Thanks to the gaffe of Secretary of State John Kerry, the Obama administration was temporarily extricated from a political disaster of its own making when Russia accepted one of Kerry’s inane ramblings as a negotiating position.
The administration is hailing this as a success:
“It’s very important to note that it’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting,” deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken** said at the White House. “So it’s even more important that we don’t take the pressure off and that Congress give the president the authority he’s requested.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The administration had taken the “threat of U.S. action” mostly off the table when it stated it would not target the Assad regime. Any remaining concern on the part of Syria was removed over the weekend when Kerry, borrowing a phrase he has often heard from Teresa Heinz Kerry, characterized an prospective attack as “unbelievably small.”
The administration was clearly going to lose the House vote on authorizing military force and in the Senate the announced votes were 29-21 against. After calling this our “Munich moment” the administration was going to be confronted with the disastrous options of having the “red line” guffawed at by the world or launching a purposeless and ineffective strike without Congressional approval or allies.
Now both Syria and its patron, Russia, have improved their standing by boldly accepting Kerry’s ultimatum. Syria, at the price of seeming to acknowledge it possesses chemical weapons, has committed to no definable inspection regime and has agreed to no particular form of international control. As the inspection and control will originate with the UN Security Council one can be fairly sure neither Russia nor China will impose anything as onerous and invasive as the conditions imposed upon Saddam Hussein in 1992.
On the other hand, Syria has avoided any US strike or other international sanctions. It has bought time to both hide its weapons and delivery systems from inspections and attack and is able to stop worrying about any U.S. response as it continues to prosecute its war against Islamist rebels.
European papers have been treating as credible reports that Assad did not order the use of chemical weapons. This will further weaken any case the administration can make for other than unilateral action on the part of Obama against Syria.
By accepting this offer, Assad has paradoxically been given a greater opportunity to use chemical weapons. There have been persistent reports that the Syrian rebels have used chemicals. Some of these seem credible. When the UN chemical weapons inspection team prepared to descend upon Syria in March it was at the request of the Assad government to investigate an alleged chemical attack in Aleppo. Iran has been warning the U.S. since 2012 that the rebels have chemical weapons.
According to leaked diplomatic correspondence, Iran has been warning Washington since July 2012 that Sunni rebel fighters have acquired chemical weapons, and called on the US to send “an immediate and serious warning” to rebel groups not to use them.
In a letter acquired by The Christian Science Monitor that was sent sometime in the spring, Iran told American officials that, as a "supporter" of the rebels, the US would be held responsible for any rebel use of chemical weapons.
Iran amplified those year-old warnings over the weekend in its strongest public comments to date linking the rebels with a chemical weapons, echoing Russia's dismissal of American assurances that President Bashar al-Assad's forces were to blame. The comments come as the US Congress prepares to vote on military strikes.
The next attack, with Syrian weapons under UN supervision and with no UN monitoring team serendipitously on the scene will be much more difficult to pin on the Assad regime.
This was not only a defeat for the Obama administration, it was an utter rout. Syria’s weapons remain untouched, Russian prestige is enhanced, and the administration was shown to be utterly without influence in the Congress or with its allies.
**Tony Blinken was spotted this morning fellating hobos at the Washington DC Greyhound station in an attempt to regain his self-respect.