Did Kerry blink in Syria standoff? Update: Russia ups the ante

posted at 10:01 am on September 9, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Last week, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp announced their opposition to American military intervention in Syria, and proposed a 45-day ultimatum for Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons first.  Barack Obama seemed to dismiss that option last week at the G-20 summit, but ABC News reports that John Kerry may have offered it as a way out of the trap Obama has set for himself:

America’s top diplomat suggested in a passing remark that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S.-led strike if he handed over all his chemical weapons, but the State Department quickly dismissed the comment as more of a “rhetorical argument” than an offer.

In a London news conference this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to a question about whether Assad could do anything to avoid war by saying “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 a full and total accounting.”

Kerry delivered the statement almost dismissively and quickly said Assad had no intention of giving up “weapons he denies using.” But it was still the first time such a suggestion had been made by the Obama administration.

Was this a clever ploy to retreat from a losing situation at home and abroad, or was this a fumble by America’s top diplomat?  A hasty State Department correction suggests the latter:

The State Department was forced to clarify the remarks, calling them “rhetorical” and making clear its desire to strike could be tempered by a Syrian offer. Kerry’s point, according to spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons.”

In other words … smooth move.  Putting that on the table gives the only US ally even potentially willing to contribute to a military operation that much more reason to pause, and the rest of the global community a chance to point out that the US hasn’t made any effort over the past year to resolve this issue peacefully.  That won’t help the White House in Congress, where the Manchin-Heitkamp approach may look a lot more rational, especially with the confused and amateurish bungling in the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, Russia and Syria have made another play for more time.  Both nations called for the return of UN inspectors to Syria for more investigation into a series of alleged chemical-weapons attacks:

Russian and Syrian foreign ministers on Monday strongly pushed for the return of United Nations inspectors to Syria to continue their probe into the use of chemical weapons and again warned Washington against launching an attack.

The statement comes as President Barack Obama, who blames President Bashar Assad for killing hundreds of his own people in a chemical attack last month, is pressing for a limited strike against the Syrian government. It has denied launching the attack, insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after Monday’s talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem that U.N. chemical weapons experts should complete their probe and present their findings to the U.N. Security Council.

“We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors,” Lavrov said.

Al-Moallem said his government was ready to host the U.N. team, and insisted that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn’t behind the attack.

He added that Syria was ready for “full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression.”

After Kerry’s statement, it’s going to be more difficult for the White House to argue that the time for diplomacy has ended.

Update: And right on queue, Russia steps into the sweet spot left by Kerry:

The Russian foreign minister says Moscow will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.

Sergey Lavrov said Monday that if such a move would help avert a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Russia will start work “immediately” to persuade Syria to relinquish control over its chemical arsenals.

Lavrov told reporters that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.

This is the difference between playing checkers and three-dimensional chess.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2

[workingclass artist on September 9, 2013 at 12:12 PM]

Well, then the Republicans should take it up and force Obama to take it. Putin is not just handing Obama an out he could swing to his advantage, but anyone who takes it up.

The sooner this issue is taken off the front burner and put on a back one to cool down, the sooner we can get back to the Obama’s scandalous activity here at home. While all attention is directed at this, those issues are languishing and you can be sure he’s still operating on many other things while everyone stares at this stupid radar screen he’s holding up and asking us to watch.

Dusty on September 9, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Moscow will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.

Yeah, that would be 2 cans of pepper spray. “Here ya go, this is all we have!”

And why not? Does anyone KNOW exactly what Assad has right now?

GarandFan on September 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Good, we have won the standoff against Assad if he has agreed to destroy his chemical weapons as just reported… That is the power of the USA, the mere threat of force and our enemies give up…

mnjg on September 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM

John Kerry: “I drew the Red Line before I didn’t draw the Red Line.”

Way to go, Lurch… Prove to ‘em that you can even out-stupid Barky.

bofh on September 9, 2013 at 1:39 PM

Democrats: Victims of Their Own Success

Now, with 46 reasons!

So desperate is this administration that it sent out Obama’s political brain, David Axelrod, to sell Syria intervention with this yesterday:

‘[We have to] tak[e] the war to Syria so we don’t have to fight it on our shores.’

- David Axelrod, Meet the Press, 8 September 2013

Yeah, if that rings the ‘Bush Doctrine!’ bell, you’d be right!

Seriously, do they think that the rest of the country has fallen down the rabbit hole with them? If so, dude, they need to lay off the White Rabbit.

Resist We Much on September 9, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Does anyone KNOW exactly what Assad has right now?

GarandFan on September 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

No, the US has even admitted that.

Resist We Much on September 9, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Not ‘cue’, Ed?

socalcon on September 9, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Obama administration takes credit for this in 4, 3, 2, …

The Russian foreign minister says Moscow will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.

Sergey Lavrov said Monday that if such a move would help avert a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Russia will start work “immediately” to persuade Syria to relinquish control over its chemical arsenals.

Lavrov told reporters that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.

socalcon on September 9, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Good, we have won the standoff against Assad if he has agreed to destroy his chemical weapons as just reported… That is the power of the USA, the mere threat of force and our enemies give up…

mnjg on September 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Um. The Russians worked that, not the poser in chief. Last I checked Obama was still pushing Congress to agree to an “unbelievably small” strike.

txhsmom on September 9, 2013 at 1:49 PM

This is the difference between playing checkers and three-dimensional chess.

I’d say that if Kerry gets the Russians and the Syrians to do what he “fumbled” them into doing, that he is the 3D chess player and they are reduced to playing checkers.

If the United States can talk itself into an accomodation which prevents the mano-a-mano military strike Mr. Obama currently seems intent on performing, it will be a win for everyone concerned.

If we strike, we will lose. But we’ve moved that big stick over right next to Syria, so anything they can do to prevent it from being used is to their benefit.

I hope this works.

unclesmrgol on September 9, 2013 at 1:51 PM

Good, we have won the standoff against Assad if he has agreed to destroy his chemical weapons as just reported… That is the power of the USA, the mere threat of force and our enemies give up…

mnjg on September 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM

This. +1000

unclesmrgol on September 9, 2013 at 1:52 PM

That is the power of the USA, the mere threat of force and our enemies give up…

mnjg on September 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Just like:

The British

The Spanish

The Mexicans

Imperial Germany

Imperial Japan

Nazi Germany

Fascist Italy

The Soviet Union

North Korea

The Viet Cong

Saddam Hussein

The Taliban

Al-Qaeda

Afghanistan

Moammar Qaddafi

AQIM

AQIL

AQAP

Iran

They all gave up after the US merely threatened them.

What a bloody maroon!

Resist We Much on September 9, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Resist We Much on September 9, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Think “Charles Atlas”.

unclesmrgol on September 9, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Resist – this would be the best of both worlds.

It gets us out a situation where our stupid president is going to force a bunch of the GOP to vote against their natural inclination to support a president in a foreign policy situation, and stop the ensuing intra party warfare.

It saves some money and buys us time until somebody much smarter comes around.

Obama can coo it was all up to him if he wants – no one believes that.

Let’s get back to 50% rate increases under Obamacare – we need more focus on that.

Zomcon JEM on September 9, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Comment pages: 1 2