So much for Obama's repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demanded that any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.
This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.
And what does America get? Obama saves face.
As for the peace process, it has about zero chance of disarming Damascus. We've spent nine years disarming an infinitely smaller arsenal in Libya — in conditions of peace — and we're still finding undeclared stockpiles.
Yet consider what's happened over the last month. Assad uses poison gas on civilians and is branded, by the U.S. above all, a war criminal. Putin, covering for the war criminal, is exposed, isolated, courting pariah status.
And now? Assad, far from receiving punishment of any kind, goes from monster to peace partner. Putin bestrides the world stage, playing dealmaker. He's welcomed by America as a constructive partner. Now a world statesman, he takes to The New York Times to blame American interventionist arrogance — aka “American exceptionalism” — for inducing small states to acquire WMDs in the first place.
And Obama gets to slink away from a Syrian debacle of his own making. Such are the fruits of a diplomacy of epic incompetence.
Charles Krauthammer's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP