Over the weekend, Kerry described the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons as “our Munich moment,” telling an audience in France, “This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter. … This is not the time to send a message where doing nothing is far more risky than responding.”
Today, Kerry—now in Britain—issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, giving him one week to turn over his complete stockpile of chemical weapons, or else. Or else what?
Kerry said the Americans were planning an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria. “We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.“
I may not have much experience with brinksmanship, but it seems to me that threatening to hit someone becomes a lot less effective when at the same time you’re telling your friends, Don’t worry, I’m not going to hit him that hard. And convincing the public that this situation is analogous to the buildup to the largest war in human history is difficult when you’re also saying that an “unbelievably small” effort will be sufficient to deal with it. Given the blows the Assad regime has already absorbed over the last two years, it’s hard to imagine statements like these changing his thinking.
Meanwhile, Obama did interviews with several media outlets today, including – GASP – Fox News – and has said the United States is giving “serious thought” to a proposal crafted by …. Russia …. that could maybe steer all parties involved back on to the diplomatic route rather than a military one:
President Obama on Monday took a sharp turn away from his “red line” threat to Syria on the eve of taking his case to the American people, saying in an interview with Fox News that he’s open to negotiations on an alternative plan that could avert a military strike.
The president was responding to a proposal, formally put forward by the Russians, to have the Assad regime turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
“We will pursue this diplomatic track,” Obama told Fox News. “I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way.”
The president, while saying his advisers would “run to ground” that proposal, indicated he still wants Congress to debate a resolution to authorize a strike against Syria. “I think it is important for us not to let the pedal off the metal when it comes to making sure they understand we mean what we say,” Obama said.
But the president’s decision to pursue the diplomatic track is a departure from his decision more than a week ago to pursue a military strike. And it could bring the temperature down a notch in the ongoing stand-off between his administration and the Assad government.
The president’s comments come after a proposal to have the Syrian government relinquish control of its stockpile quickly caught fire in the international community and in Washington.
As the United Nations secretary-general and several U.S. allies gravitated toward the proposal, the Obama administration conceded that it would seriously consider it.
Obama went further in his interview with Fox News.
“I welcome the possibility of the development,” he said. “We should explore and exhaust all avenues of diplomatic resolution to this.”
He said the U.S. should be able to get a “fairly rapid sense” of how serious the proposal is. “We are going to be immediately talking to the Russians and looking for some actual language they might be proposing,” he said.
Got that? Russia is at the table. As a potential peacemaker/mediator. You can’t make this stuff up!
What the real issue here for President Obama and why he is “seriously” considering the Russian proposal is that a majority of the American people do not support US military intervention in Syria, and the President does not have the support in the US House he would need to authorize some type of resolution of force. His addressing the American people tomorrow night in a televised speech on the matter is unlikely to change any of this. Taking the Russian proposal under “serious” consideration is just a way for him to save face after the domestic and international PR nightmare this administration’s public statements on Syria have become.
Speaking of, I’d have never guessed that cream-puff Sec. of State Kerry would take the “walk softly and carry an ‘unbelievably small’ stick” approach to describing the possibility of US military action. You? /sarc
(Cross-posted from my blog)