Are The Russians About To Outsmart Obama And Kerry On Syria?

A throwaway comment by John Kerry in London has led to some interesting diplomatic developments.

syria-chemical-weapons

Earlier today, Secretary of State Kerry seemed offer an alternative to military action in Syria during a joint appearance with British Foreign Secretary William Hague:

Asked if there were steps the Syrian president could take to avert an American-led attack, Mr. Kerry said, “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

In a joint news conference with William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, Mr. Kerry also sought to downplay the magnitude of any American military strike directed at the forces of President Assad.

On it’s face this appeared to be Kerry offering an alternative to the plan that the Administration has been putting forward. Indeed, his proposal is remarkably similar to one being proposed by two Democratic Senators under which Assad would be given up to 45 days to turn over his chemical weapons after which point the President would be authorized to use force if necessary. Very quickly after Kerry said this, the backpedaling began:

Mr. Kerry said his suggestion was more of a debating point than a serious ultimatum. He added that he did not believe Mr. Assad would take such action, and expressed doubt about whether it was even feasible as a civil war rages in Syria. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done,” Mr. Kerry said.

“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to reporters after Mr. Kerry’s comments. “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

Obama administration officials have discussed the idea of presenting Mr. Assad with an ultimatum. But officials are wary of giving the Syrian leader an opportunity to play for time, and carrying out inspections to make sure the Syrian government has not retained hidden stocks of poison gas as fighting rages appeared to be a near impossibility.

However, Kerry’s comments were out there, and it didn’t take long for the Russians to jump on them:

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who was meeting with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said in response to Mr. Kerry’s remarks that Russia would join any effort to put Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international control and ultimately destroy them.

Mr. Lavrov appeared at a previously unscheduled briefing only hours after Mr. Kerry made his statement in London. Although Mr. Kerry appeared to treat the idea that Syria would give up its stockpile as improbable, Mr. Lavrov seized on it as a possible compromise that Russia was prepared to propose to the Syrians.

“We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,” Mr. Lavrov said at the Foreign Ministry. “And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.”

Earlier, before Mr. Kerry had spoken in London, and during a joint appearance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Moallem excoriated the United States for rushing to launch military strikes.

But the shift in tone between Mr. Lavrov’s two appearances was striking. Mr. Lavrov said he made the proposal to put Syria’s weapons under international control directly to Mr. Moallem, who remained in Moscow.

Mr. Moallem said later in a statement that his government welcomed the Russian proposal, Russia’s Interfax News Agency reported, in what appeared to be the first acknowledgment by the Syrian government that it even possesses chemical weapons. The Syrian government historically has neither confirmed nor denied possessing such weapons.

Mr. Lavrov went into more detail than Mr. Kerry’s suggestion — which Mr. Kerry’s own spokeswoman described as a rhetorical exercise rather than a proposal.

Mr. Lavrov said Russia was proposing that Syria join the international Convention on Chemical Weapons, which bars the manufacture, stockpiling and use of poison gas.

And the Syrians seemed to jump in as well, at least rhetorically:

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who met with Lavrov in Moscow earlier in the day, responded almost immediately.

“The Syrian Arab Republic welcomed the Russian initiative, based on the concerns of the Russian leadership for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country,” Muallem told reporters, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Muallem said Syria agreed to the move because of its “trust in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is trying to prevent the American aggression against our people.”

As with all things diplomatic, it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on here. Kerry apparently didn’t intend his comments in London to be a serious proposal and, indeed, they have not been part of the Administration’s talking points on Syria at all. It’s likely he made the comment as the throwaway line on the belief that Assad would never agree to surrender his chemical weapons or place them in the hands of a third party. The Russians, on the other hand, likely saw the Kerry comments has an excellent opportunity to undermine the American position on Syria with both the international community and, most importantly, with the American public and with Congress. The same, no doubt, is true of the Syrians. So, it’s unclear if this a serious proposal by the Russians or if we’re just watching them take advantage of a Kerry slip-up.

Moreover, it’s unclear just how something like this could be implemented right now. Securing and neutralizing chemical weapons is a laborious process even under the best of circumstances. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians cooperated with the U.S. in the neutralizing of their stockpiles, and that process took several years. Here, we’re talking about a nation in the middle of a bloody civil war. It’s unclear if the weapons themselves are even in secure locations, or if they could be transported safely without risk of falling into the hands of other parties. One supposes that the Russian naval base in northwestern Syria could potentially be a safe storage location, but the logistics of getting them there may be easier said than done.

Nonetheless, it may not even matter if this Russian proposal is all that serious. The President’s request for authorization to use force is already in perilous trouble in Congress and even members of his own party are having a hard time getting in line behind him. If there’s a proposal sitting out there that could potentially avoid military action, which the Syrians have seemingly expressed a willingness to consider seriously, then it strikes me that it’s going to become all the more difficult to convince reluctant Members of Congress to get behind the President. The President has already said on more than one occasion that there is no imminent threat to the United States from Syria’s chemical weapons and that the attack that he has in mind can essentially be delayed indefinitely. He conceded that much by submitting the matter to Congress while at the same time insisting it was not an urgent enough matter that they needed to reconvene early. Indeed, it’s already been nearly three weeks since the attack which is supposedly the basis for the attack. If it was okay to wait this long, the reluctant legislator is likely to ask, then why not wait a little longer to see if this proposal pans out?

