How Putin Saved Obama, Congress and the European Union from Further Embarrassing themselves on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry was asked at a press conference in London Monday morning if there was anything that could forestall a US missile attack on Damascus, and he replied off the cuff that Syria could surrender its chemical weapons stockpile to the international community within a week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pounced on Kerry’s comment, abruptly announcing that Russia would see what it could do. Lavrov said, “If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus . . . We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,”

Syria’s portly Foreign Minister Walid Muallim clearly knows how to chow down while the meal is still hot, and he wasted no time embracing Lavrov’s suggestion. Muallim said, “The Syrian leadership welcomes the Russian initiative because of its own eagerness to preserve the lives of Syrian citizens and ensure the security of the country, and given our confidence in the desire of the Russian leadership to prevent an attack on our country.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid immediately postponed a vote on a Syria attack by his body that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

The indications were that President Obama might well not get 60 votes in the Senate for his attack on Damascus, and Reid must have exhaled a big sigh of relief. As for the House of Representatives, the likelihood of it voting to allow Obama to fire cruise missiles at Syrian targets is between slim and none.

To that extent, Putin’s suggestion (and it was his; Lavrov doesn’t have an independent power base and does as the president tells him) functions to save Obama a lot of trouble.

He can now possibly avoid the most embarrassing defeat in congress of a president on a major international issue since that body told Woodrow Wilson where he could stick his League of Nations.

Likewise, Putin’s proposal ironically helped soothe troubled waters in the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was by all accounts absolutely furious at Spain, Britain and France for issuing a statement at the G20 meeting in Moscow supportive of President Obama’s condemnation of Syria for chemcial weapons use (though they did not back a military attack on Syria). Merkel reprimanded Spain in particular for not waiting for a joint European Union statement. (For Spain to defy Germany at this point in time is rather like a deeply indebted gambler being rude to the casino owner). Spain for its part only talked a good game, going on to say that Spanish law forbade the Spanish military from in any way being involved with the US assault on Damascus, since it is not in self-defense.. It is not clear what Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was supporting at the G20, if he thinks military action so illegal that Spain has to avoid having anything to do with it. And, of course, the British Parliament had rebuked Prime Minister David Cameron for considering joining the US in air strikes on Syria.

Putin’s gambit is irresistible to the West, even if it amounts to nothing. After all, it will take time to amount to nothing, and with the passage of time the urgency of military action (already low) will dissipate irrevocably.

The Russian initiative is not attractive because it seems practical or likely to be swiftly implemented but because it allows everyone involved to save face. Obama can look statesmanlike. He is already taking credit for Putin’s move, saying it would not have come about without his own saber-rattling.

The US Congress might be able to avoid the uncomfortable position of agreeing that Syria is guilty of chemical weapons use but declining to do anything about it.

And, the European Union was desperately looking for some step that could avoid further friction within the deeply divided organization.

All this is good news for Western politicians and bad news for the Syrian rebels, who are denouncing the Russian initiative as mendacious. They had hoped that the US would degrade some key regime capabilities, especially the bombing of airports that the regime uses to resupply its troops. Of course, even before the Putin Plan, it was increasingly unlikely that Obama would gain authorization for such a step, in any case.

The one good thing about this development is that it strengthens Russia’s position with the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad and may lend new energy to Moscow’s determination to broker a compromise between the rebels and the regime.

Without a US or Western bombing campaign, the Syrian regime is likely just strong enough to hold on for years. The rebels’ advance of last spring has stalled and in some places been reversed. Some sort of negotiation now seems likely. While in my view the two sides are not yet desperate or exhausted enough to make that sort of agreement the Lebanese acquiesced in at Taif in 1989, they may be able to take small steps toward that eventual outcome, which increasingly seems the most plausible one.

96 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    While my friends at the University in Damascus will be spared US bombing, my besieged friends in Aleppo continue to starve.

    Much is being made of the difficulties of assembling and destroying the chemicals, while fighting continues, by the BBC

    Clearly stopping the fighting is the next step.

    One looks forward to some interesting arm twisting in Qatar and Riyadh

  2. Why wasn’t this solution proposed a year or more ago by any of the hundreds of politicians or Obama or any of the think tanks?

    Because they have no wisdom, nor useful intelligence.

