From the start, President Obama’s confrontation (for want of a better word) with Syria’s Assad was odd, then meandering and contradictory, but always somewhat mysterious.
What was Obama’s goal? Was it just to appear a certain way for political reasons? Or did he think bluster would actually work to cow the Syrian dictator? Or was he in fact intent on actually attacking Assad? Was his underlying message to Assad at all, or was it instead for Iran, or for Russia, or the low information voter, or the international audience, or some or all of the above? Was the whole thing a mostly mindless blunder or a strategic ploy of some sort?
Only the Shadow knows.
But yesterday the situation took a turn for the surreal when John Kerry casually and without much conviction called for Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to an international force and Putin said “Great idea!” I don’t have answers, but I share many of the questions Jeffrey Goldberg poses in this piece.
In addition, I’m with the first commenter to the Goldberg article:
So, throw away the reasons why what is proposed for Syria won´t work, both tactically and politically or what questions to answer to perhaps make the situation better and bring about a solution and just understand that now, today both by ridiculous and irresponsible “diplomatic error” by both Obama and Mr. Kerry, the influence on this issue and the real power now resides in Moscow and Tehran and to a smaller level, Damascus not Washington DC.
This also sets the stage for the real ending of American influence in that region.
Was this the goal all the time? Or did Obama and Kerry just wander into it serendipitously, although guided by their overarching vision of waning American influence in the world and submission to internationalism?
[NOTE: Even the usually Obama-friendly New Republic is skeptical:
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the White House was just as surprised as anyone. Asked if this was a White House plan that Kerry had served up in London, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken was unequivocal. "No, no, no," he said. "We literally just heard about this as you did some hours ago."
So that's good. At least everyone's on the same page...
Last night, President Barack Obama, who, just over a week ago, had said he was ready to act, tells the nation's cable watchers that he's now discussing this bogus plan with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he's "going to take this very seriously" while also not letting up on the drumbeat of military strikes while. On Tuesday, Syria said it had accepted Russia's proposal and France said it would seek the UN Security Council's backing for the proposal.
This, in other words, is no light at the end of the tunnel. This, to borrow a phrase from a Congressional staffer at his wits' end, "is an unmitigated clusterfuck."
Please read the whole thing; quite an interesting piece for TNR to have published. The author, Julie Ioffe, seems to think the answer to the "Obama: fool or knave?" question is most "fool." I think it's "both," and have for quite some time.]
[ADDENDUM: Politico---another ordinarily Obama-friendly venue---is likewise critical:
“As soon as I saw Kerry [make his proposal], I said: ‘He’s in trouble,’” [Lee Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations] said.
”The Russians saw the opening right away and Syrians saw the opening right away, now [U.S. officials] have got to play this card out,” Gelb said. “I think most people see the Russian and Syrian response as a canard to delay any action and maybe weaken it entirely, but nonetheless you cant now just ignore your own proposal and their acceptance of it.”
“In international politics, it’s all about who takes the initiative,” said Toby Gati, who headed up the State Department’s intelligence bureau under President Bill Clinton.
“The Russians saw this opening – and part of the appeal of the opening for them is to tie down Gulliver — that’s us. That’s why I’m concerned that this can turn into a proposal from hell,” she said.
Harsh words from a former Clinton appointee.
Hmmm—former Clinton appointee, former Clinton appointee—one could speculate that perhaps part of the agenda is for Clinton supporters to criticize John Kerry, one of her potential rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2016?]
[ADDENDUM II: More.]