Andrew Sullivan sees this as another example of what he consider’s Kerry’s incompetence in handling the Syria matter:

I’d have thought a pretty basic qualification for being secretary of state is not to air hypothetical ideas in a public forum that the US does not intend to pursue. But Kerry, who is already doing a huge amount to make Hillary Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom look magisterial, winged it.

(…)

Wow. So we have the possibility of two things: that Russia might actually act decisively to rein Assad in, and also support the only viable policy to accomplish what Obama wants – protecting the world from these vile weapons. I have no idea whether this is a serious move by Lavrov – but it sure seems so, and it presents a fascinating non-binary option. It would manage to bring Russia in to solving this problem, without its having to acquiesce to what Putin regards as American grand-standing. And it would surely have some traction at the UN.

Indeed, that’s probably exactly why the Russians have done what they did today. If they keep it up, then it’s going to become even more difficult for this President to convince a reluctant Congress to give him what he wants. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if this is a serious proposal or not. If it has the impact on Congress that I described, then it will have succeeded quite nicely.

Update: We’ve gotten a response to the Russian proposal from the State Department:

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say they will take a “hard look” at a proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control to avoid a military strike.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday the U.S. would consider the proposal floated by the foreign ministers of Russia and Syria with “serious skepticism” because it might be a stalling tactic. She said Syria had consistently refused to destroy its chemical weapons in the past.

We got a similar statement from the White House just now at the Daily Press Briefing. Now, I guess, we see where it goes from here.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    If somehow it turns out that we don’t attack and Syria gives up it’s chem weapons, I”m going to call that a win, no matter how it came about. Smart is good, but I’ll take lucky as a substitute.

    Of course it may be bull. But I’m not sure this will hinder Obama’s AUMF. They can argue (correctly) that the only reason we’re having this conversation is the threat, and if the threat is taken off the table Syria and Russia will walk away.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    If the Russians aren’t trying to outsmart the Obama Administration, they’re certainly succeeding pretty well without trying. Secretary of State Kerry’s curt dismissal of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s suggestion of Russian support of international supervision of Syria’s chemical weapons succeeds in making the Russians look reasonable and us look hostile and irrational.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I agree. This is bush-league stuff from Kerry. He served up a softball, Lavrov nailed it, and rather than do the smart thing of saying, “Well, then let’s talk right now, today,” Kerry digs the hole deeper. He never was quick on his feet.

  4. Donald Sensing says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The motto of the US Army Artillery School is in Latin, colloquially translated, “Skill is better than luck.” They didn’t appreciate it when I added, “Luck is better than nothing.”

  5. @Dave Schuler: & @michael reynolds:

    As I just noted in an update, the State Department has just responded to the Russian proposal in a manner that is a bit more solicitous than the previous “curt dismissal.” Quite honestly, I don’t think they had a choice.

  6. Donald Sensing says:

    The real question is why this was not already proposed by Obama.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago.

    Any similarities to a war that shall not be named can be easily explained: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

  8. walt moffett says:

    Makes me wonder why we didn’t take that to the UN. Though as you point out the mechanics are complicated, (who supervises and monitors security of weapons in transit, etc)

    Now how to see it plays out in the scheduled interviews and Tuesday speech.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Actually, if Putin could pull this off he’d catapult himself to statesman status. The Russians are exactly the people to supervise such a thing since they have extensive practical knowledge of handling chemical weapons. Add some UN observers and maybe NATO observers as well, and I would think we’d have ourselves a deal.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    I never sneer at luck. My life pivots on the fact that I was in a city I never meant to be in, that I looked up when I could have looked down, and that for some reason at that moment I acted entirely out of character. Pure dumb luck. I’ll take it.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As I wrote back during the 2004 campaign, Kerry has the manner of a diplomat without having the temperament of a diplomat, amazing in someone raised in a diplomat’s household. It’s probably because he’s an idiot.

  12. john personna says:

    That headline is the most crazy political coup-counting I have ever seen.

    If Syria hands over chemical weapons, along Russian rules or anyone else’s, it is a WIN for Obama and his Red Line.

    Do you seriously think the hand-over would have happened without it?

    Do you think the apologists who just wanted the attacks to blow by are the ones driving Syria to action?

  13. JWH says:

    I hope Obama takes this deal, or, I should say, works a deal based on this effort. Yeah, it’s probably a bit of Russian tricksiness. But it lets Assad, Russia, and the United States walk away without losing too much face, and it keeps the Unites States from involving itself in yet another Middle Eastern country.

  14. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Pot shots with cruise missiles have closer matches to Reagan-Libya, etc., than to Bush2-Iraq2.

    For that matter, Clinton managed to cruise-missile Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, also without “the inexorable slide to boots on ground.”

  15. anjin-san says:

    Does anyone else miss Hillary?

