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Belmont Club

A Gift Horse in the Mouth

September 14th, 2013 - 4:00 pm

Russia and the United States have entered into what is being described as a landmark agreement over Syria. It looks good on the face of it. Syria has agreed to destroy its chemical weapons and Obama’s threatened strike on Syria has been averted.  Neil Irwin of the Washington Post even asks: “Was Obama’s Syria strategy brilliant or lucky?” Irwin writes:

This is a win for President Obama. He had worked himself into a strange strategic cul-de-sac of his own making as recently as a week ago: He had made clear he thought strikes were justified yet elected to go to Congress seeking authorization, although the sentiment in Congress was clearly tending against the resolution.

“Brilliant or lucky?” The answer may be neither. The emerging details about the agreement allow us to glimpse what’s in the box. Here are some questions with answers.

1. Q: Who is in charge of enforcing it. Answer: the UN.

Based on the full framework text released by the State Department the agreement provides that the UN, what Obama disparaged as the agency of “hocus-pocus” will be in charge of saving the region. It might be pertinent to recall that before the Syrian civil war got as bad as it did Kofi Annan spent months in the region on a UN mission trying to fix it. He singularly failed. Never mind … the nth time is a charm.

The framework would mandate the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to report on Syrian compliance or noncompliance with the agreed measures to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.

“In the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,” the framework states.

2. Q: What will happen if Syria cheats? Answer: if the agreement fails there will be no consequences authorized by the UN.

The Washington Post reports that “senior administration officials had said Friday the Obama administration would not press for U.N. authorization to use force against Syria if it reneges on any agreement to give up its chemical weapons.” They gave that chip up at the very beginning.

The Russians had made clear in talks here between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry that the negotiations could not proceed under the threat of a U.N. resolution authorizing a military strike. Russia also wanted assurances that a resolution would not refer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court for possible war-crimes prosecution.

3. Q: What does the Syrian opposition and its spokesmen believe? Answer: they are wary of it; and some believe it is a sellout.

Senators McCain and Graham  believe that while the President did not formally to agree to two conditions “Russia and Syria sought… a promise on our part not to use military force, and an end to international support for the Syrian opposition” the agreement effectively concedes this in practice.

Without a United Nations Security Council resolution that would threaten the use of force for noncompliance by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the two senators said, “this framework agreement is meaningless. Assad will use the months and months afforded to him to delay and deceive the world using every trick in Saddam Hussein’s playbook.”

“Is the message of this agreement that Assad is now our negotiating partner, and that he can go on slaughtering innocent civilians and destabilizing the Middle East using every tool of warfare, so long as he does not use chemical weapons?” the senators asked, concluding: “That is morally and strategically indefensible.”

4. What happens next? Here are there are no clear answers.

Our former rivals, Assad and Putin, are America’s new partners for peace and Iran may soon become part of the talks. The loathesome Assad has once again become a reformer. And Iran, against whose nuclear weapons program the President also drew a Red Line, may soon be part of the overall “solution”. The Guardian, a pretty good indicator of what the Russians might be thinking, has an opinion piece which says, “if the Syrian talks are to progress, the US will have to include Iran. The diplomatic imperatives of the Middle East mean that Iran, Syria’s main ally, has to be invited to the negotiating table.”

Now that Obama has bought into Putin’s road map it is hard to see him wandering off the reservation. It is very difficult to for Obama to strike Iran or Syria while in converse with them. Like it or not Obama is now manacled to his new friends and must sup with them. That view was explicitly articulated by Iran whose “deputy foreign minister said Saturday the United States no longer has a pretext to attack Syria, following a deal struck to eliminate that country’s chemical weapons.”

“The new situation means in fact that any pretext for the United States and certain countries to engage in military action against Syria has been removed,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.

