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National Security & Defense

Relax, Everybody! Obama, Kerry, Putin, and Assad Say Syria’s Fixed!

The first Morning Jolt of the week features revelations that the U.S. State Department’s management is even worse than you thought, some questions on who really is influential on the right, criticism of Michelle Obama’s “Drink water!” plan, and, of course, Syria:

Relax, Everybody! Obama, Kerry, Putin, and Assad Say Syria’s Fixed!

Today and in the coming days, we’ll see President Obama and his surrogates insisting that the deal on Syria represents one of the greatest foreign-policy accomplishments of his presidency.

And they’re right — but not in the way that they think. In terms of policy, it’s a disaster. Assad is left unpunished, other than turning over weapons he wasn’t supposed to be able to have anyway. His cooperation is not guaranteed, and is in fact unlikely. Assad has gone from comparable to Hitler a few days ago to the only guy who can ensure the chemical weapons get turned over.

But the American people — left, right, and center — spoke clearly on Syria: “We don’t care what happens over there, just don’t get us sucked into another war in the Middle East.” And by acquiescing to a Russian plan designed to fail, Obama avoided war. So politically — really, the only measurement that matters to this administration — he wins. Considering how disastrous the military option appeared, maybe that really is the better choice.

Jeffrey Goldberg, over at Bloomberg:

. . . this limited Western victory might feel like a moral and strategic defeat, for two reasons.

One: Our allies across the Middle East, having seen the U.S. promise to help remove Assad and then not follow through, will further doubt American steadfastness and friendship and will reorient their policies accordingly, with some adverse consequences for the U.S.

Two: This plan probably won’t work. Assad is a lying, murdering terrorist, and lying, murdering terrorists aren’t, generally speaking, reliable partners, except for other lying, murdering terrorists. In any case, disarmament experts say that this process, properly carried out, would take years and years to accomplish, but of course they really don’t know how long this might take because no one has ever tried to locate and secure hundreds of tons of chemical weapons on an active battlefield, particularly one in which Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are vying for supremacy.

But for now, the president has underscored the international norm governing the use of chemical weapons, and he has done what the American people say they wanted — staying out of the conflict. He may not be a clear winner in this drama, like Assad and Putin are, but compared to Congress — in particular its reflexively isolationist, self-destructive Republican caucus — he looks like Churchill.

Sen. John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, points out an inconvenient fact for the Obama administration’s victory lap:

Moscow is not even complying with a commitment to eliminate its own chemical weapons. A State Department assessment in January reported that Russia has provided an “incomplete” list of its chemical agents and weapons to be destroyed. It has also missed deadlines to convert former chemical-weapon production plants. Why would we expect Moscow to help enforce similar restrictions against Syria? . . . 

Based on the experience of the past four years, the Russians, like the Iranians, are well aware that pretending to go along can buy time until the Obama administration becomes distracted with another issue. The U.S. should be prepared for the diplomatic effort on Syria to fall flat and have more effective alternatives ready.

Here’s how the plan is playing on the ground:

Air strikes, shelling and infantry attacks on suburbs of Damascus through yesterday morning offered evidence in support of opinions from both Assad’s Syrian opponents and supporters that he is again taking the fight to rebels after a lull following the August 21 gas attack that provoked the threat of US action.

“It’s a clever proposal from Russia to prevent the attacks,” one Assad supporter said from the port of Tartous, site of a Russian naval base. “Russia will give us new weapons that are better than chemical weapons,” he added. “We are strong enough to save our power and fight the terrorists.”

Rebel fighters have expressed disdain for US President Barack Obama after he backed away from striking over alleged chemical weapons attacks, saying the world does not care about Syria.

“America told the world it would bomb Syria and then, when the time came, it got scared,” said Abdelqaderi Asasheh, operations chief of the Liwa Al Tawhid brigade in Aleppo.

Then again, just in case you’re feeling bad for the rebels . . . 

Al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Syria say they are targeting members of the Alawite community in the country, adding that they massacred dozens of Alawites in three Homs villages last week.

On Sunday, the terrorist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks in which at least 30 Alawites, including several women, children and elderly men, were shot dead in cold blood.

Syria went from a horrific bloodbath that didn’t interest the world, to a horrific bloodbath that included chemical weapons, to a horrific bloodbath that did interest the world . . . and it will soon go back to being a horrific bloodbath that doesn’t interest the world.

It’s like that old Arab proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

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