Announcing a deal with Russia on disarming Syrian chemical weapons in Geneva today, Secretary of State John Kerry touted the plan offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week. Threatening Syria with air strikes, President Barack Obama deferred the action to Congressional approval, knowing full-well that Congress would not pass a use of force resolution. When Obama asked the Congress Aug. 31 to debate the resolution, the White House officials backed out of the president’s promise to use force to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. When East Damascus was hit Aug. 21 with the worst poison gas attack since the late Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in 1988, Obama was forced reluctantly to act on his promise about crossing “red lines.” Since Obama knew opposition in Congress, punting the matter to Capitol Hill prevented the air strikes.
Kerry’s deal announced today officially ends any real chance that the U.S. would intervene militarily in Syria. “The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” said Kerry, completing the face-saving way out for his boss. Whether Kerry and his Russian counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov celebrate a diplomatic coup or not, Obama faces a backlash for his management of the Syrian crisis. While all the hoopla goes on in Geneva, the Syrian army continues shelling civilian areas, killing more civilians and displacing thousands more. Kerry’s Geneva deal doesn’t address the ongoing civil war other than restarting talks to schedule a future peace conference. “There can be no games. No room for avoidance or anything less that full compliance by the Assad regime,” said Kerry, know about reports that al-Assad has already removed and hid chemical weapons.
Making a deal with Russia doesn’t assure that al-Assad won’t play games trying to save, to the greatest extent possible, his chemical weapons arsenal. Obama expressed satisfaction with Kerry’s deal, knowing members of Congress, especially Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) practically promised Free Syrian Army’s Brig. Gen. Salim Idris strategic air strikes. Without tipping the battlefield, U.S.-backed Syrian rebels face an uphill battle trying to topple al-Assad. Eliminating al-Assad’s chemical weapons doesn’t stop the massacre of Syrian civilians with conventional weapons, actually helped by the recent U.S.-Russian accord. Focusing on al-Assad’s chemical weapons doesn’t begin to address the lopsided military action against Syrian rebels, now at a distinct disadvantage in the two-and-a-half-year conflict. Both the U.S. and Russia looked for as face-saving way out.
When Putin dispatched six Russian warships to the Eastern Mediterranean, the world braced for another 1962-like Cuban Missile Crisis. While both nations eventually blinked, it was Obama who blinked first, readily accepting an out from military conflict. “I’m pleased that President Vladimir Putin took the initiative,” said Kerry. “And President Obama responded and we’re here,” referring to the agreement that put a hold indefinitely on U.S. air strikes. Because of the agreement, Obama will be less inclined to supply the Free Syrian Army with more arms to battle the al-Assad regime. Had Obama not agreed to supply arms to Idris June 14, Putin would have handed over National Security Agency leader Edward Snowden on a silver platter. Now that Obama’s signed onto a Syrian disarmament deal, it’s far more difficult to supply arms to Idris or any other U.S.-backed rebel group.
No one feels the sting of Obama’s policy more than McCain who practically promised U.S. air strikes to tip momentum toward U.S.-backed rebels. Calling the Geneva peace deal a “waste of time,” Idris sees nothing good to come of the agreement. “Fighting the regime and work for bringing it down” goes on said Idris. Before the Aug. 21 Sarin nerve gas attack, al-Assad was gaining an upper hand pushing back Syrian rebels. With the new agreement, the White House is going to be hogtied supplying arms to U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. “Use of force is clearly one the option that may or may not be available to the Security Council,” said Obama, knowing that a Russian veto awaits on the Security Council. Overwhelming number of Americans—an representatives in Congress—oppose any military action in Syria on the principle that the U.S. can no longer play the world’s policeman
Kerry’s agreement got Obama off the hook for his reluctance to intervene unilaterally in Syria. However the White House spins the Syrian mess, Obama ends up looking weak and indecisive. Deferring to Congress Aug. 31 may have been the wisest move but caught Obama’s critics and supporters off guard. “There’s no military solution to the conflict, it has to be political,” said Kerry in Geneva after committing the U.S. to Putin’s peace plan of disarming Syria’s chemical weapons. U.S.-backed Syrian rebels like Brig. Gen. Idris feel like the rug was pulled out from underneath their fight to topple al-Assad. Convening a long-awaited peace Syrian peace conference with U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi won’t stop al-Assad from massacring more Syrian civilians with conventional weapons, nor will it stop the Saudi-funded insurgency that promises more terrorism on Syrian soil.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.