Syria and Iran evidently believe they have a get-out-of-jail card and Shadi Hamid at the Atlantic appears to agree. He writes “the U.S.-Russian Deal on Syria: A Victory for Assad. The agreement struck in Geneva on chemical weapons effectively strengthens the Syrian strongman by removing the threat of American military involvement”. Peter Foster at the Telegraph writes “Barack Obama’s Faustian pact with Vladimir Putin over Syrian chemical weapons brings despair to allies.”

Those allies would include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and the Western allies who were astride the original horse before it got changed in mid-stream by Barack Obama.  In other words it includes all those who bought a ticket on a train that is no longer leaving the station. Even Kerry hardly seemed to credit the turn of events.  He has been been forced reverse himself so often that his track resembles that of a drunk demonstrating his sobriety at a DUI police stop. In this latest, Fox news headlined “after strike deal on Syria, Kerry says him calling it impossible was ‘diplomacy’”. It was impossible until moment when Barack Obama proclaimed it was the plan all along!  The “Western-backed” Syrian opposition are vainly channeling Admiral Ackbar, shouting “it’s a trap!”.

The Western-backed Syrian armed opposition on Saturday rejected as a delaying tactic a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy chemical arms stockpiles in the possession of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We don’t recognize the Russian initiative and we think that the Russian and the Syrian regime are playing a game to waste time and to win time for the criminal regime in Damascus,” Gen. Selim Idriss, who heads the rebel Supreme Military Council, told reporters in Istanbul, Turkey.

“We think that our friends in the Western countries and the United States know exactly the main goal of the Russian administration,” he added. “They are trying to find a solution for the murderer regime in Damascus.”

It’s not a trap, it’s a triumph. At least those are the apparent talking points. The rebels should get used to it and change their letterhead to read the “former Western-backed rebels”. Putin has succeeded — with Obama’s unwitting or perhaps witless help — in making the civil war in Syria not about regime change, but about chemical weapons.  It’s no longer about legitimacy nor even who the Syrian people want to rule. It’s become about fastidiousness, an exercise in the etiquette of mayhem.

Soner Cagaptay and Parag Khanna of CNN write that events have left the whole Middle East “reconfigured”.  They write, “just as World War 1 transformed the Middle East by ending the Ottoman rule and creating contemporary nation states, so the Arab Spring has recalibrated this regional system by ushering in a tri-axial Middle East composed of: a Turkey-Kurdish-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) axis; an Iran-Shiite axis; and a Saudi Arabia-pro-status quo monarchies axis.”

In other words America is gone, replaced by this tricycle of strife. And the paternal hand wheeling it down the road is Vladimir Putin’s.  Andrew Sullivan thinks this is proof, if any more were needed, of Barack Obama’s surpassing genius. He writes that America’s ejection is not a bug but a feature; that “Obama, reflecting American public opinion, is perfectly happy to have Putin assume responsibility for the Middle East. Let Russia be drained, bankrupted and exhausted by managing that fractious and decreasingly important part of the world.” In Sullivan’s view Putin is hurting his fist against Obama’s jaw.

But Sullivan doesn’t quite understand that Russia is not going to “manage” the Middle East but raise it up against America. Totalitarians don’t do management. They do conquest.  They do agitation. They do trouble. As for upkeep, Putin will be sending the bill to the White House. He will get Obama to pay for it. When Egypt starves expect the bill to come to Washington. After all, why use “food as a weapon?” Yet when the time comes to kiss the ring, Putin will receive the obeisance of the sheiks while Obama will be sent to the back of the bus, even if America is paying for the bus. That is nothing new. Perhaps Sullivan has never heard of Lenin’s bon mot “when we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.”  Putin is probably familiar with the phrase:  heck, he probably went back by Time Machine and ghostwrote the original line for Lenin.

It seems given that Obama’s “breakthrough” will result in Assad remaining in power.  Without new patrons the rebels are doomed to dwindle and die, unless they switch to the winning side or convince Saudi Arabia and Turkey to up the ante. Worse, Israel may soon be asked to disarm itself of WMDs just like Syria is supposedly doing — except Israel will be expected to do it for real where Syria need merely pretend. It’s the power of bad example: I’ll be bad while you set the example.

