CNN wonders: Can Putin be trusted?

The short answer — no. The longer answer is also no.  And pretty much all of the points in between are no as well, for all the reasons CNN lists in this report.  However, just the fact that we have arrived at the position where we have to ask that question means we’re not going to get much choice in it:

TNR’s Julia Ioffe offers the only realistic hope we have that Putin will deliver on what he proposes, which is … that we will have to all kiss his ring (or some other point on his person) from this point forward.  That only happens if Putin succeeds, which will make the US look even more rash and reckless in its rush to intervene militarily in Syria.  Putin has already won on that point, as Ioffe wrote this week and McClatchy notes today:

In one day, with one simply stated proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin turned a losing position into a winning one.

The Russians had been throwing everything they had into the arguments against military intervention in Syria. They questioned the lack of concrete evidence, and the United States and its allies countered that logic alone made the case. The Russians noted their investigation into a March chemical weapons case had laid responsibility on the rebels, and the United States pushed past without so much as a glance. Putin’s people emphasized the importance of the United Nations and the Security Council, and President Barack Obama’s administration dismissed their need.

And then on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, in what most interpreted at the time as an almost flippant response, answered a reporter’s question by saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad could avoid a military attack by handing his chemical stockpiles over to the United Nations for destruction. Hours later, the Russians said they’d made that proposal to Syria, and by Tuesday morning the Russian proposal appeared to have headed off a U.S.-led military strike.

Beyond halting the rush to punish the Syrian government for the alleged use of chemical weapons, the development cast Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, as a global peacemaker and – experts say this is not to be overlooked – embarrassed an American administration.

Marcel de Haas, a Russia expert at the Dutch Clingendael Institute, said the importance of this week’s diplomatic coup will last beyond the Syrian crisis.

“The Russians were on the sidelines,” he said. “The Kerry statement didn’t just get them back in the game, it brought them back in a position of strength. Why did Putin push so hard for matters to be determined in the United Nations Security Council? Because there alone, two decades after the collapse of his Soviet Union, was he still a superpower.”

Indeed.  Ioffe put it more efficiently in her TNR piece: Obama and Kerry got played by Putin. And now he’s the only game in town, especially after Obama’s pitch to make war and not diplomacy got overwhelmingly rejected by the American public — so overwhelmingly, in fact, that he couldn’t quite bring himself to stick with that pitch in his prime-time speech on Tuesday but hedged his bet with the Putin gambit instead.

But hey, at least we’ll be rid of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons, right?  Probably not:

“It’s a smoke screen,” said former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli of the Russian-backed proposal for international monitors to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. “Nobody knows how many weapons they have, nobody knows where they are. It all depends on the Syrians providing full, accountable transparency.”

Former State Department official Robert Joseph, who helped negotiate Libya’s agreement to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons a decade ago, also said he believes the Syrian offer is a ruse.

“I don’t think for one moment that the Syrians will give up their chemical weapons stocks. They will say they will give it up and they will play the game to undercut any support for a military strike. But they will then start to put conditions on verification and on the foreign presence in Syria,” Joseph said. “Soon, they will start in with Israel; demanding that Israel’s nuclear weapons be put on the table. All of this will lead nowhere for the United States — exactly where Damascus and Moscow want it to go.”

Congress isn’t exactly looking forward to the upcoming inspection regime, either:

Lawmakers on Wednesday raised concerns that a long, complicated effort to secure Syria’s chemical weapons could draw the U.S. into a nightmarish inspection process while Syria is engaged in a brutal civil war.

While they said avoiding U.S. military action is a positive development, some see in Syria a repeat of the drawn-out series of weapons inspections in the 12 years between the first and second Gulf Wars.

“The complexities of enforcing it are going to be massive,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In Iraq, the U.S. faced a recalcitrant dictator in Saddam Hussein who the Bush administration said obstructed efforts to inspect his suspected weapons supplies. Some see a parallel with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government has pledged to turn over its chemical weapons.

Running guns to the rebels will complicate our role in an inspection regime, too, won’t it?  Syria isn’t going to let us into their military areas while we’re arming their enemies, no matter how many cruise missiles we threaten to shoot.  That means that our need to trust the Russians and Putin will extend all the way from Turtle Bay to the ground in Syria, a position in which our feckless foreign policy will have us mired for years.

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