"One does not sharpen the axes after the right time; after the time they are needed."
-- Russian Proverb
The late Ukrainian violinist Mischa Elman is considered one of the greatest of all time, but he has nothing on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has played the Obama administration better than any musician.
Washington is astounded at what happened over two days on the Syria front. First, there was a supposed faux pas on Monday in London by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the only way Syria could avoid a military strike was to give up its chemical weapons. While the State Department was busy walking back his comment, Putin said it was a great idea and offered to facilitate the handover, a proposal to which Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, quickly agreed.
Then on Tuesday, things accelerated at warp speed. Al-Moallem said Syria was willing to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international agreement banning the use of chemical weapons, which was the first admission his country possessed them. While the United Nations was preparing to hold one of its toothless "emergency meetings," Putin then added a caveat: The United States and its allies (meaning Israel) would have to agree that in exchange they would pledge not to attack Syria. It was then announced that Secretary Kerry would meet before the end of the week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to discuss Syria.
Putin seems to have pulled a page from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to withdraw missiles it had placed in Cuba if the United States promised not to attack Fidel Castro's communist island. President Kennedy agreed and potential nuclear war was averted. Cuba is an island. Syria is in a far different and unstable neighborhood.
In his nationally televised address Tuesday night, President Obama said little that was not already known. By my count he used the words "I," "me" and "my" 30 times in his 15-minute address. He personalizes everything, but delivers little, except uncertainty in his foreign policy. The world is becoming increasingly dangerous because we have a president who either does not know how to lead, or doesn't want to lead in foreign affairs.
That House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would credit the president with a diplomatic triumph because of a pledge from two men whose promises aren't worth the paper on which they have yet to be written, is funnier than the monologues of late-night comedians.
Shortly after Putin's "diplomatic triumph," which might have been expected given Syria's puppet status with Russia, ABC News Online reported that Putin plans to meet Friday with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to renew Russia's offer of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. Putin knows how to stir the pot to America's detriment.
Iran, with or without its proxy war in Syria and its arming of Hezbollah, remains the major threat in the region. President Obama, who once said he would consider negotiating with Iran because America had become too "arrogant," shows that, too, was a meaningless policy proposal. You can't negotiate with evil. Evil must be defeated.
By assuming the role of a bad character on the world stage, Russia is a threat to peace.
During last year's presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Russia is "our number one geopolitical foe; they fight for every cause for the world's worst actors."
Who sounds more presidential: a tentative Barack Obama, who speaks loudly and too often, but carries a small stick, or Mitt Romney, who clearly understood that for threats to be diminished or deterred a president must have credibility?
It certainly isn't our president.
CAL THOMAS is a nationally syndicated columnist.