Maybe the new White House strategy is to lose so much U.S. credibility through Obama and Kerry sounding like morons that Congress has no choice but to support bombing in order to get some of it back. Proposed White House sales pitch: “Vote yes and we’ll shut up.”
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday said it welcomed a Russian proposal to avert U.S. military strikes by having Damascus turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors.
The statement by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Moscow offered the first indication that a diplomatic solution may be possible to the international standoff that has evolved since apparent chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held suburbs outside Damascus on August 21…
Moualem said Syria “welcomes the Russian initiative,” but did not say whether his country would agree to what Russia was asking. “We also welcome the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is trying to prevent American aggression against our people,” Moulaem said.
Hours earlier, in London, Secretary of State John F. Kerry sketched out a similar transfer-of-control scenario, then dismissed it, after being asked by a reporter whether there was anything that Assad could do to avoid an attack. “Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay,” Kerry said. “But he isn’t about to.”
This proposal is being taken sufficiently seriously at the UN that Ban Ki-Moon called it something the Security Council might potentially unite around. So now, thanks to Kerry, Assad might be able to follow the Iranian nuclear script to stave off a U.S. attack — agree to “dialogue,” wrangle over inspections, and then stall, stall, stall while his enemy’s will to act gradually erodes. The State Department, backed into a corner by the boss’s idiocy, now has no choice but to agree to take a “hard look” at the proposal, but at this afternoon’s briefing the department’s line on what Kerry said is that .. yeah, he’s kind of an idiot:
Harf: Kerry "was making a rhetorical statement about a scenario that we think is highly unlikely." Translation: he gaffed.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) September 9, 2013
Harf: Kerry's statement was "hypothetical." #wow
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) September 9, 2013
Our “moderate” Syrian rebel allies are naturally furious that the big bombing run might be suspended over this.
Here’s the thing, though: Doesn’t the Russian proposal get Obama what he ostensibly wants, i.e. an Assad who’s afraid to use chemical weapons again? O doesn’t care if Assad keeps his weapons; he doesn’t even care if he uses them, provided he does so on a small enough scale that deniability is kinda sorta plausible. See, for example, this new LA Times report about how U.S. intelligence had a strong suspicion as far back as last summer, before O issued his “red line” ultimatum, that Syrian troops were gassing people. The Damascus attack wasn’t a gamechanger because it was novel, it was a gamechanger because it was so big that Obama would be humiliated if he didn’t respond. Now here’s Russia seizing on Kerry’s gaffe as a way to keep the U.S. off its turf, essentially guaranteeing that Assad won’t use gas again via the fiction of Syria turning over its weapons or whatever. Big question for Obama now: Is it more important to him to de-escalate this conflict that he bumbled into, even if it means losing face by letting the Russians bail him out, or is it more important to restore his “credibility” by punching Assad regardless of what that might mean for the conflict blowing up? If he accepts Russia’s “offer,” he’s endorsing the charade that Assad will voluntarily disarm in exchange for a de facto promise that he won’t gas people again. If he rejects it, he still has to deal with a congressional headache, the headache of organizing military ops, etc. How much face is The One willing to lose to Putin after the Snowden humiliation? More face than he’s willing to lose after his big push in Congress ends up failing miserably?
Update: Via Breitbart, the Senate’s leading opponent of the war sees a way out:
“I think it would be a great step forward if Assad were willing to do it and if Russia were willing to monitor it or an international authority with Russia,” Paul, an outspoken opponent of U.S. military strikes in Syria, said in a phone interview with Breitbart News on Monday. “I think part of diplomacy and getting things to work is allowing people to save face. If there’s a way Russia can save face in this thing and be part of an international coalition, that’s what we should shoot for.”
“I think one of the biggest problems with bombing Assad is that if we bomb Assad and we destabilize the chemical weapons and they become loose within the country and al Qaeda gets access to them, then I think that’s the real disaster,” Paul explained. “Even [Secretary of State John] Kerry admitted it would take 75,000 American troops to secure these weapons, and that’s what I’ve been saying all along—that bombing may actually lead to more instability.”
“But having an international body take control of the chemical weapons would add much greater stability, and I think it would be a benefit for all of us if that would happen,” he added.
Update: Emily Zanotti of Naked DC summarizes the case for accepting Russia’s offer: “Sure, we’ll probably look kind of stupid, but we already look kind of stupid, and as the Administration slams head first into a likely ‘no’ vote on a use of force authorization, being caught with our pants down now, before we commit our armed forces and risk American lives might not be such a bad thing.”