Hezbollah will once again be the power in Lebanon, where its sword of revenge will come out of the scabbard against those who opposed it just when it seemed ready to fall. Most importantly, Iran’s road to becoming a regional nuclear power  has become a superhighway: next stop for Teheran —  the Atomic Bomb.

The Syrian agreement may not in fact be the victory it’s cracked up to be, but rather a complete defeat.  The agreement may become what Obama himself warned against,  that Munich moment. Of the original Hitler later said “our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.” What Putin is writing in his memoirs about Obama who can say? But what Assad is writing is probably easier to guess.

And will Obama’s Syrian agreement be the much desired Peace in Our Time or just a prelude to disaster?

Only time will tell. Kerry may have heard the footsteps of history echoing behind him when he took his victory lap, for never did a man seem so uncertain as the Secretary of State in that triumphant moment. He even managed to quote Reagan as if Ronald’s spirit could ward off the haunting visage of Vladimir Putin. Kerry said:

Ultimately, perhaps more so than anywhere in the world, actions will matter more than words. In the case of the Assad regime, President Reagan’s old adage about “Trust but verify” – “Doveryai no proveryai”, I think, is the saying – that is in need of an update. And we have committed here to a standard that says, “Verify and verify.”

Kerry was right to seek solace in Reagan. Actions are indeed more important than words. Too bad the administration has none of the former but an endless supply of the latter. As for “trust but verify”, that is not the same as that old Leftist strategem: “hope but don’t pray”.

If the situation recalls Munich, it may also conjure the memory of a piece of newspaper doggerel Winston Churchill quoted to illustrate the headlong rush to disaster of his generation. Churchill recited verses which were pregnant with meaning in the context of his time:

“Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak and the couplings strain,
and the pace is hot and the points are near,
and sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear,
and the signals flash through the night in vain.
For death is in charge of the clattering train.”

Maybe the world will be luckier this time with Obama presiding over a farce rather than a world-tragedy. If Barack is no Franklin, let us hope that Vladimir is no Josef. For after all, with Obama in charge the chances are that the clattering train will either never leave the station or actually run in reverse to a timetable of its own.

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Top Rated Comments   
My goodness, that precious little indigenous hothouse violet who totes the violence of genocide around with her on a daily basis doesn't know a helluva lot about the genocidal impulses of indigenous peoples of the Americas toward one another, does she? Someone should enlighten her about human sacrifice, Aztec; human sacrifice, Maya; civil wars, Inca; intertribal warfare, Iroquois and Huron; cannibalism, various groups in the prehistoric Southwest. I'm sure BCers can add other examples of a distinct lack of pacifism among Native Americans toward other Native Americans to the list.

Meanwhile, I can't help observing that the 9/11 flags do in fact "represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder" as well as the loss of innocent lives. It's just that the Middlebury simpleton who produced this vapid screed is as ignorant of Islam as he/she/it is of history. It will be interesting indeed to see what happens when the fool graduates and has to "grapple" with the task of paying off student loans while finding him/her/itself on "the other side" of a Starbucks counter working for peanuts.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

The United Nations is designated the cop on the beat, its job to see to it that Syria destroys all its chemical weapons by mid-2014. The UN, however, has no authorization to use force to compel Syria to comply. And even if the UN did have authorization to use force, would they or could they? Of course not and of course not. The agreement is a sham, a paper cover for Obama, who has, with malice aforethought, placed the foreign policy of the United States in the hands of the Russian puppeteer and the United Nations.

The UN is a mighty force
Whose very word is feared of course
One could not find a stronger horse
To place fate in its hands
Obama flits on angel wings
While Putin pulls the puppet strings
And smiles and plans of dire things
To show where Barry stands
Our Barry though proclaims that he
Has won a stunning victory
A shining light for all to see
And firm in his demands
Of course we know it’s all a fake
A look from Putin makes him quake
His policies are all opaque
And built on shifting sands

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is a major defeat for America but it will be sold relentlessly as a miracle peace agreement by our light working president. Those who object will be viciously attacked.

