Syria has become the crucible for the world’s most towering leaders. Already, Britain’s premier, David Cameron, has had to bite the dust. The throttling of his war cry by Britain’s Parliament is likely to be remembered as one of the most significant episodes in the history of parliamentary democracy in his country. Mr Cameron, suddenly uncomplainingly loyal to Britain’s political tradition, does not seem to have problems playing the loser in that episode. The experience, for the president of the United States of America, could be said to have been more humbling. Despite being the chief commander of the country’s armed forces, Barack Obama thought it prudent to seek the approval of the country’s democratic institutions before going to war. On Mr Obama’s appeal, the senate has now withheld giving its verdict on the US’s military intervention in Syria. Mr Obama’s once-belligerent team, led by the indefatigable secretary of state, John Kerry, has tamely fallen in line with the president’s call for a rethink and gone to work with their Russian counterparts on a plan to defang Syria’s chemical capability. It seemingly does not bother either Mr Obama or Mr Kerry in the slightest that Russia and its cowboy president, Vladimir Putin, have usurped their idea of Syria’s surrender of its chemical weapons arsenal to international surveillance as a way out of a military intervention. The Obama administration did not even bat an eyelid when Mr Putin, in an unprecedentedly predatory gesture, entered the domestic sphere and sought to turn the American people against their own elected president by running him down in a newspaper article.
The reason the world’s most trusted leaders have been found to be willing to fall like nine pins in their zeal to push for a military solution to Syria is perhaps because there is more to be gained from losing than in winning this game. It is realpolitik that is unfurling before the world’s eyes. Mr Putin may have emerged the hero by deferring a military attack on Syria and made Russia an indispensable adjutant to any future plan in the region. But he has also been passed on a burden that was proving to be too difficult for his American counterpart to shoulder. From now on, Mr Putin will alone have to take the blame for a failure in Syria. Mr Obama has surreptitiously claimed the moral high ground from him.