Monday, September 09, 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.

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 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.

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.

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.
And yet as Josh Marshall says:
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....

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.
And Kevin Drum writes:
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.

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.
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.

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.


Chris Andersen said...

It is amazing how many people have jumped on this as evidence either of Obama losing or Obama being really lucky.

It is an Obama loss only if you assume he wanted to bomb Syria.

It is luck only if you assume that Obama is a naive child who doesn't understand what he is doing.

Both are assumptions that have more basis in the prejudices of those making the assumptions than in any real world evidence.

Never Ben Better said...

With you all the way, Chris -- and seems to me, the "Obama is naive!" crowd say more about themselves, and their attitude toward the black dude in the White House, than they do about the man they delight in demeaning.

Victor said...

I think President Obama went to Congress to buy himself, and his administration, more time.

I hope that this offer is serious, and seriously considered, because that will change the entire political dynamic in this country.

And I don't think President Obama cares what it takes/took to avoid a stupid strike - and whether he gets any credit or not - because he's smart enough, unlike W's morons, to take advantage of a good thing when he sees it!

Let's hope that Assad takes this offer seriously, and take chemical weapons out of his arsenal, if, IF, he ever used them.

Then, if any chemical attacks come, Assad, and the rest of the world can look more closely at the rebels, and what they stand for.

Philo Vaihinger said...

A bright, shiny distraction.

The entire episode has been - and still is, I guess - an adventure in the kind of American, big-stick globo-bullshit that's been going on since McKinley's time.

The kind of pig-headed, ego-driven, ruling class bloody-mindedness that brought us all The Great War.

Joey Blau said...

I have a friend who often has crazy ideas... and he was saying that the Russians would put "bots on the ground" to secure the Chemical weapons.. and they have been destroying large stocks of their own so they are ready to deal with this pile.

He said then Obama could play up humanitarian and medical aid and leverage it into some new partnership..

I say we split Syria into Kurdistan, Islamoland and Assad/Allwawite + Christian- land. and put some PAKISTANI UN troops in between!

Joey Blau said...

err russian boots.. we have the bots covered..