The Ugly, Disorganized Obama Victory on Syria

The president on Sunday took credit for an apparent diplomatic solution to Syria’s chemical weapons.

Syrian demonstrators carry an image of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration against U.S. military action in Syria, Sept. 9, 2013, in front of the White House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 15, 2013, 6:47 a.m.

If there’s one thing that Wash­ing­ton can agree on right now, it’s that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hand­ling of the chem­ic­al-weapons at­tack in Syr­ia has been any­thing but or­derly.

After weeks of a con­cer­ted ef­fort on be­half of the pres­id­ent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion to push for a mil­it­ary re­sponse to the As­sad re­gime’s al­leged use of chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia, there might be a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion that could make the re­gion safer.

But up to this point, the pro­cess was marked by delayed re­sponses, double stand­ards, fail­ing con­gres­sion­al sup­port, mixed mes­sages, and ap­par­ent gaffes. Even Pres­id­ent Obama agrees that the pro­cess hasn’t been without is­sue. However, that doesn’t mat­ter, he said on Sunday.

“I think that folks here in Wash­ing­ton like to grade on style. So had we rolled out something that was very smooth and dis­cip­lined and lin­ear, they would’ve graded it well even if it was a dis­astrous policy. We know that be­cause that’s ex­actly how they graded the Ir­aq war,” Obama said on ABC’s This Week. “I’m less con­cerned about style points, I’m much more con­cerned about get­ting the policy right.”

And that’s what the pres­id­ent thinks he has right now: a policy vic­tory through a rocky pro­cess.

On Sat­urday, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry and Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lav­rov agreed on a frame­work to re­move or des­troy all Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons by the middle of 2014. This happened on the third day of ne­go­ti­ations in Geneva.

The plan is am­bi­tious, however, and is de­pend­ent on sev­er­al factors, not least of which is keep­ing Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad to his word. In the com­ing week, As­sad will have to provide a “com­pre­hens­ive list­ing” of its chem­ic­al weapons stock­pile. The deal also in­volves a United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tion and an in­spec­tion of all chem­ic­al weapons sites. Ad­di­tion­ally, all equip­ment to arm or make chem­ic­al weapons must be des­troyed by Novem­ber.

This could prove dif­fi­cult, see­ing as though there are 1,000 tons of chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia, housed in 45 sites, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial speak­ing to The New York Times.

And what about the U.S. mil­it­ary op­tion? The pres­id­ent said the U.S. still re­serves the right to use force if the dip­lo­mat­ic op­tion fails. Plus, he says, if it wer­en’t for the threat of force, this solu­tion might not have been pos­sible. In a mat­ter of weeks, Syr­ia has not only ac­know­ledged that it has chem­ic­al weapons, but it is will­ing to join the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity and des­troy those weapons. To Obama, the U.S. is “in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion.”

“I think we have the pos­sib­il­ity that it doesn’t hap­pen again,” Obama con­tin­ued on ABC. “The dis­tance we’ve traveled over these last couple of weeks has been re­mark­able.”

House In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Mike Ro­gers, R-Mich., though, would dis­agree with that claim. To him, it’s “a Rus­si­an plan for Rus­si­an in­terests.”

“If the pres­id­ent be­lieves a cred­ible mil­it­ary force helps you get a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion, they gave that away in this deal,” Ro­gers said on CNN’s State of the Uni­on on Sunday.

Obama, on the oth­er hand, said he doesn’t view this is­sue as black and white between Rus­sia and the U.S. “This is not the Cold War,” Obama said. And though Obama doesn’t “think that Mr. Putin has the same val­ues that we do,” the pres­id­ent wants Rus­sia to be in­volved in is­sues where there is shared in­ter­ested.

And still, one of the more press­ing is­sues with this dip­lo­mat­ic deal is the stand­ing that it gives As­sad to con­tin­ue his reign in Syr­ia, at least un­til this chem­ic­al weapons is­sue is re­solved. However, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion still says it sup­ports the mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion. In the heart of the ne­go­ti­ations between Lav­rov and Kerry, the U.S. an­nounced it would im­me­di­ately start arm­ing rebel fight­ers.

But after 100,000 people were killed and 6 mil­lion people dis­placed, this latest dip­lo­mat­ic move by the U.S. and Rus­sia could set the frame­work to a polit­ic­al set­tle­ment in the Syr­ia civil war, the pres­id­ent con­tends. 

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4440) }}

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×