Putin this week seized on an off-hand suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria’s chemical weapons could be turned over to “international authorities” as a way out of the crisis.
But there is a catch. Several of them, actually.
Putin says the weapons would not be handed to the U.N., but to the Russians — who, along with Iraq’s now-dead Saddam Hussein, likely were the providers of many of them in the first place.
Then there is the impracticality — or the near-impossibility, frankly — of somehow rounding up hundreds of thousands of pounds of such weapons from widely scattered and hidden sites in Syria, and transporting them to a neutral location in the middle of an ugly civil war.
Just as troubling is Putin’s insistence that his country will not act unless the U.S. promises it will not use military force against Syria, although he and Iran would still have a free hand there.
And almost overlooked is that Putin’s plan would include no punishment for Syrian dictator Assad’s use of chemical weapons on the rebels.
Will any of that matter to Obama? He is facing a humiliating bipartisan political loss in Congress if and when it votes on his request for a resolution authorizing the use of military force against the Syrian regime. Will he decide the more appetizing outcome is for the country to suffer a strategic defeat at the hands of Putin (who has used chemical weapons against his own people) than that he be clobbered on Capitol Hill? He already boasted implausibly in his Tuesday night address to the nation that it was his threat of force that prompted Putin’s offer. So don’t be surprised to see Team Obama try to spin Putin’s humiliating offer as a “win” for the president and the country, if it comes to that.
Don’t forget that Obama’s failure to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement with the new Iraqi government in his first term has left a huge vacuum in that country, which abuts Syria. Had we kept a contingent of non-combat troops in Iraq (akin to what we did for decades in Germany and Japan after World War II) after President Bush finally won that war, Iran would not have had carte blanche to fly arms, troops and supplies to Assad for the past two years. Now Russia is poised to become the dominant player in the Mideast for the first time since 1970. It’s all additional evidence that Obama’s current predicament is of his own making.
It’s too bad Obama wasn’t as eager to get to the bottom of the Benghazi attack that killed our ambassador as he is to make war on Syria.
The president’s haphazard diplomacy has made a bad set of options even worse: humiliation by the loathsome Putin; military strikes the public is dead-set against; or washing our hands of the matter, come what may — the course favored by most Americans, and the one he should take.