If Obama Admin orchestrated the Kerry-Putin-Assad two step, brilliant move. If not, Obama is the luckiest guy in the world today.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 9, 2013
That's in response to this:
A new possibility for a diplomatic solution in Syria surfaced unexpectedly Monday as the war-torn country said it supported a proposal to hand over control of its chemical weapons.The whole thing is making my head spin. It's being read as the Russians pouncing on a Kerry gaffe, and then the gaffe seeming not so gaffe-like the more it's examined. Or maybe it still is gaffe-like.
But a key question loomed: Is that a viable option or simply a stall tactic as President Bashar al-Assad's government tries to stave off U.S. military action?
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Moscow that his nation "welcomes" a proposal by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks on Monday: put Syria's chemical weapons under international control to avert a U.S. military response over an alleged poison gas attack last month....
The comments came after Secretary of State John Kerry discussed a similar scenario, though the State Department stressed later Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not be trusted to relinquish his country's chemical stockpiles....
The Atlantic's Philip Bump:
Russia and the United States worked out a secret way to agree on a resolution to the Syria crisis, with Assad giving up his chemical weapons. Or maybe the Russians are trolling John Kerry again. As Monday evolved, it seemed increasingly possible that the first possibility was the accurate one.And yet as Josh Marshall says:
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at the British Foreign Office, offered the idea in response to a journalist's question about how strikes on Syria could be averted. The Independent reports Kerry said:
"Sure, [Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week -- turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it), but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."Kerry's tone was largely dismissive of the idea, as the video on that page shows. The State Department also quickly declared the secretary's comments to be "rhetorical," CNN reports.
The Russians, however, appear to be taking the idea seriously....
The State Department has not yet responded to Lavrov's offer. That response will almost certainly be dismissive. (Update: The White House has [issued a response]; it was not dismissive.) If it isn't, perhaps this was an elegantly orchestrated plan, worked out over black coffee in a St. Petersburg hotel between anonymous representatives from the two countries -- a plan riding on Kerry's offhanded response to a posed question. The idea that Russia is trying to make things diplomatically uncomfortable for the United States -- trolling, in the common vernacular -- seems much more likely.
I’m not saying I think it will be easy or that the Russians are sincere. But getting all the regimes chemical weapons arsenal under international control would be no small achievement. Simply focusing on it would give the US something to apply leverage against (something it sorely lacks at the moment) and put the Russians in an awkward spot....And Kevin Drum writes:
The key is that this potentially allows the US to reshuffle the deck and come at the problem on terrain which is inherently more favorable, given the Russian opening. Take the whole thing back to the Security Council. Have the Russians veto what they just proposed.
So was Kerry's statement a gaffe? In normal terms, sure. You don't toss out stuff like this without thinking about it, and most likely all it does is give Russia and Syria a handy excuse to play games for a while longer. However, in any terms more sophisticated than those of a five-year-old, it wasn't really much of a gaffe. Kerry's meaning was perfectly plain.Gaffe or no gaffe, the underlying Obama strategy created the possibility of a positive outcome. The Syrians (and the Russians) still think Obama might strike even if he loses in Congress. They still seem as if they'd like to avoid that outcome. Maybe the threat of force actually worked.
Still, what if the Russians aren't playing games, but are seizing an unanticipated opportunity? It's possible that for all their bluster, the Russians would actually like a way out of this that saves some face....
If all of this ended up with some kind of UN inspection force taking control of Syria's chemical arsenal, that would be a pretty good outcome for everyone. And it would make Kerry's statement sort of the opposite of a Kinsley gaffe. Instead of a politician accidentally telling the truth, it would end up being a politician accidentally solving a real problem.
If we get to a deal that averts a strike -- and the administration does seem to be looking at this proposal seriously -- that demonstrates a key difference between Obama and Bush: Bush always wanted a war with Iraq. Obama really might walk away from military action.