Now I’m thinking maybe we should bomb Assad just to spite Putin.
What’s the point of proposing a “weapons inspection” charade if you’re not prepared to string it out for awhile?
Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria’s chemical weapons’ stocks, France’s foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.
“As I understood, the Russians at this stage were not necessarily enthusiastic, and I’m using euphemism, to put all that into the framework of a U.N. binding resolution,” Laurent Fabius told French lawmakers after a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
This is, I assume, a negotiation tactic by Russia designed to make sure the eventual resolution is nicely watered down before the Security Council votes. They’re willing to help Obama save face in the interest of keeping the U.S. out of Syria, but they’re surely not willing to authorize international military action against Assad if he doesn’t turn over his WMD before a set deadline. That would turn the charade of inspections into something meaningful. Remember, Russia’s not really offering to disarm Assad; what they’re offering is a de facto promise that he won’t use gas again, in the guise of him supposedly turning his WMD over to an international body. In return for making sure Assad doesn’t cross the red line again, they expect the U.S. and France not to be hard-asses at the UN about inspections and deadlines and other window dressing designed to ease this crisis. Sounds like the French are being sticklers, though. No wonder Moscow isn’t “enthusiastic.”
By the way, lest you doubt that this is all a charade, consider the logistics of having Assad hand over his weapons to the UN. Here’s Charles Crawford of the Telegraph fleshing out “the worst day in western diplomatic history”:
Chemical weapons are relatively easy to make and store (and fire), but much harder to dismantle safely. The chemicals themselves are fiendishly dangerous and need to be destroyed with specialist equipment without creating environmental hazards. Plus the explosive part of the delivery shell needs careful handling. Destroying CW stocks is therefore a complex and expensive operation, even under calm conditions. Both the United States and Russia have both heavily failed to meet internationally agreed deadlines for destroying their massive Cold War legacy chemical weapons stocks.
There is no precedent for attempting anything like this in a country wracked by civil war. It just can’t happen. No Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed or “handed over” quickly.
Meanwhile any new process of setting up an international monitoring and destruction regime will require painstaking UN and wider negotiation with the Assad regime, thereby giving Assad and his state apparatus a massive boost of renewed confidence and legitimacy. Before long Washington may find itself locked on to implicitly or even explicitly supporting Assad in his civil war as the best chance to get some sort of internationally agreed CW destruction programme delivered in Syria.
It’s doubtful that the UN knows where all of Assad’s weapons are, and even if they did, he’s not going to forfeit a prized deterrent to foreign attacks. Which is why, of course, Russia proposed the inspections scheme in the first place — it’ll achieve little while buying Assad a lot of time, conceivably, to “comply” while he’s busy crushing the Sunnis. What they didn’t bargain for is the west insisting, for now at least, on quick action and meaningful compliance. This is supposed to be kabuki to allow the west to exit semi-gracefully from the big “red line” clusterfark but the French (and the White House?) are taking it seriously. Don’t they know how to play this game?
Speaking of which, the White House isn’t still going to push for a vote in Congress, is it? The whole point of trying the “diplomatic track,” I thought, was to delay the vote indefinitely and then hope that Syria quietly fades from public consciousness. (Democrats are counting on it for the midterms!) Instead…
Senior congressional aides say a bipartisan group of senators is working on an alternative measure to a resolution authorizing U.S. military force against Syria.
The group met late Monday on a plan that would call on the U.N. Security Council stating that Syria has chemical weapons and requiring a U.N. team to remove the weapons within a specific time period, possibly 60 days. If this cannot be done, then President Barack Obama has the authority to launch military strikes.
The senators working on the proposal are Republicans John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss along with Democrats Chris Coons, Bob Casey, Chuck Schumer, Carl Levin and Bob Menendez.
Maybe the White House does still want a vote, at least in the Senate. This little Russian diplomatic reprieve may be just “reasonable” enough to reassure wavering Democrats and Republicans that they’re not voting for war, they’re merely voting to increase Obama’s negotiation leverage with Syria and Russia. It might get him to 60, and then, if/when things bog down in the Security Council again, he can attack Assad for dragging his feet while crowing that the Senate authorized him to do so. If an attack is still in the offing potentially — and the longer “inspections” take, the less likely that is as the Beltway turns to other topics — then this may be O’s last, best chance to build some congressional support. Exit question: Any chance of a House majority voting yes too?
Update: He’s just twisting the knife now:
Speaking exclusively to RT, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Syria’s chemical arms handover will only work if the US and its allies renounce the use of force against Damascus.
“Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” President Putin told exclusively to RT on Tuesday.
So the only way to make Assad comply is to remove America’s military leverage over the process, which Democrats have been touting relentlessly over the past 24 hours as proof that President Badass deserves credit for making this happen? I doubt even a chastened, humiliated O will agree to that. Exit quotation from Nancy:
Thanks to Pres. Obama's strength, we have a Russian proposal. We hope that it is credible and real, and therefore progress.
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) September 10, 2013