It's not often that you can turn what looks like a foreign policy disaster into an international triumph. But President Barack Obama, who has had his share of bad days, caught some luck this week. Maybe Secretary of State John Kerry was just tripping over his words when he suggested that there might be another way out. Maybe the Russians never meant to provide it. Maybe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, well, who knows about Assad? But he did manage to get his own story out with Charlie Rose.
Yesterday, it all looked like a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen: The president draws a red line before checking the polls to realize that, actually, the country is not behind him, tosses it to Congress, except Congress is not really behind him, either, leaving him the options of defying everyone or looking very weak, and kaboom! Is there a solution?
And not just for Obama, but for the idea that we live in a civilized world where there are some vestiges of rules, respect for human life, lines we don't cross.
It remains to be seen whether the details can be worked out. There will be many who say, with some reason, that Obama just got lucky, that he was on a fool's course here, that the Russians got lucky, too, that it's too bad we have to make Russian President Vladimir Putin into the world's leading diplomat (too bad, but better than plunging the Middle East into who knows what) to get out of this mess.
This was not the president's finest hour. If it was all just an accidental stroke of luck (so much for highfalutin diplomacy), then maybe we were due for a good one. The reviews of the president's speech suggest that absent the "new starter" of turning over the weapons, the president was on his way to defeat in Congress.
Why? Blame Bush. Seriously.
It is a measure of the price we are still paying, in so many ways, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that "weapons of mass destruction" — even when there is proof that they were used in the suburbs — are not enough to convince Americans to get "involved." The old dichotomies of American politics wherein Democrats were "doves" and Republicans were "hawks" and the Democrats used to stand around in corners worried that no one would believe we ever would be willing to use force are now officially ancient history.
As I listened to the various comments and commentators, I couldn't help but laugh a little at all the Republicans who worried that the strikes wouldn't be effective, that we shouldn't go it alone in the use of military force. Was that really a Republican invoking the United Nations?
But here's the bottom line — whether or not you like Obama, whether or not you're a Republican or a Democrat, whether or not you even care who is killing who in Syria. It may be by accident, but it actually seems, at least for today, that world leaders are doing what they're supposed to do: trying to work out a peaceful and less dangerous way to address problems.
If we can eliminate, at least for right now, the threat of chemical weapons being used in Syria without military strikes that could destabilize the already unstable Middle East; if we can prevent children from being killed because they were born in the wrong suburb; if we can find a way for the United States and Russia to work together to solve one problem, then who knows?
Maybe — and I'm not saying for sure or even that it's likely — but maybe we could find some way to make this a safer world for our children. Maybe, just maybe, it isn't just a lucky day for Obama, but the beginnings of an example of how a dangerous and divided world can when necessary be a little less dangerous and divided.
Anyway, I'll take it.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)