President Obama will not insist on a United Nations resolution threatening to use force to ensure that Syria lives up to its commitment to turn over chemical weapons, but will seek other tangible consequences for Syria if it does not comply, senior administration officials said Friday.

Although Mr. Obama reserves the right to order a punitive military strike on his own without United Nations backing if Syria reneges, the officials said he understood that Russia, because of its veto power in the Security Council, would never allow a resolution that authorized such a use of force.

***

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger muscled the Soviet Union out of Middle East diplomacy back in 1973. In the 40 years since, American presidents have worked to keep the Russians out. Now they’re back in. A nation with a declining population, a weakened military, and an economy propped up only by oil and gas exports has suddenly made itself the key interlocutor in the region. Obama has allowed this even though it’s obvious that effective disarmament is impossible in a nation riven by civil war and ruled by a regime with every incentive and inclination to lie and conceal. The negotiations and any fig-leaf inspection process can be dragged out for weeks, months, and years, as Saddam Hussein demonstrated.

Obama said he hoped to degrade Syria’s chemical-weapons program. Instead he has degraded his own — and America’s — credibility.

***

Now we see the ghastly spectacle of Sergei Lavrov carving John Kerry down to size slice by slice, as the Americans grasp at the hopeless task of removing chemical weapons from Syria as proposed by Moscow. A new UN resolution? In our new spirit of partnership, why not? But only if it does not insult Mr Assad, or contain nasty threats or war crimes allegations against him. New peace talks? Of course. As long as they are not aimed at Mr Assad leaving office.

It’s obvious to even the dullest pundit that no new international process can bring about the safe collection and destruction of Syria’s sizeable CW stocks over any timescale that matters. Moscow is not interested in this. Rather it means to re-legitimise the Assad regime by making it a prime interlocutor in the whole phoney process…

In short, we have gone from “Assad must go!” to “Assad has to negotiate with us on a UN resolution for handing over his CW stocks, or there definitely ought to be consequences!” It’s a short sad step from that to “Assad must stay!”

This is something quite new in world affairs: Washington sprawling on its back after falling for the Grandmother of All Putinesque Judo-flips.

***

He willingly jumped into a bear trap of his own creation. In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed. The failure cuts straight to the heart of a perpetual criticism of the Obama White House: that the President thinks he can do foreign policy all by his lonesome. This has been the most closely held American foreign-policy-making process since Nixon and Kissinger, only there’s no Kissinger. There is no éminence grise—think of someone like Brent Scowcroft—who can say to Obama with real power and credibility, Mr. President, you’re doing the wrong thing here. Let’s consider the consequences if you call the use of chemical weapons a “red line.” Or, Mr. President, how can you talk about this being “the world’s red line” if the world isn’t willing to take action?…

There are those who say Obama has destroyed his presidency. It may be true, but I doubt it. All sorts of things could happen to turn the tide back in his favor. The snap polls after the Syria speech indicate that he still has the ability to sell an argument, however briefly. He has been lucky in his opponents: the Republicans will doubtless continue to take positions that most Americans find foolish or extreme. Obamacare may prove a success. He may make crisp decisions in the next overseas crisis; one would hope he’s learned something from this one. But he has done himself, and the nation, great and unnecessary harm. The road back to credibility and respect will be extremely difficult.

***

What I cannot stomach is the humiliation of my country on the world stage… If Obama believed he already possessed constitutional power to strike Syria, he should have struck immediately, and have been ready to justify his actions. If he believed that the authority of Congress was required, he should have been willing to accept the verdict of Congress, which is clearly no.

But to adopt with such alacrity an improvised and cynical proposal by the Russians and Assad, and to spin that proposal as a victory, and as somehow his own, and to look paralyzed as the Russian autocrat uses the New York Times as a platform to spread conspiracy theories and lecture us on America, democracy, and international responsibility, is an embarrassment and an affront.

