President Barack Obama told the nation on Tuesday night that he will personally continue Syrian crisis negotiations that were arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He’s also sending Secretary of State John Kerry to talk with Putin’s deputy on Thursday, and is delaying congressional debates over his request for authorization to attack Syria.
This new focus on diplomacy is a stunning retreat from Obama’s much-touted and very unpopular promise to punish Syria for an August nerve gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods.
It is also a possibly decisive retreat from the president’s aggressive effort to weaken Syria’s government until Islamic radicals — including al-Qaeda forces — seize the capital. In recent weeks, the rebel groups had repeatedly urged Obama to launch a bombing campaign.
Obama made his new prime-time pitch to the voters — and especially to his war-averse progressive base — even though the diplomatic effort is already hitting critical roadblocks.
Obama told the nation Tuesday he wanted to have the United Nations effectively disarm Syria of its chemical weapons.
But earlier on Tuesday, Putin’s foreign minister told France’s foreign minister that Russia would object to any role for the United Nations. Instead, Russian wants to play the leading role in verifying Syria’s claimed chemical-weapon disarmament.
Russia is Syria’s leading ally, and has strongly opposed Obama’s efforts to remove Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Asaad. Obama’s apparent course could also give Putin room to cause the president further embarrassment by, for example, threatening to derail the Syria negotiations unless Obama offers new concessions, such as cutbacks in U.S. missile defenses.
Assad is also aided by Iran’s soldiers and weapons.
Last week, Obama’s aides repeatedly dismissed the prospect of a diplomatic deal with Putin, and he publicly downplayed any chance of a deal.
But his apparent turnabout Tuesday will avert two war-authorization votes in the Senate and House, which are expected to defeat his request to approve the use of force.
Obama disguised his Putin-arranged climbdown with strong rhetoric about Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian “government gassed to death over a thousand people… The images of this massacre are sickening….. [they show] a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk,” he said.
“What kind of world would we live in if…we choose to look the other way?” Obama asked. “We can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run.”
The factional war in Syria has reportedly killed 100,000 people. The war was caused by sectarian, ethnic and ideological splits, and is being fueled by various outside rival powers, such as Iran, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Obama is also fueling the war. Instead of staying neutral, he is sending cash and weapons to some of the Sunni rebel factions that are attacking the dictatorial government.
So far, however, there’s little reliable information about the rebel factions’ goals and clout.
Legislators are concerned that any attack could help radical Sunni groups — including forces affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida — to seize control of Syria’s armory of chemical weapons for use against Israel.
Any takeover could also allow the Muslim groups to force millions of Arab Christians out of Syria, where they have lived for 2,000 years, six centuries before Islamic armies conquered Syria.
The public is strongly against U.S. military involvement.
To sway the polls, Obama’s team have been ramping up an emotional pitch to Americans.
“In recent days we’ve been shocked by videos… As a parent, I cannot look at those pictures, those little children laying on the ground, their eyes glassy, their bodies twitching, and not think of my own two kids,” his national security advisor, Susan Rice, said Monday at a speech at the New America Foundation.