I imagine him phoning Putin to say he’ll accept the Russians’ lame charade on Syrian WMD if Moscow agrees to send Edward Snowden back, to which Putin naturally replies “Nyet, take it or leave it.” To which O, his second term crumbling around him, naturally says, “Okay.”

Waterloo for “smart power”:

President Obama on Monday took a sharp turn away from his “red line” threat to Syria on the eve of taking his case to the American people, saying in an interview with Fox News that he’s open to negotiations on an alternative plan that could avert a military strike…

“We will pursue this diplomatic track,” Obama told Fox News. “I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way.”…

“I welcome the possibility of the development,” he said. “We should explore and exhaust all avenues of diplomatic resolution to this.”

He said the U.S. should be able to get a “fairly rapid sense” of how serious the proposal is. “We are going to be immediately talking to the Russians and looking for some actual language they might be proposing,” he said.

Surreal as it may seem after Kerry’s gaffe heard ’round the world this morning, O actually wants the public to believe tonight that he kinda sorta intended this outcome. McCain and Graham issued a statement in the past hour demanding, not unreasonably, that Congress go ahead and vote to authorize force anyway, if only to increase Obama’s leverage with Syria and Russia. If we’re going to give Assad a chance to turn over his weapons, logically we want to show him that we mean business if he tries to stall. The problem with that, of course, is that it assumes Congress will vote yes when the whole point of O caving to this Russian scheme is that he knows the votes aren’t there — not only in the House, but maybe in the Democratic-controlled Senate too:

The Obama administration’s efforts to sway Congress to support military airstrikes against Syria suffered further setbacks Monday, raising serious doubts that the president will be able to muster the necessary support in either the House or Senate.

Three additional senators, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., announced their opposition Monday, eliminating three potentially critical votes for the administration…

Additional Red State Democrats, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska, remain undecided. Both senators are up for re-election next year in states that Obama lost in the past two presidential elections.

It’s not just Alexander, Blunt, and Heitkamp. Late this afternoon, John Hoeven and Johnny Isakson — two Republicans who’ve been willing to work with the White House before — declared that they’re opposed. Mitch McConnell, to no one’s surprise, is also leaning no. Suddenly, not only is 60 votes in doubt, 51 is in doubt too, which would be a catastrophic humiliation for the White House in a chamber controlled by their own party. Reid had no choice but to pull the plug, at least for now:

They’re not going to win a vote this week and Obama knows it — check out the numbers at RCP — but maybe their chances will improve in a few weeks if Assad drags his feet on turning over his weapons, or, worse, gasses another crowd. O himself realizes now that delay can only help:

Obama suggested that Syria’s willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution could give Congress more time to decide on whether to grant him the authority to strike.

“I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” Obama said. “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this.”

With Congress’s calendar already packed with budgetary matters and immigration, O’s best bet to extricate himself from this semi-gracefully is to let it drop off the public radar and hope that Assad doesn’t do anything to force it back on. And if he does, like, say, by using gas again, Obama will probably bomb him straightaway on the theory that while one use of WMD is worrisome but deserving of due deliberation in Congress, a second is evidence of a madman who needs to be punished with all haste. Either way, Obama’s congressional problem will be solved.

Via the Corner, here’s O explaining that he was hoping for a nice slow process all along in Congress and that no one ever said they needed to make a decision right away. Er, didn’t he say so a week ago, demanding a “prompt vote”? Exit question via Ed, who tweeted this out: Does this mean tomorrow night’s big Oval Office address is canceled too? I’m guessing no, just because that attempt to flush the big Syria clusterfark of 2013 down the memory hole would be too obvious. The president announced publicly that he’d explain to the nation why enforcing the WMD “red line” is important; the only thing that changed today, in theory, was the means of enforcement. His goal in all this is to save face, and postponing the speech after staking so much political capital would cut against that. But if the point of delay in Congress is to get the public to forget about Syria then a big primetime speech is totally counterproductive. Maybe he just should have moved it up to 9 p.m. tonight, when everyone will be watching football and won’t see it anyway.