Is the US-Russia deal on Syria's chemical weapons the right move?
Tom Rogan: 'Putin's victory is a catastrophe for the US'This isn't a deal, it's a disaster. To quote Ali Haidar, a Syrian minister, "It's a victory for Syria that was achieved thanks to our Russian friends." Forget the Washington, DC spin, the reality of this moral and strategic fiction is abundantly clear. A blending of brutality and political impotency has pummeled America into submission.
The deal from Geneva will reap a terrible whirlwind. Its immediate victim will be the Syrian people. Basically, Assad is earning a prize for his use of chemical weapons: freedom from American intervention, freedom to massacre. The Obama administration might churn their "credible threat" talking points, but the despot knows better. Like the rest of the world, he's seen the truth.
America has kneeled in the face of gross slaughter.
Inspired by Obama's weakness and sheltered under President Vladimir Putin's shield, Assad will use Geneva's inspection protocols as a merry-go-round of distraction and feigned sincerity. He knows his noncompliance risks only "measures".
Measures: diplomatic speak for something short of something. This is what American diplomacy has become, the realization of a Team America satire. But this is real and for Syrian civilians, the consequences will be anything but funny. In America's absence, Assad's allies are likely to redouble their support for his cause.
For their own reasons, they have no interest in a drawn-out civil war. Now, thanks to Geneva, they've gained an opening to unimpeded slaughter. Consider that the deadline for the weapons to be removed isn't even until "mid 2014".
But it's not simply the civilians who'll suffer. This deal is a brutal blow to the nationalist rebels. Disillusioned by global lack of concern and supplied with pathetic crumbs of American support (remember the US weapons only started arriving to "arm the rebels" mere days ago), Syrian rebel formations will struggle to counterbalance their jihadist opposites.
After all, states like Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia care far less where their money/munitions end up, just as long as the receiving party stands proxy against Iran. Expect this latest from Geneva to facilitate fresh sectarian horrors.
Unfortunately, Putin's victory is also a catastrophe for the United States. In acquiescing to the most blatant challenge to American power, Obama has trumpeted the collapse of American resolve. Far beyond Syrian borders, we're already seeing the impact of his fateful decision.
For a start, Iran is gleefully hinting at a resumption of nuclear talks. That might sound good, but without fear of American military action, the probability of diplomatic success is almost nonexistent. Indeed, Binyamin Netanyahu's remarks on Sunday were no coincidence. As the Israeli prime minister said:
[Israel] will have to be ready to defend itself, by itself, against all threats.Incredibly, the White House seems desperate to reinforce this security dilemma; while US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to persuade Israel of America's unwavering resolve, Obama is offering his hand to the Iranian president.
And don't forget North Korea. They're ready for the next chapter of their favorite geopolitical game: nuclear brinkmanship.
By sucking the United States into an overtly dysfunctional UN framework, Putin has tied American power to the procedural absurdity of the UN. The significance of this development should not be underestimated. In essence, the Russian leader has established a new international order, an order defined by his personal preferences. Obama might thank Putin for releasing him from leadership, but his choice will come at a dear cost.
In Geneva, the foundational underpinning of American diplomacy was gutted. Now, unable to trust in America's word, from the EU to Israel, from Jordan to Japan, long-cultivated trust has been diluted.
In the end, the American people have gained only one thing from this sordid saga, a hard truth: the crystallized understanding that an administration which once promised to change Washington and the world now considers political spin to be more important than a just international order.
Michael Cohen: 'A big win for the idea of coercive diplomacy'Over the weekend, the US and Russian governments announced a deal to secure Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons. The title of the agreement is the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, but really, it should have been called "Finding a Pony in a Pile of Horse Manure".
After a series of political and diplomatic mistakes – and one of the more unfortunate foreign policy speeches ever delivered by President Obama – the White House has found itself with an agreement that not only fulfils its key policy goals in Syria, but is a far better outcome than anyone could have imagined possible just a few a weeks ago. When president spoke to the American people last week about his plans to use military force against Syria he said:
[T]he purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime's ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.The framework agreement meets all of these goals – without firing a shot. First, an agreement to turn over chemical weapons (CW) to international inspectors will quite obviously degrade the Assad regime's ability to use them (they won't have them to use). Second, by forcing Assad to agree to a deal that surrenders one of the key weapons in his arsenal is a humiliating about-face for the Syrian regime. It is also a clear sign to future tyrants that there will be international penalties for actions on the battlefield that go so far beyond widely-accepted global norms.
From a deterrence standpoint, the outcome is far better than one in which the US would have fired a few cruise missiles at Syrian military installations. Such a result could have led to a multitude of unintended consequences, including a refusal by Assad to abandon the use of chemical weapons.
This deal, however, makes it far more likely that Assad will cease and desist on chemical weapons, because the deal makes Russia the de facto guarantor of Syrian compliance. If Assad were to use CW again, it would put Russia in the uncomfortable diplomatic position of having to defend the indefensible.
Worse (from Putin's point of view), it would embarrass Moscow by demonstrating it can't control its own allies. Considering how reliant Syria is on Russia's diplomatic support, it's very hard to imagine Assad would do anything to undermine that relationship. Especially when noncompliance would give the US a clear casus belli to use force against him.
The use of force against Syria might have degraded the Assad regime's ability to wreak havoc. And it might have sent a strong message about the unacceptability of CW use. But there is no chance it could have had as wide-ranging and positive impact as this deal potentially has.
Those are the immediate accomplishments, but there are others. The initial decision by President Obama to work outside the UN system in punishing Syria threatened to undermine international law in defense of a larger global norm. This agreement, however, has the opposite effect. It strengthens the international system by pressing for Syrian accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (already one of the most successful global disarmament agreements). It also bolsters the authority of the UN security council and the United Nations in general, by giving them the power to implement the deal.
Next, the agreement is a big win for the idea of "coercive diplomacy". Beyond the obvious point that a diplomatic solution is almost always better than a military one, Obama has demonstrated how even the threat of force can be a useful tool in achieving positive foreign policy outcomes. It is hardly surprising that the "US Should Bomb More Stuff" contingent, led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, think this is a terrible deal.
Moreover, this entire episode has strengthened Congress's foreign policy role and weakens the executive branch's ability to wage war in cases where to do so goes against public approval and the will of Congress. (Granted, President Obama, and future presidents, might not see this in similarly rosy terms.)
Clearly, this is also a win for Russian diplomacy. Bizarrely, this is being presented by some commentators as a negative. But getting Russia to operate inside the international system and work constructively to uphold international norms – while also sharing the burden of global leadership – is altogether a positive, particularly for the United States. Russia is hardly a threat to the US, and moves that further co-operation between the two countries – especially after the recent unpleasantness over L'affaire Snowden and the canceled summit – are in both countries' mutual interests.
Finally, while this will not end the civil war in Syria, it will take one of Assad's most dangerous weapons off the table. This and the international pressure could begin to shift his calculus toward seeking a political resolution to the conflict. At the very least, Russian-US co-operation could give impetus to a fresh round of diplomacy to resolve the conflict.
That is a long-shot goal – and one that will likely not occur without, tragically, more blood being spilled. Nonetheless, it is a more likely scenario than was the case two weeks ago. For that, the Obama administration – even with its other failures on Syria policy – deserves credit.