So what exactly happened with Syria yesterday? Was Secretary Kerry’s off-the-cuff quip exploited by a wily Putin? Or was it a lucky break that helps defuse a major rolling disaster for President Obama? (We’re ruling out the variant suggested by the President’s most fawning admirers, some of whom affected to see a deeply laid master plan at work.) Josh Marshall argues that Obama got lucky rather than rolled yesterday, and tries to game out how it could play out from here on out:
Don’t look at the offer but the trajectory of events it puts in place. Russia coming forth with this proposal puts in motion a chain of events which totally reshuffles deck internationally in a way that is much more favorable to the US and to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons capacity. The Russians (and Chinese) Security Council veto has always been the key variable in this drama. But Russia has proposed this course. The White House quickly floated it past UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He wants to bring this before the Security Council. So that will happen. And it will be extremely difficult for the Russians to veto it.The key to understand is that this starts a UN Security Council process that probably won’t be vetoed (the Chinese being the wildcard). Soon you’ll have some sort of force on the ground in country inspecting and securing these weapons or knocking at the door of an isolated and recalcitrant Syrian regime.
It’s a good post and worth a read. For our part, though, we’ll hold back on speculating on what this all means just yet. For one thing, it’s far from certain that it would be all that difficult for the Russians to reverse course. As of writing, news was breaking that according to the French foreign minister, the Russians are against a binding UNSC resolution. And playing fancy games about words, resolutions, timing, the details of inspections and so forth is exactly the kind of thing that mass murderers like to do as they merrily continue wreaking mayhem. If Moscow, Damascus and Beijing want to make America look clueless and helpless as they tie the Obama administration down in a procedural labyrinth, they may have no shortage of opportunities to do exactly that.In any case, our last big Syria piece closed with a hope that the good foreign policy fairy would wave her wand at this mess. If this is not a full scale wave of the wand, it’s at least a little sprinkle of pixie dust, covering at least temporarily what yesterday threatened to avalanche into a major disaster. Overall, it’s good news that today people are arguing over whether the US is in a good place or not—while 24 hours ago there was little debate anywhere but that the administration was in a deep and ugly predicament.It’s not an answer, it’s not a safe haven, it’s not a solution to the contradictions and inconsistencies that enmeshed the Obama administration in a tight and nasty tangle — but neither is it a catastrophic public meltdown and a historic fiasco. That was about the best Obama could hope for yesterday; he’s got some breathing space in which, with luck, he might actually be able to figure out a viable Syria policy.But we hope the good foreign policy fairy doesn’t think her work is done; the United States needs some more special providence if we are going to get out of this mess with nothing worse than a bit of bruised self-esteem.[A man holds portrait of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (L) during a rally in support of Syrian regime in front of the US Embassy in Moscow in October 2012. Photo courtesy Getty Images.]