President Obama’s speech last night demonstrated the astounding success of the bogus Russian “peace initiative.”
The president devoted much of his speech to explaining what a strike against Syria would not be. Nonetheless, the world is threatened by the Syrian use of weapons of mass destruction and, in his speech, Obama made the reasons clear.
Unfortunately, his conclusion was that the U.S. needs to allow time for the Russian initiative to work, something that the Russians have actually made clear is not going to happen.
A program for placing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control should have been discussed before rather than after those weapons were used. Even if one believes that Syria is ready to surrender its chemical weapons, it would still leave open the question of what price the Assad leadership should pay for the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs that has taken 1,429 lives.
As it happens, however, there is not going to be any serious disarmament process and Russia has already telegraphed its intentions. While Obama was making his speech, Putin was making remarks of his own. The key statement was, “You can’t really ask Syria, or any other country, to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated.”
He went on to say that the plan for Syrian chemical-weapons disarmament “will only mean [something] if the United States and other nations supporting it tell us that they’re giving up their plan to use force against Syria.”
Of course, it is only the threat of force that has compelled Syria to discuss disarmament in the first place so Putin’s statements actually make clear that the “peace initiative” is just a way of stalling for time, a tactic made all the more effective by Obama’s decision to share authority for a presidential decision with 535 members of Congress, most of whom know even less about Russia than he does.
In fact, Russian tactics in this matter mirror those they have used for two years in preventing the start of peace negotiations which, in the Russian view, could only take place once the rebels had ceased their attacks on the Assad regime.
One of Obama’s supposed foreign-policy triumphs was the “reset” policy with Russia in which the U.S. made security concessions to Russia and muted its criticisms of Russian violations of human rights in return for hoped for cooperation on such problems as Syria and Iran. Even when the concessions did not convert Russia into a strategic partner but instead inspired more obstruction and hostility it was argued that at least the reset policy did no harm because Russia would have been hostile regardless.
The reality is more sinister. The reset was a disaster because it confused the Obama administration about the nature of the Russian regime and the people with whom they were dealing. It is that confusion that is now tying up the administration and Congress in knots as they try to decide how to respond to the chemical attack in Ghouta.
— David Satter is an advisor to Radio Liberty in Moscow and a fellow of the Hudson Institute and Johns Hopkins University. His latest book is It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (Yale).