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Opinion

September 21, 2013

Shribman: The cold is coming

(Continued)

Still unanswered: the real timetable for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, the real motive of Vladimir Putin and the resolution of Obama’s vow that Bashar Assad should pay a price for his actions.

The country has lost, at least in the short term, its pre-eminence in world diplomacy.

For two generations, the American narrative — this was decidedly not the Soviet narrative, nor, after 1989, the Russian narrative — was that the United States continually had to respond to Moscow’s nefarious gambits: 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1980 in Afghanistan, along with shady episodes of agitation in Nicaragua and Africa and support for rebellions in Korea and Vietnam.

In all those situations, at least in their renderings in the West, Moscow wore the black hat or hid one in the top drawer or back closet. Now, Putin, no exemplar of democratic values, has upended the narrative. He’s taken the initiative in Syria, and in the United Nations, too, and he’s the one wearing the white hat. “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker,” the president whose style most resembles Putin’s, Richard M. Nixon, said in his 1969 inaugural address. Putin is luxuriating in that title.

The president has lost his influence on Capitol Hill.

Obama plainly could not carry his own party on Syria, which is one reason reasonable people might wonder why he decided in the first place — no, it was actually the second place — to kick the Syria can up to Capitol Hill. In doing so he only increased the specific gravity of an extremely unlikely coalition of liberals and libertarian conservatives that was drawn together by concerns over the growth of government surveillance and now comprises an unwieldy peacenik-isolationist caucus that could be dangerous to Obama in the coming years.

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