  16. Moosebreath says:

    @john personna:

    “If Syria hands over chemical weapons, along Russian rules or anyone else’s, it is a WIN for Obama and his Red Line.

    Do you seriously think the hand-over would have happened without it?”

    I tend to agree. I also like Kevin Drum’s thoughts on this:

    “Still, what if the Russians aren’t playing games, but are seizing an unanticipated opportunity? It’s possible that for all their bluster, the Russians would actually like a way out of this that saves some face. It’s also possible, if you believe the latest reports in Bild am Sonntag, that Assad never wanted last month’s chemical attack to go forward in the first place. His generals did it without his go-ahead. So maybe he’d just as soon be rid of the stuff.

    I doubt it. But it’s at least an intriguing thought. If all of this ended up with some kind of UN inspection force taking control of Syria’s chemical arsenal, that would be a pretty good outcome for everyone. And it would make Kerry’s statement sort of the opposite of a Kinsley gaffe. Instead of a politician accidentally telling the truth, it would end up being a politician accidentally solving a real problem.”

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    @Dave Schuler: Putin, while a terrible person, is also one of the most competent world leaders I have ever seen. Certainly he’s sharper than any U.S. President in my lifetime.

  18. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I think you are busy trying to frame a possible success as defeat.

    That is really pretty low.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    He managed to lose an election to George W. Bush after we all knew Bush was incompetent. I think your “idiot” assessment may just be correct.

  20. john personna says:

    You know, regarding this little sub-theme that “everything is Iraq,” note that “recency bias” is a well understood area of irrational human behavior.

    We over-weigh things that happened recently, even if many more opposite forms of the event happened earlier.

    The serial position effect, a term coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus through studies he performed on himself, refers to the finding that recall accuracy varies as a function of an item’s position within a study list. When asked to recall a list of items in any order (free recall), people tend to begin recall with the end of the list, recalling those items best (the recency effect). Among earlier list items, the first few items are recalled more frequently than the middle items (the primacy effect).

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I’ve been ranting about this for some while. The most recent apt analogy would be LIbya, not Iraq. And as you point out, we have fired cruise missiles at obnoxious thugs before without it being war. This whole thing has been blown wildly out of proportion.

  22. Rick Almeida says:

    Moreover, it’s unclear just how something like this could be implemented right now. Securing and neutralizing chemical weapons is a laborious process even under the best of circumstances.

    Well, if Russia supports monitoring, I’d think that would severely undermine the Chinese opposition. Even if the process takes years and is imperfect, that’s years of not lobbing missiles at Syria, and it’s hard for me to see that as a bad thing.

  23. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You are right. Maybe this isn’t even an honest, if biased, recency effect.

    Maybe it’s just “say Iraq, because *everybody* hates Iraq.”

  24. Rob in CT says:

    I’d love it if this works out. I don’t care about whose face is saved and who gets pied.

    Obviously, good process is more likely to lead to good results than bad process. But I’ll take the good results from bad process anyway! [If the Yankees go get Vernon Wells, that’s bad process. But I’m happy when he hits a home run].

  25. PD Shaw says:

    @john personna: I am agreeing with the Administration here. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get a full accounting and removal of Syria’s nonconventional weapons. Iraq agreed to do so in 1991, and this was not accomplished until 2009.

  26. Rob in CT says:

    Regarding Iraq:

    It’s true, everything is not Iraq. Everything wasn’t Vietnam, either. That doesn’t make bombing Syria a good idea.

    The main similarity between the proposed Syria intervention and Iraq II is the sales job. We’ve been given a bunch of reasons that sound very similar. It is prudent to be suspicious and reluctant. Once bitten, twice shy. That’s not irrational, whatever you may think, John. “Fighting the last war” is a bit of a cliche. It’s reasonable to have an experience, figure out the lessons learned, and try to avoid the same mistakes.

    Libya is a better example (not a very good one, IMO, for pro- folks to use, not that they seem to notice). Even better, especially if you want to attack, are the late-90s cruise missle strikes (Afghanistan, Sudan) and air strikes (Iraq). Kosovo/Bosnia is not a great example, because there were troops involved (as Matt Bernius keeps pointing out).

    I’ve been open about my desire for the US to have a much less interventionist FP. My preference for this pre-dates Iraq, which I’m happy to admit. I was in highschool during the Kosovo intervention and was anti. That one worked out ok (though I still think aiding the KLA was unfortunate). I was against the airstrikes on Iraq in the 90s, and the sanctions. I was against Iraq, The Sequel. I was dubious of Afghanistan, even (though I saw it as clearly justified). I was against Libya. I place the bar really high, and few of our wars clear it. Like anyone, I have my baises. I think that’s a pretty good bias to have. And hey, it’s not like the folks who always want to intervene are operating with bias.

  27. Todd says:

    Ridiculous headline … getting Syria to give up their chemical weapons without the U.S. firing a shot is a win for us no matter how you spin it.

