The United States and Russia announced an agreement Saturday, Sept. 14 that calls for the identification and seizure of Syria's chemical weapons and also orders Syria to account for its entire arsenal of those weapons within one week.
In a statement released by the White House, President Barack Obama said the deal "represents an important concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed."
While the agreement appears to indefinitely postpone the threat of a military strike against Syria by the US, President Obama also warned, "There are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed to today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."
Russia remains steadfast in its opposition to any military action, and had said before the talks that the negotiations could not take place under the threat of a UN resolution that would authorize a military option.
Polls show the vast majority of Americans overwhelmingly oppose any military action against Syria by the US.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the announcement during a joint press conference at the site of talks between the US and Russia in Geneva, Switzerland. The pair set out a series of steps the Syrian government must follow, including a demand that Syria either turn over or destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons by mid-2014.
The deal has finally given President Obama a way out of a foreign policy mess he set in motion in Aug. 2012 during a speech on the threat of chemical weapons' use in Syria. This speech marked the 'red-line' set by the president when he said, “A red-line for us...there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculus, or calculations, significantly."
Many political observers have posited the theory that the 'red-line' remark was made 'off-teleprompter' by President Obama, and was not intended to be a part of his speech on Syria. This raises the possibility that the president may have believed the Syrian government would never actually use chemical weapons due to the threat of a strong response from the international community, and this gave him an opportunity to appear tough on the world stage.
It is a glaring example of President Obama's inexperience when it comes to foreign policy, and how that inexperience could easily have led to a major war that may well have caused the deaths of untold numbers of innocent people, for no other reason than to allow the president to 'save face.' It shows he had little or no understanding at the time of how one small, off-the-cuff remark can lead to enormous consequences. Hopefully he has learned that there was much more at stake than one man's image and bruised ego.
While the US contends that Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb in July of this year, the Russians and others claim there is solid evidence that it was actually Syrian 'rebels' who used the weapons. Anti-Assad forces in Syria may well have used the weapons in response to President Obama's 'red-line' being drawn in an attempt to draw the US into the conflict.
In fact, before the uproar over the chemical attack in July, the Syrian government claimed that rebel fighters used chemical weapons against government forces during fighting outside of Aleppo in May 2013, an attack they say killed 26 people. The Assad government wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asking him to send in a team of investigators to confirm the attack. Where was President Obama's outrage over the use of chemical weapons then?
With questions surrounding who was actually responsible for the attack, and Americans already war-weary after more than a decade of war in the Middle East, the president was unable to drum up support for another war in yet another middle-eastern nation.
Once President Obama realized he had little support from the American public or the world community, he was backed into a corner and seemed to be squirming to find a way out.
US Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have accidentally opened the door that ultimately led to today's agreement with a gaffe. When he was asked by a reporter earlier this month how Syria could avoid a US strike, Kerry responded by saying that Assad "could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week." No sooner than the words had left his mouth, Kerry seemed to try to withdraw the offer by saying, "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done."
Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly immediately jumped on the gaffe as an opportunity to gain the upper hand on the Syria issue, and offered to broker such a deal.
This began a series of twists and turns in the plot that saw President Obama begin to backpedal. He was forced to suspend a strike that at the time appeared to be imminent, and then announced to the nation that he would await approval from Congress before deciding on a course of action.
Today's deal may have given President Obama a way out of the Syrian mess, and it is already being spun as a diplomatic victory for President Obama, but the whole debacle has further tarnished his image in the minds of most Americans, and may well have weakened his presidency. He has certainly lost credibility and respect not only at home, but abroad as well.