In the space of 24 hours President Obama went from being the enforcer of international norms to the enabler of Putin and the Assad regime. He has once again ducked responsibility for his words and actions, and in so doing has made the brutish leader of a defeated and broken empire the dominant player in Mideast affairs. And he has sent a signal: not to our enemies, who will continue to pursue their strategic objectives until they are met with force or deterred by overwhelming power, but to our allies, who must now realize that American foreign policy under Barack Obama is simply not serious.

***

The other Marx had something useful to say about Obama’s vaudeville routine on the world-historical stage: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” As he played his part in making the case for military action, John Kerry referred to this as our century’s Munich moment. He spoke more truly than he meant, for his boss followed the precedent of Munich rather than learning his lesson. But Obama’s Munich moment turned out to be a Marxian version, with Obama doing farcical pratfalls as he followed down Neville Chamberlain’s tragic path…

Perhaps others will step up to avert the damage. Abroad, it seems that it will be up to Benjamin Netanyahu, who knows something about real historical tragedy, to stop even more dangerous regimes than Assad’s from acquiring even more dangerous weapons. At home, members of Congress and other leaders might be able to mitigate the damage that Obama could do over the next three years. In the spirit of Churchill’s great October 5, 1938, speech in response to the Munich agreement, those here at home who are unwilling to consign Americans to either tragedy or farce could insist that people “should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road.”

***

Olympus has fallen. America’s leadership is functionally impaired in the face of a thrusting, fast-moving, and possibly brilliant opponent. Of course, the fact that Putin was up against a broken reed made it easier for him. Yet however one may admire Putin’s skills, it must be an admiration tempered by fear, of the kind felt by the British 8th Army in the face of Rommel, of the sort with which Gamelin regarded Guderian. Nothing can disguise the fact that Putin is the enemy and America is less-than-competently led in its contest against him. Something must be done to stem the tide. But what?…

Putin has taken Barack Obama’s Narrative apart and handed him the smoking pieces in a bucket. Barry doesn’t even know how it happened, nor are his advisers any the wiser. Maybe it was a video. And anyway, “what difference does it make?” Obama may emerge from time to time, blinking in the unaccustomed light, seeking to respond in the only ways he knows how: with a speech; as a guest on Leno; firing a few desultory cruise missiles here or there at targets chosen not to matter; or to offer increasingly unaffordable amounts of money for “deals” that won’t last. And none of it will work.

It remains to be seen whether Washington has the institutional depth to reconstitute itself in a crisis. But reconstitute it must. The current team in the White House is broken. Change must come if there is to be hope.

***

In the Obama era, to modify Teddy Roosevelt, America chatters unceasingly and carries an unbelievably small stick. In this, the wily Putin saw an opening, and offered a “plan” so absurd that even Obama’s court eunuchs in the media had difficulty swallowing it. A month ago, Assad was a reviled war criminal and Putin his arms dealer. Now, Putin is the honest broker and Obama’s partner for peace, and the war criminal is at the negotiating table with his chances of survival better than they’ve looked in a year. On the same day the U.S. announced it would supply the Syrian rebels with light arms and advanced medical kits, Russia announced it would give Assad’s buddies in Iran the S-300 ground-to-air weapons system and another nuclear reactor…

As for Putin’s American-exceptionalism crack, he was attacking less the concept than Obama’s opportunist invocation of it as justification for military action in Syria. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans alike took the bait. Eager to mend bridges with the base after his amnesty bill, Mario Rubio insisted at National Review Online that America was still, like, totally exceptional.

Sorry, this doesn’t pass muster even as leaden, staffer-written codswallop. It’s not the time — not when you’re a global joke, not when every American ally is cringing with embarrassment at the amateurishness of the last month. Nobody, friend or foe, wants to hear about American exceptionalism when the issue is American ineffectualism. On CBS, Bashar Assad called the U.S. government “a social-media administration.” He’s got a better writer than Obama, too. America is in danger of being the first great power to be laughed off the world stage. When the president’s an irrelevant narcissist and his secretary of state’s a vainglorious buffoon, Marco Rubio shouldn’t be telling the world don’t worry, the other party’s a joke, too.