Handling the Syrian Snake

Obama is going to have to handle Bashar Assad sooner or later.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad adjusts his earpiece during a news conference at the Moncloa Palace on July 5, 2010, in Madrid. (Paul White/AP)
Opposition groups want Syrian President Bashar Assad held accountable for the chemical attack in Damascus last month.

In a word, outstanding – the president's speech last night was clear, concise and brief but covered all the bases, ticked all the boxes.

He explained how he doesn't like or want war. He spent years trying to avoid or stop wars. He addressed every fear each American has with regard to Syria: What if al-Qaida comes into power there? Will we be in Syria longer than he says and plans? And so on.

And in a brilliant move, the president turned what could have been a foreign policy disaster into perhaps a foreign policy success – brilliantly masterminded by ... President Obama.

Was Secretary of State John Kerry really speaking off the cuff when he mentioned that Syria had the option of coming clean, admitting they had chemical weapons and turning them into the international community? Or was that a hint at how Assad could prevent his country, his chemical weapons arsenal, his weapons and even he himself from being bombarded by the greatest and most powerful military in the world? 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

So the president says: We'll accept your offer – if we find you're not bluffing.

Call me a pessimist, but you have Russia's leader Vladimir Putin stating there are no chemical weapons and that America, and President Obama specifically, is lying. Now he wants to "help" broker some type of a deal where Syria brings forth those same chemical weapons that America and our president "lied" about? And how about Assad, whose interview with Charlie Rose sounds a bit threatening ... discussing how there would be consequences if America were to bomb Syria? And now, the very leader who stated there were no chemical weapons used – no chemical weapons in his possession perhaps – now he wants to come clean? Right.

So the president is going the diplomatic route, giving Congress a break on this vote for the moment. But, even though I'm a liberal pacifist, let's not stop our military from being ready to act quite yet. Assad is both a liar and a murderer. Should we trust him? Should we trust Russia? A liberal Democratic friend of mine said that he was on the fence about taking action in Syria, but he also said that yesterday the president's speech changed his mind.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

The president dealing with Assad reminds me of a story: Once upon a time, there was a man taking a walk in the forest. He came upon a wounded snake. He picked the snake up, took him home, nursed him back to health. He loved the snake, talked to it, cuddled it, fed it and nurtured it. The snake (although deadly) became a part of his family. One day, when giving his pet snake food, it bit him. As the man was dying, he asked: "Why did you do that? I saved your life, I brought you into my home, I loved you and treated you like family!" The snake replied: "Because I'm a snake. I always have been and I always will be." Assad's a snake. The president just needs to find the best way to deal with his snake's venom.

  • Read Peter Roff: Obama's Syria Speech Too Little Leadership, Too Late
  • Read Eric Schnurer: Syria Shows the U.S. Has Lost Its Idealism – And Moral High Ground
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