Or, perhaps, it is better said that Obama’s loss was Putin’s gain on the only issue of substance at the G20 Summit. Obama achieved at most tepid support from 10 of the 20 G20 nations for a watered-down resolution that called for “a strong international response” to Syria’s use of chemical weapons but left open exactly what such a response would mean.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel discretely waited until the day after the meeting to give her support and thus broke the tie. Her delay was a political gesture to distance herself from Obama. Germany had not participated in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya. Do not expect it to participate in any military intervention in Syria.
Even Pope Francis tweeted and wrote a personal letter to Putin supporting his opposition to a military strike in Syria.
What Putin gained at Obama’s expense in St. Petersburg was the opportunity to place his views on the Syrian crisis in the context of numerous issues of concerns to members of the European Union . At least on the issue of intervention in Syria, the St. Petersburg Summit was a rare case where the Russian president, not the American, seemed more in touch with European and world opinion.
Before we lapse into a latter day Cold War Russo-phobia, we would do well to listen to Putin’s points. Some of his arguments are disingenuous. For example, his refusal to accept the evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for deploying the chemical weapons does not help his credibility Nevertheless, privately, Putin and his aides express a personal distaste for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. They share the international community’s aversion to the use of chemical weapons.
Above all else, Putin’s arguments rest on three points: 1) Only the Security Council of the United Nations can authorize the use of force against a sovereign nation. 2) Assad is an odious figure but the most likely alternative, a radical jihadist regime with ties to Al-Qaeda, would be worse. 3) U.S.-led military intervention and sponsored regime change is neither an acceptable nor effective international response to the revolution that is sweeping across the Middle East.