Syria Accepts Russia’s Chemical Weapons Plan, Setting Up a Long Day for Obama

The new proposal is gaining traction on the eve of a major address from the president.

President Barack Obama listens to French President Francois Hollande during the G-8 summit at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. The final day of the G-8 summit of wealthy nations is ending with discussions on globe-trotting corporate tax dodgers, a lunch with leaders from Africa, and suspense over whether Russia and Western leaders can avoid diplomatic fireworks over their deadlock on Syria's civil war. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
See more stories about...
Matt Berman
Sept. 10, 2013, 4:56 a.m.

Bashar al-As­sad’s gov­ern­ment in Syr­ia has agreed to a Rus­si­an plan to hand over its chem­ic­al weapons to in­ter­na­tion­al con­trol, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ia’s for­eign min­is­ter. The min­is­ter, Wal­id al-Moallem, said the agree­ment was quick and in­ten­ded to “up­root U.S. ag­gres­sion.” Rus­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sergey Lav­rov, said Tues­day that his gov­ern­ment is work­ing with Syr­ia to come up with a de­tailed plan, which will be re­vealed soon.

But that’s not all that’s hap­pen­ing this morn­ing. France is now look­ing to take a chem­ic­al-weapons han­dover plan to the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil. Un­der the plan, the chem­ic­al-weapons ar­sen­al would even­tu­ally be dis­mantled. France says that its U.N. res­ol­u­tion would re­quire “ex­tremely ser­i­ous con­sequences” if the deal is broken. The Se­cur­ity Coun­cil’s per­man­ent mem­bers — the United States, Rus­sia, the United King­dom, China, and France — all seem to be sup­port­ive of the idea, with China’s for­eign min­istry of­fer­ing late back­ing for the pos­sible deal.

In a series of tele­vi­sion in­ter­views yes­ter­day, Obama offered some sup­port for the weapons plan, but he ex­pressed strong skep­ti­cism that it would ac­tu­ally come to fruition. Obama told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “If we can ac­com­plish this lim­ited goal without tak­ing mil­it­ary ac­tion, that would be my pref­er­ence.” But then there’s the skep­ti­cism:

On the oth­er hand, if we don’t maybe main­tain and move for­ward with a cred­ible threat of mil­it­ary pres­sure, I do not think we will get the kind of move­ment I would like to see.

That’s a par­tic­u­larly tough po­s­i­tion for the pres­id­ent to be in on the eve of a tele­vised ad­dress from the White House to ex­plain what he thinks we need to do on Syr­ia. Obama is already fa­cing a pub­lic that’s largely — and in­creas­ingly — against tak­ing mil­it­ary ac­tion. And while it may seem baff­ling to some for the U.S. to wind up as a co­sign­er on a Rus­si­an plan, a new New York Times/CBS poll shows that 62 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans don’t think the U.S. should take a lead­ing role in any in­ter­na­tion­al con­flicts. With a con­sist­ent tor­rent of new de­vel­op­ments, it’s hard to ima­gine what kind of case the pres­id­ent will make Tues­day night.

But, right now at least, it’s start­ing to look as if the Amer­ic­an pub­lic may get its wish and a mil­it­ary strikemight be avoided. Some are already be­rat­ing Obama for not act­ing de­cis­ively strong enough on Syr­ia, and there’s not much doubt that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves over the past two weeks have been con­fus­ing at best. But since “strength” in this case is the un­pop­u­lar route, find­ing a way out may not be such a bad plan.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4430) }}

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
1 days ago

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.