Still, Conservatives must shout out from the rooftops their vehement objections to this rank sellout.

And Israel must gather their courage and face the fact that they must take out iran's nukes alone against the strenuous objections of our president in the very near future or face certain annihilation. Our president has successfully sold out the west.

We are now on a runaway train hurtling towards WWIII, best buckle up and brace for impact
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (66)
All Comments   (66)
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And when Putin dies, the mess his ambition leaves behind will consume millions of lives.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Angela Merkel shows electoral strength in Bavaria

"The Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian arm of Angela Merkel's conservatives, had a lead of almost 30 percent in the polls going into Sunday's vote.

Exit polls predicted that the CSU would likely secure just under 50 percent of the vote, a figure almost certain to translate into a majority of the 180 available seats. Next in line followed the Social Democrats, far adrift at around 20 percent in the polls.

Despite the numbers suggesting that outright victory is possible, State Premier Horst Seehofer has said throughout the campaign that he aims to continue a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Unlike the CSU, the FDP appeared to be struggling for support, with exit polls suggesting the party would win just 3 percent of the vote, short of the 5 percent required to guarantee representation in parliament.

The environmentalist Green Party won a projected 8.5 percent of the vote, while the socialist Left Party came in at 2 percent support, thereby failing to win representation. The Free Voters (Freie Wähler), a regional party advocating decentralized government, were projected to take 8.5 percent of the vote."

Those Free Voters sound like a German Tea Party. Sounds like a step in the Right Direction.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ya know, if we are bound by this agreement with UN supervision and such that limits our sovereign actions, I do believe this unassailable, miraculous, landmark agreement rises to the level of what they call in our constitution as a "treaty".

I know I am unskilled and dense but I think I remember that somewheres in a old dirty piece of parchment they call the constitution that such things as treaties are to ratified by the senate.

Don't you mind me but it just seems that from the language of that WSJ article that deadlines of this wonderful agreement are already in force. I know this might discomfort our magnificent emperor, Buraq Hussein I, but don't ya think that somebody - preferably in Congress - should ask our Emperor to get this wonderful thing ratified first, before we go full hog down the road with this thing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
According to the WSJ, " by next Friday, Syria is required to provide a declaration of it's chemical weapons stockpile to the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons,". That is supposed to be a full and complete disclosure. hmmmmm.....

Hey Bashar, how's a bout them puppies being shipped to Iraq?

In less than a week, we could have a full blown violation of our miraculous, landmark agreement,

Oh ya I forgot! The UN Security Council decides if there is a violation, so then vladie at the UN can determine absolutely no violation has occurred. But on the otherhand, the UN in all it's August dignity and unchallenged integrity , will likely tell America that we can't touch Syria, because no foul occurred and that the original agreement in still in full force,

Ain't these agreements grand!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Two years ago, Obama said in a speech, "Assad must go." Assuming he really meant what he said, regime change in Syria must have been his foreign policy goal.

But now, it's all about the use of chemical weapons; apparently, it's alright with Obama the Inept, if Assad stays, just as long as he doesn't use chemical weapons. That's quite a retreat for Obama, and whether he meant for it to happen or not, it's a failure to achieve a stated foreign policy goal.

Obama can't even rattle a sabre properly; he threatens military force, and then one of his chief minions chimes in with, "but any attack would be unbelievably small." That's sabre rattling??
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Having been humiliated but unable to admit it, O'Bama now has upped the ante by threatening the use of force in iran. His next step will find him dragged into negotiations with Iran, which will be similarly fruitless and humiliating. He is a tool of the Saudis as they fade from history.

