With great fanfare, Kerry and Lavrov announced a deal on Syria. Well, not really a deal: a “broad framework” under which Assad will declare his stockpiles, allow “unfettered” access by UN inspectors, and then turn them over for ultimate destruction in a facility to be built near Tartus.
I can see it now. Hans Blix is on the phone to all his old buddies, telling them “we’re putting the band back together.”
I remember the Iraq version of this movie from 10-20 years ago. Didn’t end well. Hell, it didn’t begin well. In fact, it pretty much sucked all the way through. It sort of worked as a farce, but purely an unintentional one.
Why would anyone expect the sequel to be any different? The three card monte games played with chemical weapons and inspectors? The Russian interference? The passive aggressiveness by the targeted government? The only way it will be different is that it will be even more farcical this time because Assad and the Russians will know with virtual metaphysical certainty that there will be no consequences for obstructing the process, whereas Saddam had no such knowledge. Indeed, as part of the deal worked out in Geneva, the UN resolution that will implement the agreement will not specify that Assad can be attacked by force for non-compliance.
In reality, I don’t think anybody does expect it to be different. From the Russian perspective, that’s a feature, not a bug: a big stall that keeps Assad in power indefinitely is exactly what they want. From the American perspective, Obama is so desperate to extricate himself from the hole he dug with his big mouth (“Red line”, “Assad must go”) he is willing to go along with the charade and declare Peace in Our Time. His flunkies and fanboys are already pushing this line.
In reality, there will be no peace. Maybe-maybe-no one will be killed by the Syrian regime with chemical weapons in the coming months, but people will continue to die in their thousands. They will die in myriad horrid ways, by bullet, shell, bomb, or a by knife in the guts or across the throat. But there won’t be videos of gasping victims on YouTube, so we don’t have to trouble ourselves about it, apparently.
It is beyond nauseating to read Kerry’s remarks from Geneva about the Syrian civil war generally. In my mind’s eye, I have this vision of a wooden Kerry (but I repeat myself) propped up on Lavrov’s knee, with Lavrov’s arm up the back of Kerry’s jacket. That’s because when I read this, it’s hard to distinguish from ventriloquism:
“If we can make this framework a success, we save lives in the region and lay the groundwork for more cooperation” between Moscow and Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday after three days of negotiations with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
“There is no military solution” to the Syrian civil war, Mr. Kerry added. “It has to happen at the negotiating table.”
The Russian line, to the last jot and tittle.
Look. Two sides-N sides, really, given the nature of the opposition-in an existential conflict ain’t going to sit down and talk it over and reach some amicable agreement. Negotiations necessarily take place under the threat of force, and depend on the fortunes of the battlefield. The sentiments that Charlie McKerry mouthed (I can see Lavrov’s lips moving!) are all high-sounding and stuff, but they are just bilge. A noble lie intended to distract attention from a very ugly truth.
In sum, there will be no peace in Syria as a result of this deal, and Obama purchased this (temporarily) face-saving deal at the price of humiliation and dishonor to the United States.
Yes, given the Bush legacy and the nature of the conflict in Syria, there was never an easy way forward there, and it would have been a difficult chore to obtain popular support for American involvement. The time for involvement was early-to-mid-2011, but once Obama let that opportunity pass, the prospects only worsened. What’s more, Obama views himself as an ender of wars, and clearly has no heart for a new conflict. (Drone strikes don’t count: that’s just the Jupiter complex at work, and the preference for drones is actually symptomatic of his unwillingness to use more traditional military methods.)
Given all that, a principled position would have been to state, forthrightly, that the US will not get involved. But Obama’s contradictory statements, and in particular, his threats to use force post-August 21 have led to an even worse outcome. Not only will the civil war continue indefinitely with all its ferocity, but by abandoning even a “shot across the bow” against a regime he accused of crimes against humanity and grabbing for a transparently fraudulent deal offered by someone who actively wishes the US ill, Obama has come off as feckless, opportunistic, weak, unserious, lacking in strategic sense, and totally overmatched by Putin. Hard men in Russia, Iran, China and Syria will become emboldened, and those in the region who look to the US for support will make different calculations.
In other words, even if you believe that the appropriate outcome is for the US to stay the hell out-and that is a defensible position-there are better and worse ways to reach that outcome. I find it hard to believe any worse way of getting there than the way Obama has managed to do it. But he still has 3 plus years to go in his administration, so he has time to prove me wrong and make it even worse.