Last week, I wrote that Russia had put itself in the driver’s seat on Syria, almost effortlessly maneuvering the U.S. into a position where the use of any force against Syria would become unthninkable. The prime tool for achieving this was the U.N. resolution that lacked any mention of authorizing force for noncompliance by Damascus. Once that was accepted by the Security Council, then Washington could only be charged with undermining the ongoing negotiations if it threatened or planned military action.
That prediction is playing out even more quickly than expected, with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov tightening the screws yesterday by asserting that any U.S. use of force would be “ineffective, meaningless, and destructive.” Moscow is shaping the diplomatic environment and priming international opporobrium to be released in case the Obama administration decides to go the military route. The point here is not whether a U.S. military strike is wise or not. It is that our diplomatic naivete and lack of skill is boxing us into a corner. We are letting our adversaries have a de facto decision on what options are open to the president and what U.S. action will be seen as acceptable.
We have surrendered the initiative in Syria and now appear poised to enter into some type of negotiations with Iran, having in the meantime utterly failed to prevent North Korea from going nuclear. As I discuss more on the homepage today, our strategic incompetence will soon catch up with us. It’s not about shooting off missiles or dropping bombs. It’s about being skillful enough not to find yourself always reacting to the initiatives of aggressive actors. And it is about being smart enough to know when you are likely being played and how to protect your interests from being harmed. So far, we have little evidence that the second-term Obama administration gets that, just as its first-term and Bush predecessors also failed.