If O'Bama were protective of US interests, he would not minimize the islamic danger from all sides in the ME. The fact that the 9/11 attackers were Saudis is not some curious coincidence, but he appears unable to act beyond the role of a local sunni tribal chief rather than the President of the US. His incompetence (or venality?) is without parallel in US Presidential history.

Putin has no illusions about the islamic insanity and is not in awe of the muslim "culture" as he asserts Russian interests unapologetically.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wonder if Obama or Kerry actually have the self-awareness to realize that they have been played. I think in their own circle of confidants, this worked out "just fine". He appears to have gotten what he wanted without an armed confrontation, and the World is ready to have a Coke with him. I think that's how Obama and Kerry really think.

All's well that ends well. Except this is not over by a long shot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.

The weapons leave Iraq and hide in Syria; then leave Syria and hide in Iraq.

We will attack, no we won't, yes we will, but it will be very very small, no it won't be a pin stick (the real word the President used is apparently not allowed on this site). it will be significant, but we will delay, or not, until we pass it on to our enemy to fix.

The lingering question for me is whether this degradation of US power in the Middle East and elsewhere was the plan all along.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At least Generalissimo Francisco Franco had the good manners to stay dead.

Y'know, I think Barry Soetero circa 2008 would have been happy to see US power degraded everywhere so that "the international community" could make decisions and do whatever. And the public agreed with him this far, they never liked the US projections of power to Iraq or Afghanistan. So here is the question, is mere withholding of action a degradation of power, or just a wise conservation of power, assuming you can get away with it and maybe find some other sucker to do it for you?

It is possible that just about now, Mr. Putin is pacing angrily around his office mad at himself for having volunteered, even if he never had any real intention of living up to it, even if being so foresworn (himself or his country) won't keep him up nights, even if it brought many brownie points on the diplomatic scale.

I was never very enthusiastic about the half-hearted projections of power under Dubya, even if they all came out triple-net 51% winners all. I'm not sure how many wins of that sort we can afford. And maybe it's better to see President Solyndra's reticence and incoherence play out here, in advance of the day it finally becomes the issue with Iran. It's a little home schooling for Barry, just like Hillary said would be needed. But not just for Barry but for everyone. We can still, perhaps, hope.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Interesting that the LA Times article omits Gen. Idriss's comment that the WMDs are being smuggled out to Iraq (!) & Lebanon. I wondered how the MSM was going to spin that one - looks like they're just sitting on it. Far be it from them to report mere rumors!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your second point is the most valid. FWIW all the sophisticated electronics in a nuke are about safety, security and operation as a reentry vehicle.
Ultimately any 'key' closes a simple contact and starts the thing going. I bet Persia has no shortage of guys willing to drive a truck north and flip a toggle switch.

As to Russia have the nads to hammer back, yeah, your right, but even Putie can't afford a truck 'load' in, say, Volgagrad.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm not sure that's true. A U235 gun-type nuke of a design similar to Little Boy - sure. However, an implosion device (for reasons I don't pretend to understand, that's the only type that will work using plutonium) does in fact need some very precise timing circuits to ensure a symmetrical implosion.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it is true.

The "implosion type" plutonium bomb does require precise detonation of the chemical explosives used to trigger implosion, but the US figured out how to make the implosion symmetrical in a matter of months in 1944-45. The Iranians could easily do the same thing by trial and error. After all, that process would only involve the use of chemical explosives. The precision timing circuits are the easy part; it's the casting of the explosive "lens" that proved most difficult, and required the Trinity test to be carried out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Today is the 73rd anniversary of Battle of Britain day. That day, every available RAF fighter squadron was up in the air and fighting. Not one squadron was left in reserve.

The average age of an RAF pilot in 1940 was 20. Probably about the same age as the Middlebury students who trashed a simple memorial to the people killed on 9/11.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My uncle was a B-17 mechanic in England in WW II and used to talk about things like captains who were barely old enough to vote. But then at age 22 he was a crew chief overseeing the work on 3 bombers.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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