    It is a good example of how things work in our current partisan world though. Related prediction: If this actually happens, and it appears that we won’t be using military force in Syria, many of the suddely “anti-war” Republicans in the House will go right back to criticizing the President for being “weak”, and “backing down”.

    p.s. imagine if something like this could have been given the opportunity to happen in Iraq circa 2002?

  28. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: I generally avoid references to Iraq since it usually distracts the discussion with ad hominem. But Iraq is the disarmament conflict.(*) I don’t think the Administration wanted to do disarmament because it involves a protracted and difficult process, and if its not done right, it puts U.S. credibility at risk no less than the “red line” comment.

    (*) The post WWI disarmament conflicts might be another.

  29. Davebo says:

    @Todd:
    Obviously you are right. But where’s the upside to a “libertarian” in such an efficient solution?

  30. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I don’t think Iraq was a disarmament conflict at all. It was a grudge match, driven by personalities, shaped by oil reserves, dressed up as a disarmament conflict.

    Remember, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

    And really, if other Presidents have “taken pot shots” in the past, and this one is run by Congress, that is an improvement, and not a degeneration.

    Indeed if the strongest parallel with Iraq is really just that Congress is consulted … that should not be a negative.

  31. gtleviathan says:

    It occurs to me that if the US presented this latest proposal as an ultimatum, the Syrians and Russians would have rejected it reflexively. By the Russians putting forth the proposal, there is at least some greater (probably small) chance that the Syrians would actually implement it. Whether by skill or by luck, this strikes me as GOOD diplomacy.

  32. john personna says:

    (There is no parallel for the pre-Iraq Neocon vision in this current run-up. It is Obama, probably reluctantly, deciding that an military answer to chemical weapons is the least-bad course.)

  33. john425 says:

    “Are The Russians About To Outsmart Obama And Kerry On Syria?”

    Do birds fly? Is the Pope a Catholic? Does a bear crap in the woods? Do fish swim?

  34. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    The stated goal for this proposed intervention is to (1) punish and (2) degrade and deter the further use of chemical weapons. Of these two goals the most important is #2.

    If a deal can be established whereby the UN supervises the control of the Syria’s chemical weapons, I’d say that goal #2 is accomplished. Lot’s of details to be worked out, but overall it would be a big victory for mankind!

    Have the World court deal with punishment for past actions.

  35. anjin-san says:

    If Putin can find a way out of this mess, we should all chip in and send him a case of scotch for Christmas. I don’t really care who gets credit. If the Russians step up and hit one out of the park, maybe the folks in DC will be shaken up a bit. That might be a good thing.

  36. dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    It’s about Assad saving face. If we proposed this Assad couldn’t accept it.

    Maybe the “fix” has been in place for some time. Maybe since the day Obama announced he would ask Congress to weigh in.

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Are The Russians About To Outsmart Obama And Kerry On Syria?

    Doug? Your partisanship could not be more on display here. Alternative headline:

    “Did Obama just get the Goose to Lay the Golden Egg?”

    Really, what part of this news did you not say, “Really? Really?? He did what???? The Devils in the details but Obama just did in 2 weeks what Bush didn’t know was done for 5 years.”

    I know you don’t like Obama, but the man may have just succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. And you can’t tell. Or worse, you think it’s a failure. Sad. Very sad.

  38. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Well, it seems that it took another idiot (Kerry) to undo the mess the first idiot got us into.

    I think it was Einstein who once said that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits…

  39. Matt Bernius says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Maybe the “fix” has been in place for some time. Maybe since the day Obama announced he would ask Congress to weigh in.

    Sigh… again, can we stop with the extreme conspiracies and nth dimensional chess on this one? Russia’s bit of brilliant politicing is exactly that.

    If this was some sort of well orchestrated “fix” Kerry would not have been caught so flat-footed.

    Like a number of folks, I’m all for this working even if it makes Washington look bad.

    @john personna:

    I don’t think Iraq was a disarmament conflict at all. It was a grudge match, driven by personalities, shaped by oil reserves, dressed up as a disarmament conflict.

    I’m not sure that Iraq could or should be qualified as one particular category of conflict. However, I do you think you tend to downplay the very strong Noe-Conservative contingent who for years advocated overthrowing Hussein in order to establish a disruptive Democracy in the Middle East (see many of the writing of the “Project for a New American Century” and various neo-con architects in particular Richard Perle).

    This was a very strong strain of their thought — one that had numerous parallels with the tenets of liberal interventionism.

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Certainly he’s sharper than any U.S. President in my lifetime.

    Right…. That’s why every one was so ready to believe he had found ancient Greek earthenware in the Black Sea….

    Methinks you have a different definition of “sharp” than I.

  41. Ben Wolf says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Methinks you have a different definition of “sharp” than I.

    That much is certain.

  42. dazedandconfused says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    It’s not an extreme conspiracy Matt, this is just the way foreign policy has always been done. How long after the Cuban Missile Crisis did we get told that the Turkey missile base had been traded off?

    “Saving face” is a huge factor. Expect Obama and Kerry to feign deep reservations about it, if they are competent statesmen.

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john425: Are you stupid????

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben Wolf: Define sharp, and take into account where 50% of your constituents think you are an opportunistic idiot.

