This is a deft political move on Russia's part, especially since the State Department immediately walked back Kerry's comments by saying that he "was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."So, by late afternoon, the State Department was trying to walk back Kerry's statement. But then other countries jumped on the proposal from Russia and soon President Obama was expressing interest and members of his administration plus Hillary Clinton were all expressing optimism about the idea. Senator Feinstein was on board. And you know that they liked it because they were claiming that Obama's blundering foreign policy had laid the groundwork for this brilliant resolution.
The Wall Street Journal's Tom Gara observes that Russia is capitalizing on a "silly Kerry mistake," since even though Assad would never turn over chemical weapons, beginning such a process would serve an ideal delay to any U.S. decision to attack Syria.i
It was quickly becoming obvious that Congress was not going to vote to support a strike on Syria. So Obama was forced with either going ahead without the Congressional support he'd pretended he was interested in receiving or with backing down and not launching any strike. And if he did launch an attack, we would not be accomplishing anything except a face-saving attack to back up Obama's ad hoc statements and policies on Syria. And he was facing public disapproval for his whole handling of the issue.
So maybe we will see some face-saving agreement in the UN now that Russia is on board. And we all know how reliable face-saving agreements in the UN are. And we all know how reliable it is to have the international community police some dictator's hold on weapons of mass destruction. Does anyone remember how North Korea played for delay time and time again while they went ahead and developed their nuclear weapons. We've been watching the same thing take place in Iran over the past decade. And remember how the international community was supposedly overseeing the destruction of Libya's chemical weapons earlier in this century? The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was asserting that Gaddafi's chemical weapons were secure. And then lo and behold, Libyan rebels were able to gain control of remaining weapons.
CNN reported from Sebha that Gaddafi's Gaddadfa tribe in the town is ready to surrender its weapons and wants to negotiate an agreement with the NTC. Correspondent Ben Wedeman also described walking through Gaddafi's palace in the town.So it is quite clear that a determined dictator can hide his chemical weapons from beneath the eyes of international inspectors. Imagine how easy it would be for Assad to hide his weapons in the middle of a civil war. Does anyone truly believe that international inspectors would be able to find and destroy all the caches of such weapons that Assad might have? And Assad will have won. He will get away with crossing Obama's red line without suffering any degrading of his military capacity to continue attacking the rebels. And Putin will have won all the international prestige for being the one to have cut the Gordian knot that Obama has made of his own policies.
Libya was supposed to have destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons in early 2004 as part of a British-engineered rapprochement with the west. It also abandoned a rudimentary nuclear programme.
But the international watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, had stated it believed that Libya had kept 9.5 tonnes of mustard gas at a secret location: it is that which appears to have now been captured and secured.
In 2010 Libya destroyed nearly 15 tonnes of sulphur mustard, representing about half of its stockpile. It received an extension to eliminate the rest by 15 May. Twice-yearly inspections have found no evidence of Libya reviving the chemical weapons programme.
But such doubts are not really the point. This proposal gets us out of the present-day crisis, which isn't a crisis about the more than a hundred thousand people that Assad has already killed or the ongoing civil war, but was all about Obama's supposed credibility which everyone had already lost confidence in that diminishing quality.
But foreign policy is often about claiming success and ignoring reality. And this is what we're going to do if we grab the Russian initiative. As Bret Stephens writes,
Americans are reduced, also, when an off-the-cuff remark by Mr. Kerry becomes the basis of a Russian diplomatic initiative—immediately seized by an Assad regime that knows a sucker's game when it sees one—to hand over Syria's stocks of chemical weapons to international control. So now we're supposed to embark on months of negotiation, mediated by our friends the Russians, to get Assad to relinquish a chemical arsenal he used to deny having, now denies using, and will soon deny secretly maintaining?But hey, what does it matter if we can all congratulate ourselves on an international resolution and pretend to ourselves that this will assert international control over Syrian weapons.
Since there were no good resolutions to this whole thing, a pretense that allows us to continue the fantasy of an international community that stops the bad guys from keeping and using such weapons is as good as anything. We weren't going to get rid of Assad by inserting ourselves into a civil war when we couldn't determine what type of people made up the rebel groups. Pretending that this whole thing is now over and done with is at least an opportunity for Obama's aides to claim that this was all due to the President's tough stance in the face of public disapproval. And nothing is really accomplished.
And Iran can watch this whole farce and smile confidently about what they've learned about the international community's resolve. And Israel will know now, more than ever, that any action to block a nuclear Iran will be up to them alone. They seem to be the only country in the world that doesn't base its foreign policy on self-deception.
And hey, at least it's better than the "Cheerios" strategy.