Greg Corombos and I just taped our daily Three Martini Lunch podcast. Our format is to select one good, one bad, and one crazy news story each day. Today, the proposed deal to avoid military action in Syria qualifies as all three.
The development is good if you opposed the United States’ beginning a war in Syria and you think that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is unlikely to use his chemical weapons in the near future — or at least as long as there are international inspectors in his country. (Then again, United Nations inspectors were in Syria when the regime used chemical weapons September 21.) If you thought President Obama didn’t really want to fight this war — or that we would only launch an “unbelievably small” effort, largely symbolic, that would only leave the U.S. looking weaker — this course appears to avoid that bad scenario.
The development is bad if you believe that a dictator must be punished for using chemical weapons. Assad’s only punishment will be giving up his remaining stockpiles — presuming, of course, that the U.N. can find, track, and inventory those stockpiles in a country that is gripped by civil war. With the West’s disinterest in intervention now so obvious to the world, Assad’s odds of remaining in power are improving. That’s bad news for the Syrian rebels — and while they have many in their ranks who are no friend to America, the non-radical elements must feel betrayed by the United States now. Once again, the United States appears to be an unreliable ally, and a distinctly unmenacing enemy.
It’s bad for the Syrian people, because Assad now can fight with impunity, as long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons.
The development is crazy, because it appears that John Kerry just gave Assad and his friends the Russians an escape hatch by speaking off the cuff. This is why John Kerry would have made a bad president and is a bad secretary of state — his inclination to say whatever he thinks will be most persuasive to whoever in front of him at that moment. When Kerry needs to make an impassioned case for punishing Assad, he can do so with great passion and emotion, and he compares Assad to Hitler. When Kerry needs to reassure a nervous ally, he emphasizes that the attack will be “unbelievably small.” When he thinks he needs to appear reasonable and not too eager for war, he tosses out a scenario that puts the entire U.S. war effort on hold.
The Russians now appear to be altering the plan, preferring that it is never written down with any specific requirements or consequences spelled out:
Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria’s chemical weapons’ stocks, France’s foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.
“As I understood, the Russians at this stage were not necessarily enthusiastic, and I’m using euphemism, to put all that into the framework of a U.N. binding resolution,” Laurent Fabius told French lawmakers after a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
So if there’s no binding resolution . . . well, then, it’s not really a resolution, now is it?