  45. dazedandconfused says:

    I forgot to mention, Matt, that crisis situations are typically in a state of flux. Being caught flat-footed is not uncommon.

  46. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Putin, while a terrible person, is also one of the most competent world leaders I have ever seen.

    And for clarification Ben, Putin is a leader…. of less than half of Russia. He is NOT a world leader. If you don’t know by now what that means**, I can’t help you.

    ** for the record? There are no, repeat ZERO world leaders. (has there ever been one??????)

  47. Ben Wolf says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    @Ben Wolf: . . . take into account where 50% of your constituents think you are an opportunistic idiot.

    That’s the same situation here in the United States, so I hardly think Putin should be held to a different standard.

  48. Gustopher says:

    Let’s see, on the one hand we have ineffective missile strikes, on the other hand we have Assad giving up a significant amount of his chemical weapons (assume he cheats, but makes it plausible).

    I think the latter is a win, and I doubt it would happen without the threat of the former.

    And we get Russia on board with non-proliferation, at least in one case.

    So, we are left to conclude that Kerry is a better diplomat when he isn’t trying than the George W. Bush team was when they were trying…

  49. Tyrell says:

    When it comes to Russia, there is always more than it appears and you better check the fine print. I don’t trust Vladimir any further than I can throw him. There is probably a deal where the Russians get half of those chemical bombs. There is a catch somewhere.
    I still haven’t forgotten August of 1968 when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. Russian tanks, planes, jeeps, and everything else rolled in like Hurricane Hazel; this after Brezhnev promised the leaders of Czech that they would be allowed to have freedom. “Those bast ____ds!” (Richard Nixon quote) The US military was bogged down in Vietnam then and LBJ couldn’t do anything. They should have kicked the North Vietnamese back to Hanoi and on the way back to the US ran the Russians out of Czechoslovakia. And East Germany for that matter.
    It looks like Putin is some poker player, taking Obama to the cleaners on this one.
    “requiring a full retaliatory response” (Kennedy, 1962)
    “I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on” (Cash)

  50. Ben Wolf says:

    We have a contract for the delivery of the S-300s. We have supplied some of the components, but the delivery hasn’t been completed. We have suspended it for now. But if we see that steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world.

    The above is of course Putin stating he can make future U.S. interventions much more difficult, which he can.

    Representatives of the American special services — and I hope they won’t be angry — but they could have been more professional, and the diplomats as well. After they found out that he was flying to us, and that he was flying as a transit passenger, there was pressure from all sides — from the Americans, from the Europeans — instead of just letting him go to a country where they could operate easily.

    This quote from Putin reads: your intelligence and diplomatic services are incompetent, which they are.

    If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus. We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons.

    This, from Russian Foreign Minister Larov, coming only hours after Kerry’s slip, is one of the most masterful maneuvers in geostrategy, international diplomacy and tactically adaptive behavior it has been my priviledge to witness. To put it bluntly an American administration is incapable of this level of flexibility and speed, not to mention this quality of political comprehension. With one statement the Russians have put the United States on the defensive where before the Kremlin was losing the battle to prevent an American attack.

    Over the last four months the Russians have been running rings around the U.S. diplomatically and in terms of global public relations. Doing this while maintaining an iron grip on power for a decade and a half is “sharp”. There is no American politican who can play at this level because, as Niebuhr himself noted, Americans are politically incompetent. Only our overwhelming strength gets us anywhere and as the last twelve years have demonstrated that strength has very real limits.

  51. Ben Wolf says:

    By the way, the S-300 system which Putin suspended delivery of as a sign of good faith is:

    . . . one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all altitude area defence SAM systems in service, with a range of more capable derivatives entering service in Russia, or in development. Over the Taiwan Strait the later versions of the S-300 become “offensive” weapons in that they can attack targets in Taiwanese airspace, severely challenging that nation’s air defense. Moreover, these missiles threaten all U.S. combat aircraft that may be called upon to assist Taiwan other than the stealthy B-2A and F-22A, the latter which is just entering service in diminished numbers.

    http://www.strategycenter.net/research/pubID.93/pub_detail.asp

    Maybe we should be taking the future welfare of our pilots into consideration.

  52. dazedandconfused says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m suspect Kerry may be a “true believer” (save the world!) who is being to a degree “managed”. Same with Rice, Powers, et al. Sending it to Congress is giving them a much needed (IMO) reality check. Obama might have even wanted one himself.

  53. Dave says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Maybe the “fix” has been in place for some time. Maybe since the day Obama announced he would ask Congress to weigh in.

    Hahaha. Yes!…and earlier today, when the Russians hadn’t weighed in yet, Kerry being for “international control” before he was against it was a particularly brilliant bit of super-dooper double-secret diplomacy.

  54. dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave:

    Of course! They “weighed in” today. First public statement they’ve made, so it has to be the first communication. There have been no discussions “under the rose”…..all these processes are transparent and everybody has been completely candid.

    The reason they sometimes have to treat us like children, Dave, is because we are.

  55. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    There are times you sound like you just time traveled from the 80’s. The “Americans are incompetent” line has been around forever. Used to get it all the time from the (now defunct) Soviets, and the (now absorbed) East Germans, and the Vietnamese (who sew sneakers for us), and the Chinese (who are now desperately trying to emulate our economic success without their ramshackle tyranny falling down and going splat), and the Indians (who are failing to keep up with the Chinese in their lunge to be just like us) and the Saudis (whose asses we had to save from big bad Saddam.)

    Amazing how we can be such complete idiots and yet remain the richest, most powerful, most influential nation on Earth for 70 years running and now have literally not a single serious competitor on the planet.

  56. Todd says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    The reason they sometimes have to treat us like children, Dave, is because we are.

    Come on, this is the Internet !!! Everybody has a Constitutional right to their opinion. And for those who are in the process of exercising said right, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that the government they are disagreeing with might just have more/more relevant information about a given situation than they do. (rolls eyes)

  57. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    As for Russian weapons systems? Every single time Russian/Soviet systems have gone up against American systems, who has come out on top?

  58. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Brezhnev promised the leaders of Czech that they would be allowed to have freedom

    And since our leaders always tell the truth and act honorably, we are perched comfortably on moral high ground where we can sneer at the Russians…

  59. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    I think it was Einstein who once said that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits…

    If you are going to use a quote like this, let us know in advance so we can order more irony meters to replace the ones you blow up.

  60. Dave says:

    @dazedandconfused: If we could wrap you in copper wire and surround you with magnets we could probably power all of DC with that spinning.

  61. Matt Bernius says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I’m suspect Kerry may be a “true believer” (save the world!) who is being to a degree “managed”. Same with Rice, Powers, et al.

    Again, here’s where I get off the bus. Given the high number of true believers that Obama has surrounded himself with and brought into his inner circle, I have real difficulty not seeing him as a “true believer” as well (or at the very least a pragmatist with heavy “true believer” tendencies).

    Talking about him “managing” any of these folks begs the question of “why does he keep choosing advisers he needs to expend lots of energy managing?”

    Personally, I think Obama’s a well meaning, conflicted, interventionist. What I appreciate, and continue to be hopeful about, is that the “conflicted” part will lead to actions like approaching Congress for Authorization, which ultimately may place some checks on the Imperial presidency. Hopefully it’s a sign that the legislator and constitutional scholar side of him might lead him to placing some checks on himself.

  62. Matt Bernius says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There are times you sound like you just time traveled from the 80′s. The “Americans are incompetent” line has been around forever.

    No offense sir, but didn’t you note just a bit earlier in this same thread that:

    [Kerry] managed to lose an election to George W. Bush after we all knew Bush was incompetent. I think your “idiot” assessment may just be correct.

    So from that we kinda have to assume that at least in 2004:

    If GW was incompetent,
    Kerry was incompetent for losing to an incompetent,
    and the majority of the US electorate was incompetent for voting for either incompetent.

    Not saying it proves Ben’s point, but it doesn’t necessarily speak well for any of us (or should I say US).

  63. michael reynolds says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    It’s all relative.

    Yes, we have idiots. So does everyone else.

  64. markm says:

    Moreover, it’s unclear just how something like this could be implemented right now. Securing and neutralizing chemical weapons is a laborious process even under the best of circumstances. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians cooperated with the U.S. in the neutralizing of their stockpiles, and that process took several years. Here, we’re talking about a nation in the middle of a bloody civil war.

    Let us just say that Russia is on the up and up and can get Syria to go along and we agree to it.

    I can’t get over the quote above. The ‘how’.
    How crummy would it be that an off the cuff solution FOR ALL PARTIES was there with no chance of implementation?.

    I suppose Russia could get the Syrian Government to agree to a cease fire but….I don’t know that the Rebels would go for that.

  65. bill says:

    so just in case any of this comes to pass- will there be a new “red line” to cross? and will kerry, obama or “the world” set it?

  66. dazedandconfused says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I suppose he could form a cabinet of people who all think exactly like he does, or at least swear they do. Cheney did that.

    A non-transparent process does not a conspiracy make. Believing or even expecting total transparency in international crisis management is naive.

    I think he’s learning on the job, and the hard way. He’s a two-year Senator, not an experienced statesman, and most of our true Arabists at State were purged in the Clinton/Bush decades. Replaced by neocons or people who were somewhat like them. It’s mighty slim pickings now for people who have a more solid grasp on the region than they do of their own personal ideology.

    There was a talk panel of some of those guys gathered by Dennis Ross on CSPAN recently “Nixon in the Middle East”. It’s fascinating to compare the way those old pragmatists think compared to the people we see today.

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/305617-1

  67. Kolohe says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    FFS he’s been the President for almost 5 goddamn years now, the time for OJT is long since past. And it’s well past time to keep blaming Bush anytime this Administration has a problem with something.

  68. Grewgills says:

    Who would have thought that when it came time to play good cop bad cop, Obama would the bad cop and Putin the good cop?

  69. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kolohe:

    I didn’t mention Bush. Were you replying to someone else’s comment?

