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home : opinion : news views April 16, 2014

9/14/2013 1:40:00 AM
Syrian Theater Plot Gets Twisted In Knots
Gary Gerard
Times-Union General Manager

The Syrian diplomacy thing has turned into some real interesting theater, hasn’t it?
I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon following President Obama’s address to the nation, which, in and of itself was one of the most unique oratories I ever witnessed, but I’ll get to that later. First, I’d like to touch on Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks.
The guy made a comment to a reporter that, within hours, became a legitimate policy position. Weird.
Kerry, basically in a shoot-from-the-hip screw-up says that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad could avoid the U.S. lobbing cruise missiles at him if he just gives up all his chemical weapons.
As if that would ever happen.
The State Department, likely aghast by the off-the-cuff hypothetical diplomacy of taking military action off the table, walks back Kerry’s blunder.
A statement is issued saying Kerry’s remarks were “rhetorical” because it was an “impossibility” and an “unlikelihood” that Assad would turn over chemical weapons that – at that point in the discussion – he says he doesn’t even have.
(Hey, State Department, which is it, by the way? Because “impossibility” and “unlikelihood” are mutually exclusive terms.)
So, basically, Kerry offers up an unofficial “out” for Syria. Enter Russian strongman Vladamir Putin who probably rubbed his chin and said, “Hmmmm.”
He jumps on Kerry’s hypothetical offer and gets Assad to play along.
Sure, Assad will give up all his chemical weapons and place them under international control for destruction.
Problem is, nobody believes Assad will give up all his chemical weapons. In fact, CNN’s Arwa Damon – a trusted, veteran Middle East correspondent –  reported that he probably couldn’t, even if he wanted to.
From CNN:
“Syria is believed to have one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world,” Damon reported. “It is a war zone. You can’t just walk in there, secure them, load them on to a bunch of trucks and ships and take them out of the country to be destroyed.” She continued, “They’re presumably going to have to be destroyed on site in the midst of a civil war.”
Damon estimated a peacekeeping force of 200,000 would be required to protect international weapons inspectors overseeing this “solution.” The inspection team itself, she said, would “number in the thousands.”
Beyond that, since the West began threatening action against Syria, the Assad regime has dispersed its chemical weapons all over the country. “So, it’s a massive undertaking,” Damon reported. “And it may not even be – when it comes to the logistics – actually realistic and executable by any stretch of the imagination.”
Are you with me so far?
So suddenly, within hours of the Kerry gaffe, Assad is accepting a nonsensical offer the Obama administration never intended to make in the first place and our government officials are saying they’re “taking a hard look” at the Russian/Syrian proposal.
So now, Assad can offer up a few WMDs and stall the whole process. In a few weeks or months, nobody in Congress or anywhere else for that matter will be up for “punishing” Assad with military action.
In the meantime, the Guardian newspaper reported for playing nice with Russia, Assad gets some pretty sweet weapons shipments, including a couple dozen Mig-29 jet fighters.
And it’s not likely anyone will stand in the way of the arms deal because, after all, Putin just averted a military strike with his deft diplomacy.
Wow.
Now, the speech.
Obama started out by telling the American people of the horrors of civil war. He did a pretty good job of explaining that Assad is a brutal dictator who has killed more than 100,000 people. He also talked succinctly about WMD and the atrocity of gassing women and children. I also thought he did a pretty good job of explaining how this affects a wider region and how it could, at some point, affect the U.S.
But then after that, he lost me.
The point of the speech, I thought, was to “move the needle” of public opinion and subsequently convince Congress to vote in favor of military intervention.
Instead, he told America he’s buying in – at least he says he’s buying in – to the whole Putin/Assad ruse. And then he tells Congress to delay a vote on the very policy he was trying to convince the public to support.
It’s a lot like last week, when, at the last minute, he asked for Congressional authority after spending a week trying to convince the nation he didn’t need it.
I believe this president’s foreign policy is in shambles and, apparently, America tends to agree.
According to a Reason-Rupe poll, 64 percent of those polled, including 68 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats, believe President Obama’s handling of foreign policy is worse than, or the same as, former President George W. Bush’s handling of foreign policy.
An upside to all this is that it looks unlikely that we will be bombing Syrian anytime soon, which I thought was a bad idea.
It’s not that I think Assad is a great guy. I’m just afraid that the person who follows might be even worse.





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