I’ve been waiting for this week to end. As a blogger you sort of like weeks like this because they provide a lot of interesting fodder. But as an American you are left stunned. A recap.
- When the week started the President was obviously not going to receive Congressional assent for a military strike on Syria. It definitely was not forthcoming from the House and the whip count in the Senate, which is controlled by Obama’s fellow anti-Americans, showed him losing there as well.
- This was after learning last Friday that the Obama administration believed they could convince Iran to turn on Syria because of Syria’s use of chemical weapons, never having considered who it was that helped Syria obtain said chemical weapons.
- Our inbred, NTTAWWT, Secretary of State made an off the lip offer to call off military action if Syria relinquished control of its chemical weapons.
- Russia and Syria jumped at the offer.
- Obama gave an incoherent speech on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary in which he vowed to support the same people who had attacked us on 9/11.
- Vladimir Putin promptly trolled him in an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times Wednesday morning.
- We announced we were sending arms and non-lethal aid to al Qaeda in Syria.
Whew. But then yesterday afternoon someone in the White House was quoted as saying that Putin “owns” the Syrian weapons issue. This was first covered on Red State by my colleague RMJ yesterday. And they were gleeful. Like they’d pulled a fast one on Putin. Not like they’d just emerged from the vet’s office feeling a bit lighter in their nether region.
“That’s all irrelevant,” the White House official said in response. “He put this proposal forward and he’s now invested in it. That’s good. That’s the best possible reaction. He’s fully invested in Syria’s CW disarmament and that’s potentially better than a military strike – which would deter and degrade but wouldn’t get rid of all the chemical weapons. He now owns this*. He has fully asserted ownership of it and he needs to deliver.”
Umm. Not so much.
Even the dimmest bulb should know that what Putin is invested in is first: reducing the power and influence of the United States and second: protecting its Syrian client state as a function of its first priority.
Acting true to form, Putin immediately said that this should be handled outside the United Nations.
Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria's chemical weapons' stocks, France's foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.
"As I understood, the Russians at this stage were not necessarily enthusiastic, and I'm using euphemism, to put all that into the framework of a U.N. binding resolution," Laurent Fabius told French lawmakers after a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Why would he want that? For all its faults, one thing the UN has in spades is bureaucratic processes. A UN chemical inspection team had just returned from Syria and the UN has acquired an immense amount of expertise in investigating chemical weapons… what the UN actually does with that information is up for question but technically they are very good. By moving this exercise outside the UN framework Putin buys a lot of time. First, all the parties have to agree on who is going to do this. Then there will be a debate on the protocols to be used. And on and on.
Then Putin equates the potential use of force by the United States with the possession of chemical weapons by Syria.
Russia’s effort to reach a deal “makes sense and can function and work only in the case that we hear that the American side -- and all that support the U.S. in this situation -- renounce the use of force,” Putin said, according to a statement in Russian today on the Kremlin’s website.
Putin’s comments put him directly at odds with President Barack Obama, who met today with Senate Democrats. The president asked senators to “keep the threat of credible military action available,” Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said after the meeting.
Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee in a hearing today that only such a “credible use of force” threat -- bolstered by Congress authorizing strikes -- can force a diplomatic solution after Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens.
Syria has chimed in and upped the ante. Bashar al-Assad has now linked Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons to the United States ceasing arming Syrian rebels:
Syria will fulfil an initiative to hand over its chemical weapons only when the United States stops threatening to strike Syria, RIA news agency quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying in a television interview.
Assad also said that Damascus will begin handing over information on its chemical weapons stockpiles one month after it joins a anti-chemical weapons convention.
"When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalized," he was quoted as saying in an interview with Russian state television.
We are now in a position where the only options available to the administration is talking tough and averting their eyes to keep from having the Russians laugh in their face:
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday the prospects for resuming the Syrian peace process are riding on the outcome of US-Russian talks aimed at securing Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal that lurched into a second day.
As American and Russian chemical weapons experts huddled in a Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal, Kerry and Lavrov met a short distance away at the UN’s European headquarters with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to examine political developments and plot a new international conference in Geneva to support the creation of a Syrian transitional government.
When the talks began Thursday, Kerry bluntly rejected a Syrian pledge to begin a “standard process” by turning over information rather than weapons – and nothing immediately. The American diplomat said that was not acceptable.
“The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough,” Kerry declared as he stood beside Lavrov. “This is not a game.”
I'd just make two very obvious points to Kerry. First, this meeting is only taking place because of "the words of the Syrian regime" so once you accept their word once I don't know how you refuse to accept it again, and secondly, diplomacy is a game and Kerry doesn’t know the rules. He has precipitated this event and now he is participating in the destruction of U.S. diplomacy.
So this is the state of play:
- Obama has postponed the idea of a military strike indefinitely.
- Vladimir Putin is in charge of the negotiating process.
- Neither Putin nor Assad have an interest in doing anything but playing for time to avert a strike.
- The Russians are successfully conflating the chemical weapons issue with Syrian peace talks.
- The Syrians have, and eventually the Russians will, link Syrian chemical weapons compliance with arming the Syrian rebels.
- The oversight of Syrian chemical disarmament seems likely to move out of the UN framework. If not, there will be protracted negotiations on the subject.
What this means is that so long as Putin and Assad can prolong the process of negotiations, Assad is immune from any U.S. military action. It means that we are no longer able to control events but are responding to them (this is not to imply we were ever controlling them, but now that possibility has been ceded to the Russians). Eventually the Syrians may declare their weaponry and bring it under international control or demilitarize it. That depends upon the course of the civil war. If Assad perceives he may be losing he will comply in order to buy asylum for himself and his cronies and the Russians will insist on it so that Sarin doesn’t appear in the hands of Chechen guerillas in Russia. If he thinks he will survive in power he will not comply with the agreement. and there is nothing we can do about it so long as Barack Obama is president.
Only the rankest Obama bootlick can think that the rest of the world hasn't noticed.