  70. dazedandconfused says:

    Oh, I see it now. I did mention “Clinton/Bush years”.

    Has Bush become a word one can never use without automatically invalidating ones own argument?

    A Godwin’s Law kinda deal?

  71. Grewgills says:

    The Russians didn’t so much outsmart us as give a get out of jail free card. If Syria signs on to the Chemical Weapons Convention, starts destroying at least some of it’s chemical weapons, and it is Russia that has to deal with it on the ground, I count that a big win. Syria has become less likely to use chemical weapons, we get some level of Russian cooperation on non proliferation, and all we had to do was posture a bit, which costs us right about nothing.

  72. Ben Wolf says:

    @dazedandconfused: The problem is it’s now too late for Obama to learn anything that will help him. His foreign policy team is inept, evidenced not only by Kerry’s multiple errors over the last two days but by Kerry, Rice and Powers making statements that had to then be over-ridden by the President. It’s fairly clear the three of them failed to check with the President before opening their mouths and have now weakened his position considerably. Support for the AUMF looked solid until Kerry started talking about an “unbelievably small attack”.

    The best thing Obama can do for himself at this point is to fire Kerry, maybe Rice and Powers as well given their apparent belief they had authority to publicly refuse the Russian compromise without consulting the President.

  73. Rob in CT says:

    The Russians didn’t so much outsmart us as give a get out of jail free card.

    That’s certainly how I see it. This is a potential face-saving way out of this mess.

  74. bill says:

    oops, looks like they succeeded- now obama will look weak…..er. i wonder if assad is saying he used the weapons but will gladly hand the rest over to the russians if we don’t bomb him? and how will anyone believe that he will when they are both so close? eh, who cares?

    MOSCOW (AP) — Syria says it has accepted Russia’s proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.

    Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Tuesday after meeting with Russian parliament speaker that his government quickly agreed to the Russian initiative to “derail the U.S. aggression.”

  75. anjin-san says:

    @ kolohe

    the time for OJT is long since past

    That time never passes in demanding executive jobs. It does if you work at Wal-Mart.

  76. markm says:

    Although hopeful….I still don’t see how anyone can get in there to secure/catalog/destroy these weapons with a civil war going on?.

    I don’t think the ‘rebels’ will go for a timeout when they have Assad back on his heels.

  77. Rob in CT says:

    @bill:

    You realize, of course, that none of this happens without Obama’s threat of bombing? [to be clear: I’m not asserting that this was all part of his 11th dimensional chess plan. Rather, I think this was a fortunate development. It still doesn’t happen without the credible threat of force.]

    We’re not home yet, of course. There will be negotiations over the meaning of “secure” and “international” and “all” and “chemical” and “weapon” and so on and so forth. There is also the inherent difficulty in securing such things in the midst of a war. But this is a positive development.

    And I don’t give a sh*t about anybody “looking weak.” We spend so much time trying to look strong we beclown ourselves on a regular basis. I’ll take a positive result without war if I can get it, thankyouverymuch.

  78. Jack says:

    Are The Russians About To Outsmart Obama And Kerry On Syria? Is a frog’s ass watertight?

  79. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @ Rob in CT;
    My thoughts exactly.

    I would just add this….. IF Obama were to withdraw the threat of action at this point the Syrian acceptance of the Russian proposal would vanish in a New York minute.

  80. crysalis says:

    Update: Putin has stated that Russia will only move forward on the proposal for weapons inspection and control if the U.S. pledges not to engage military action.

    In other words:

    Putin: You screwed this up so bad, Mr. Obama, that I own you. If you want to save face and not have Congress slap down your “use of force” request, do exactly as I say. Red lines? Munich moment? Only if I let you.

    Putin has completely check-mated Obama. This is just one more foreign relations disaster for an administration that is in way, way over its head.

  81. dazedandconfused says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    It’s never too late to learn.

    I think Kerry is a horses ass, his opinion of himself as one of the worlds great statesmen is delusional, and he, Rice, and Powers would have us “save the world”, but they are dedicated and can be managed. This reaction in the House and from the People is giving them all a nice reality-check, and projecting a bit of idealism isn’t necessarily bad. Firing them and have to go through all the crap of picking someone else and getting them confirmed seems an over-reaction to me. One has to accept ones people are not perfect, and when they make mistakes they gain experience. There is some old saw about mistakes and experience.

    They are all Clintonista’s too, and guess who might be the next President. It may be best for us if they get all the experience they can right now.

  82. crysalis says:

    @anjin-san

    @ kolohe

    the time for OJT is long since past

    That time never passes in demanding executive jobs. It does if you work at Wal-Mart. .

    What a silly statement when talking about the POTUS. Please. The issues at hand are not the equivalent of choosing which product line you’re going to showcase in the fall. And whatever happened to Obama being smarter than everyone else in the room?

    My how the mighty have fallen. From savior of the nation to “Remember, he was just a two – year senator” , all in a few short years.

    Welcome to the painful reality that half the country recognized 6 years age; the man is seriously under-qualified to be POTUS.

