A rapid-fire succession of events on Monday has to leave observers of U.S. foreign policy questioning what’s really going on in regard to the proposed strike on Syria. The developments raise questions about what it is that President Obama wanted all along and whether he is actually a diplomatic genius who has been able to steer events in a direction that virtually guarantees the U.S. will not go to war.
At a news conference in London, early Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked if Syrian President el-Assad could do anything to avert a U.S. missile strike on his country. Kerry replied:
Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.
Maybe not, but Syria’s staunchest ally, Russia, immediately seized upon the idea. A few hours after Kerry’s statement, Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov made one of his own, during an unscheduled briefing:
We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus. And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.
Shortly after THAT development, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, issued a statement that his government welcomes the Russian suggestion.
Meanwhile, back in the States, President Obama undertook a series of television interviews — with ABC, NBC, CNN, PBS, and FOX — purportedly to shore up support amongst the American public for a military strike on Syria before he addresses the nation on Tuesday. A new poll by the Pew Research Center/USA Today, also released on Monday, shows that 64 percent of Americans now oppose such a strike.
On ABC, the President said that if Russia and the Syrian government prove they are serious about putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control in an “enforceable and verifiable” way, he will hold off on a military attack. On CNN, Obama stated:
I think it’s certainly a positive development when … the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years.
As the President’s round of interviews was unfolding, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suddenly announced that he is delaying the vote on the proposed military strike. A procedural vote had been scheduled for Wednesday, but now has been put off indefinitely. In making the change, Reid said:
I don’t think we need to see how fast we can do this. We have to see how well we can do this matter.
How well things moved Monday was extraordinary, like dominoes falling, each one toppling the next — from Kerry, to Russia, to Syria, to Obama, to Reid. Is this a serendipitous convergence of suddenly, inexplicably, like-minded leaders? Or is there more to this story than meets the eye?
The question comes to mind of whether there has been a diplomatic strategy all along, worked out behind-the-scenes, among a diverse cast of characters. Did Obama take the issue of a strike to Congress precisely for this reason — to allow time for cooler heads to prevail and for a non-violent option to emerge, perhaps an option he had in mind from the very beginning? Was it an end run around the hawks and the lobbyists, like AIPAC — a maneuver that urged a strike in order to show strength, but ultimately intended to achieve a different, better outcome?
If Obama is the mastermind behind a complicated chess game that ends with a viable political/diplomatic solution, rather than a military one, he may just be a diplomatic genius.
Here’s the video: