OWL’S HEAD, Maine — It's half time in the big new international contest — a confounding mixture of American football, Syrian soccer, and Russian roulette. There's even an element of English cricket, to the extent the match seems to go on forever. The players, skilled in other sports, are trying to rapidly adapt themselves to this new international game even as the rules remain unwritten.
And without any rules, who knows what the score is?
But here's the state of play.
Until Monday, the US team appeared to have backed itself into a no-win position.
Coach Barack Obama had promised to give a solid whipping to his Syrian opponents, allied with the heavyweight Russian team. But, even playing on its own turf, the Obama team — after a series of poor calls, fumbles, and the revelation that its bench had no depth — was being roundly booed by its home-team crowd.
Confused by the loss of his own supporters, Coach Obama had called time and let it be known he was preparing to unveil a new and winning play when the game resumed.
But then star quarterback John Kerry unexpectedly announced the time-out was over and, in a moment of confusion, he threw what can only be described as an inadvertent Hail Mary pass. It was inadvertent because the moment he threw it, Kerry claimed the play had been whistled dead.
And even as he was over-ruled, in mid-play, one of the Russians picked off the Kerry pass and ran toward his own goal line.
When the American team realized they had a Russian "wrong way Corrigan" afoot, they let him take the ball down to his 3-yard line, where they tackled hard and recovered the fumble.
Despite the weak bench, former quarterback Hillary Clinton was sent in temporarily, applauding her replacement's accidental call. It could be "an important step" at this point in the game, she noted, tipping her helmet as well to the Russian opponents.
The Syrian team, playing as always in the shadow of the Russians, reinforced whatever it was the Russian team was now trying to do.
And then, lo and behold, the French team rallied, and like a rugby scrum, seemed to push the ball closer to the goal line, wherever that was.
It was at this point that the more-befuddled-than-ever American team called for another time out. Coach Obama had been conferring with his team's unusually large number of Capitol HIll investors — 535, to be exact — and was now ready to disdain a huddle and publicly give his updated advice to the American team.
That followed a recent pattern by the American team of announcing their plays in advance to spectators, as well as to the opposing team.
Now, play is about to be resumed. Kibitzers across the world are glued to their television sets, wondering what will happen next.
Though, most are still wondering what has happened so far.
Had Coach Obama been discussing new rules with Russian Coach Sergei Lavrov, even before quarterback Kerry surprised both teams with his self-repudiated desperation pass?
Or had the Russian team's sole owner, Vladimir Putin, concluded that Coach Obama had a really game-changing approach up his sleeve?
Or, had the weaker Syrian side sought Russian help to avoid what they considered a strong new threat from the American players?
Looking ahead, there are even more questions to ponder as analysts try to strategize this entirely new ball game.
In coming weeks, will the Syrian team continue to play by the rules to which the much stronger Russian team has apparently agreed? Or will Syrian Coach Bashar al-Assad cheat, as he has done before? And where are the UN referees who can enforce those rules, in any case?
Since this is, after all, just the first game in a best of who-knows-how-many series, the biggest question is this: When future games are played in Syria, will the American and Russian teams still be following the same rules?
In other words, might we hope that this is the beginning of the two powerhouse teams, the Americans and the Russians, establishing agreed-upon parameters for an inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons that will ultimately benefit all sides? Or is the whole thing still up for grabs?
Mac Deford is retired after a career as a Foreign Service officer, an international banker, and a museum director. He lives in Owl's Head, Maine, and still travels frequently to the Middle East.