  83. Steve V says:

    @crysalis: I don’t get this thinking at all. Putin and Assad have volunteered to back themselves into corners, promising disarmament. They just made a couple of apparently serious commitments against their own wishes … just to prove Kerry gaffed? If this is losing/getting “checkmated,” I wonder what winning is.

  84. dazedandconfused says:

    @crysalis:

    They merely decided they would rather have him than John and Sarah.

    Hamilton tried to create a system that isolated the process from populism, and because he couldn’t get people to agree the Congress should choose the President, he got creative. However, the Electoral College was deeply flawed. When you elect someone to do one and only one thing, it’s to be expected he might be asked one and only one question.

  85. wr says:

    @crysalis: Obama threatens to use force. Syria and Russia say “we’ll do what you want but only if you don’t use force.” Moron right-wingers says “ha-ha, Obama wanted to blow stuff up and now he can’t, so even if he got what he wanted without raising a finger, it proves he’s a loser!”

    In the (Tarantino-written) words of the esteemed Mr. Jackson: “Check out the brains on Brad.”

  86. crysalis says:

    @SteveV

    @crysalis: I don’t get this thinking at all. Putin and Assad have volunteered to back themselves into corners, promising disarmament.

    Putin and Russia have canceled a scheduled UN conference on the supposed “proposal.” Assad has “promised” to reveal “all” the places where chemical WMD are stored, not to turn them over. And all of this, Putin has made conditional to Obama completely abandoning his stated purpose of taking action because of something that Assad has allegedly already done – twice.

    Exactly what kind of corner do you feel Putin and Assad have placed themselves in? There is absolutely no incentive for either Russia or Assad to do anything once the threat of force is removed. This is one of the main themes stated above by Obama supporters as they claim that Obama deserves credit in some way for this. You can’t have it both ways. Obama’s threats cannot be both central to making sure this happens, but Putin’s dictating that the threat be removed rewards Obama somehow.

    Do you not realize that Obama has two choices? To either give into Putin’s demands ( who’s running the show?) and back down from days of hyperventilating over the absolute necessity of military action (Harry Reid even compared the situation in Syria to the Holocaust). Alternatively, choice number two has Obama going through in Congress with a vote that he will most certainly lose, the prospect of which had political pundits making noises about a “crippled presidency.”

    Either way Obama has shown that he has been completely out- foxed because Putin is calling the shots on US foreign policy. And if you believe that Putin is looking out for anyone but Russia’s interests, then you are not being realistic. Putin threw a feint and Obama, being desperate not to lose the vote, bought it. And Putin promptly changed the rules.

    No manner of “we meant for this to happen all along” will prevent the world from knowing that Obama – and by extension the U.S. – had his hat handed to him.

  87. crysalis says:

    @wr

    Obama threatens to use force. Syria and Russia say “we’ll do what you want but only if you don’t use force. Moron right-wingers says…”

    Except that’s not the order it happened in. If you insist on rewriting events to suit your narrative, there really is no reason to enter into a dialogue with you. If you’re still confused by facts, refer to my post just above for the reasoning behind my statement. If you understand the concept of “cause and effect” and want to actually put forth an intelligent thought, then I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you. Otherwise, STFU.

  88. bill says:

    @Rob in CT: oh thx rob, i had no idea what was going on from the get go- thx for setting this all straight and extra points for using “beclown” in a sentence.
    i need to get back to reminding the admin that there’s a “certain” anniversary tomorrow and “stuff” could happen.
    but really, we got “owned” by putin and we look really bad. sure, blame it on kerry but he was hired by obama.

  89. RobZ says:

    Kerry’s remarks didn’t come out of nowhere:

    “In a further development, a spokesman for Putin said the Russian president had discussed the weapons handover plan with Obama at last week’s G-20 summit, and a senior administration official told NBC News that the two had discussed the concept a year ago. The official said, however, that it wasn’t until the chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 killed hundreds of people that the Russians showed a willingness to put together a serious proposal.”

    http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/10/20416189-syrias-foreign-minister-well-declare-chemical-weapons-sign-arms-ban?lite

  90. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Is there any doubt where we would be with McCain as president,
    I’m just sayin’

  91. grumpy realist says:

    According to the FT, the Russian idea for disarming Syria of its nastier chemical weaponry has been batted around for at least six months, at least within Russia. (Russia, not being a fool, realizes what risk the stuff poses to Russia if it gets into the hands of some of their separatists.) Russia seems to have been willing to let Assad keep his mitts on them only so long as a) they weren’t used outside his control, or b) looked like they would fall into the hands of someone outside his control. Since neither of these circumstances still hold, better take them away from him…..

    I don’t think the Russians are doing this simply to embarrass the US (although that is a nice little side-effect for them.) I think they are seriously worried about what happens with the CW material. There’s too short a line between Syria (with a crumbling country) and parts of Russia with disgruntled separatists of Islamic backgrounds.

  92. Todd says:

    @Todd:

    p.s. imagine if something like this could have been given the opportunity to happen in Iraq circa 2002?

    http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/09/11/if-only