In a huge victory for President Vladimir Putin, the United States and Russia have agreed on an outline of how Syria will turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
The agreement includes a Security Council resolution that is not expected to authorize force against Assad if he reneges, or bring him to justice at the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Basically, Assad gets off scot free and Putin bestrides the world stage triumphant.
Kerry said that the first international inspection of Syrian chemical weapons will take place by November, with destruction to begin next year.
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.
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.
President Obama has said that the unilateral U.S. use of force against Syria for a chemical attack last month remains on the table. But consideration of that action, already under challenge by a skeptical Congress, has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Geneva talks.
The discussions here began this week following a Russian proposal Monday, quickly agreed to by Assad, to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control and eventually destroy it.
Kerry and Lavrov, negotiating behind closed doors with teams of disarmament experts, have said little about the talks that began Thursday. But administration officials in Washington provided some details on the condition that they not be identified or quoted directly.
The officials insisted that any agreement must be verifiable and include consequences for non-compliance. Short of a threatened use of force, it is not clear what those consequences would be.
The question of U.N. authorization for using force in Syria came up less than 24 hours after the Russians first made their proposal. France quickly drafted a resolution that threatened to consider “further necessary measures” — code words for military force — if Syria makes a deal and then breaks it. The draft, negotiated with the United States and Britain, was met with public statements from Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin that they would not negotiate under threat.
So the “red line” has become “no line” and “consequences” have become “free ride.” In fact, Obama may have just assured an Assad victory – or something approaching victory – in the civil war. Any internal opposition to his rule because of threatened US intervention has almost certainly subsided. The thug looks like a genius compared to Obama.
Richard Fernandez has a good round up of the incredulous reaction to Obama’s bumbling by both liberals and conservatives.
Fortunately, for almost everyone else the sad facts are plain enough. Maureen Dowd has even started calling him “Barry.” He’s the man who bought his political life from Putin at a staggering price. The Wall Street Journal observes that “Obama Rescues Assad.” Obama offered a deal “that could leave Assad in power for years,” according to the Times of London. The Washington Examiner says that Obama’s miscues “handed Russia the driver’s seat”; Foreign Affairs concurs.
Perhaps the most painful characterization of Obama’s incoherence came from the New York Times, which characterized his Syria address as follows: “Planned as a call to act, Obama’s speech became a plea to wait.”
It’s like he started for Canada and wound up in Mexico. This confusion was rapidly being sold as a “pivot” — notwithstanding the fact that the turnabout occurred in the same speech, almost as if Obama were surprising himself.
Joe Klein at Time latches on to the “pivot” metaphor like a drowning man to driftwood, and hopes its not too late for the president to keep turning. “The president’s uneven Syria response has damaged his office and weakened the nation. It’s time for one more pivot.”
The few Obama cheerleaders left are being made to look ridiculous by defending the president. Rather than open their mouths and remove all doubt by proving themselves foolish, many are preferring to keep their opinions to themselves, thus forcing us to guess if they’re stupid or not.
It hardly matters. Our former allies — including Israel — realizing they’re on their own. are already seeking accommodation with Putin, the new pit bull on the block. Roger Cohen explores the consequences of America’s retreat:
The United States, through its secretary of state and president respectively, promises an “unbelievably small” military response to the gassing of hundreds of Syrian children by President Bashar al-Assad, then vows that “the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks,” and then backs away. Britain abandons its closest ally at crunch time. The European Union is divided, Germany silent, France left dangling, and NATO an absentee. If there are other pillars of the trans-Atlantic alliance, do let me know.
Vladimir Putin steps into the Western void, spurred by an off-the-cuff remark in London from John Kerry (that he himself seemed to dismiss), and suddenly Assad’s Syria promises to give up to international supervision the chemical weapons whose existence it has previously denied.
A war-weary America clutches at this Syrian straw and defers to Russian mediation; a congressional vote on military action that President Obama seemed set to lose is indefinitely postponed; Obama uses an awkward prime-time address to say dictators “depend upon the world to look the other way” when they commit atrocities — and so he will, well, pursue a “diplomatic path” for now.
“The ogre,” as W.H. Auden wrote, “does what ogres can.” It is safe to say that no ogre the world over, least of all in Damascus, trembles today.
The monumental mismanagement of crisis and incompetence in the formulation and execution of policy by this administration has no equal in this century, or any other. At least under Bush, we were very unpopular as a nation, but feared as well.
Now, we’re unpopular, weak, and a world laughingstock. Maybe that’s why the American people believe that Bush’s handling of foreign policy was better than Obama’s.