had granted a reprieve. Now he would go through the motions of pushing for congressional approval of his scheme to punish the Syrian strongman, knowing that a vote now is unlikely. Congress is as grateful as he is that everyone is spared the agony of putting himself on the line.

We’re now asked to believe that Mr. Putin will proceed to assist the Syrians in dismantling the stocks of gas warfare that Syria has insisted it doesn’t have, to locate the secret places where Mr. Assad says he never put them, to pack them carefully for promised destruction and to faithfully monitor future compliance, with none of the usual Russian deception. Now that Mr. Assad has escaped even the “unbelievably small” punishment promised by Mr. Kerry, we’re asked to believe that the Russians won’t rearm the Syrian army, now and whenever it needs more conventional arms to continue to batter the rebels.

All this we’re asked to believe, but almost no one does or will. It doesn’t take Superman’s X-ray vision to see through this dark obfuscation. A weak, fumbling and gobsmacked president has been rendered bereft of everything but a claim that a humiliating defeat is a victory.

The portents are not encouraging. Diplomacy has its moments, but a president who turns to diplomacy only when all else fails reveals only his poverty of ideas. Diplomacy, to be believable, must have a military backup, and Mr. Obama cannot count on a Putin rescue every day.

The Russian president has accomplished more than humiliating America and the president. He now has an opportunity to make himself the major player in the Middle East, exploiting the American retreat that Mr. Obama has pursued from the first days of his presidency. The mullahs in Iran can read signals, too, and they will exploit the American debacle in Syria, hoping to lay a similar trap in Iran. Israel will take due notice that it is on its own if it deals with the Iranian nuclear-weapons program. What’s really scary is that the Obama presidency still has 40 months to run.

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