I’m skeptical. First off, both leaders undoubtedly know that the force authorization was going to die in Congress. They can read the whip counts and it’s pretty clear by now that this isn’t going to pass. Here’s Ezra Klein commenting on the potential compromise of Assad handing over his chemical weapons:
That deal will fall apart if Syria and Russia conclude that the White House’s threats are empty. Obama needs the country’s backing to strike Syria so he can strike a diplomatic bargain to get rid of Assad’s chemical arsenal, thus ending America’s interest in striking Syria.
But Obama can’t get that support by going on prime time and asking Americans to help him bluff Russia.
What exactly do Syria and Russia fear? The only thing I can think of is that they believe the President will authorize the strikes without Congressional approval. I don’t see that happening. Maybe that’s a large enough risk that Putin and Assad are open to negotiations to avoid it. But they certainly shouldn’t fear that Congress will approve of the strikes.
Here’s Klein again this morning on why the White House postponed the vote:
The other is that the White House would very likely lose — if they were going to win, they’d hold the vote and use the authorization as leverage with Russia and Syria.
It’s not like Putin and Assad don’t understand this either! If Obama had the votes, there would be no reason for the White House to delay. It would give the Administration leverage over Assad and allow them to speed up the negotiating process since the President would have the authority to strike at any time.
So, what motivated Syria and Russia to look for a compromise? I’m not sure, but I can’t see how the President’s bluff had anything to do with it.