There is the famous scene in the movie "Stripes" in which Bill Murray's character (John Winger) says the United States has "been kicking a-- for 200 years! We're 10 and 1!"
The loss he referred to is Vietnam, which was not truly a loss. South Vietnam fell only after the United States left. Syria won't hand the United States its first true military defeat. But it is shaping up as a diplomatic and geopolitical rout for President Obama unless things change soon.
Obama is already in for a diplomatic trip to the woodshed. After several months of making contradictory statements on Syria intervention – most involving poorly thought out "red lines" – President Obama's address to the nation on Tuesday served only to ensure this defeat.
The action now is on a diplomatic solution that just about no one besides Secretary of State John Kerry expects to work. It is based on the notion that we can get one thug – Vladimir Putin – to convince another thug – Bashar Assad – to give up his war-making toys during a war. Even if Putin delivered and Assad acquiesced, those weapons would have to be gathered, accounted for, secured and, ultimately, moved – again, during a war.
This is as likely to happen as me displacing Tom Brady as quarterback of the New England Patriots next year. But right now, it's Plan A.
There is no Plan B. The White House is scrambling to toss one together. It's asking for additional targets, scouring satellite imagery to find weapons and, oddly, supplying various rebel groups with small arms and other assistance neither the rebels nor the CIA are willing to disclose.
The president knows now he can't look to Congress for help. He has had little luck since his first year in office convincing Congress to do anything. And within a few months – some would say it already has occurred – all this will be done against a background of election politics, which means compromise and common sense will be in particularly short supply.
He could go it alone, but the criticism that his defense/security policies differ little from those of President George W. Bush before him would only grow – this time with the help of his steadfast allies in the mainstream press.
And there is no hiding. The enemies of freedom pay close attention to our domestic politics. They know they can't come close to defeating America on the battlefield, so their best hope is that the American president is too constrained by political opposition at home to act. They are well aware this is the case for President Obama now – that he has, in the words of columnist Cal Thomas, "been played."
Is this a blow to America's influence on the world stage? Perhaps, to the extent this enables Putin to portray himself as a broker of grand peace bargains. But the world understands we still have this mighty fighting force, even if it is now led by an indecisive, imprudent, ineffective leader.
The lesson here has nothing to do with whether the president needs congressional approval. It has little even to do with Syria or Russia. The lesson, as Commentary magazine's Peter Wehner put it, is that, when we pick the next president, we need to look past eloquent speechmaking and a pretty family and find someone more qualified than a community organizer to manage, assert and use political power.
This is President Obama's failure, and America is suffering the consequences.