    Looks like America is being torn apart by buffoons.

    A law degree suggests that the holder can tell great stories, is very cunning and can spin the truth. Little wisdom, but a lot of useless intelligence.

    Bar them all from political office.

    • Why wasn’t this solution proposed a year or more ago by any of the hundreds of politicians or Obama or any of the think tanks?

      Because there was no credible threat of force that would make the proposal remotely desirable for Assad or Putin.

      • But it could have been, and that is the point. The “powers” could have come together—Russia, US, Iran, EU, China and Syria, and said “put an end to this, or else THIS is what we will do.” Problem, of course, goes back to politics. Iran-Iraq-Syria want to build an oil pipeline, which would benefit Russia. Saudi Arabia and Qatar (and, the US, since these two countries are our “allies”) don’t want that. Hence the funding of rebels in the civil war. We could have put a stop to this two years ago, but money trumps everything.

    • Also, it was proposed a year ago. More than a year, actually.

      According to the White House, the US and Russia discussed it in June 2012 at that year’s G20 summit.

      But it didn’t go anywhere, because why would it? There was nothing to focus Putin and Assad’s minds on the merits.

    • why is it assumed that only the US was capable of having ideas a year ago? What’s Europe? a bunch of Nobodies?

  3. The initiative to work out a deal establishing international control over chemical weapons in Syria is certainly the solution to allowing everyone to step back from the brink. Whether it is hammered out quickly or over a lengthy period of time, or whether it is hammered out at all to everyone’s satisfaction is irrelevant. It puts everyone but the rebels in a more comfortable position.

    The Syrian rebels, of course, do not see it that way. But as I have stated before, this is not the United States’ battle. We don’t have a dog in this fight. There is no US interest that would be served by getting involved militarily in the Syrian civil war. We have managed our interests in the Near East well enough for 40 years with the Assad family in power. That Syria is an authoritarian state headed by a family of thugs is not our problem to solve.

    I expect the Syrian civil war to continue for years, with Iran supporting Assad and Saudi Arabia supporting the rebels. Much as Egypt supported the republicans and Saudi Arabia supported the royalists in the Yemeni civil war from 1962 to 1970. If one looks to history for lessons, one finds that sometimes it is best to let civil wars (and at times wars that cross international borders, such as the Congo) play out. Some end in a negotiated settlement when both sides are exhausted; and some end when one side completely and utterly defeats the other side.

    The United States should become militarily involved only when its interests are at stake, and that is not the case in Syria (or the Congo for that matter). Our role should be to provide support to the refugee camps in the region.

    • “We have managed our interests in the Near East well enough for 40 years with the Assad family in power….”

      True.

      And the same may be said for Shah of Iran, Mubarak in Egypt and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

      However, the cruel authoritarian rule of these men set in forces opposition that resulted in violent rebellions and sectarian strife. Revolution was inevitable given the repression of society in general and ethnic and religious minorities in particular.

      Secretary of State Condi Rice warned Mubarak that democratic reforms were needed two years before the Arab Spring upheavals – which he abruptly rejected.

      The Baathist regime that the Assad family has led were a product of French colonization efforts when the French recruited the Alawite minority to rule the Sunni majority.

      There have been voices of reason among the Baathist elite families that were allies of the Assad family. The Atassi clan of Homs assisted in bringing Hafez Assad to power, yet Suheir Atassi, a feminist attorney, is vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition after being an opposition voice and arrested in Homs in 2011. She is now being touted as a possible successor to President Assad in a post-Baathist government.

      The Baathists failure to institute democratic reforms has led to the violence in Syria – it was inevitable.

      • “The Baathists failure to institute democratic reforms has led to the violence in Syria – it was inevitable.”

        But it was the reality we had to deal with. And should Assad fall, the new reality may be an Islamist government that would be even more antithetical to US interests than the 40 years of the Assads. We must deal with reality regarding US interests. That does not mean we should prop up authoritarian governments, but neither does it mean we should necessarily intervene against them.

        • In this case, Bill, the administration’s policy for two years has revolved around supporting the Arab Spring faction of the FSA, and trying to weaken the Islamists.

          I think you, and Obama, have the right of this, from a national-interest perspective: the major consideration is preventing al Qaeda or affiliates from taking over the country, or getting ahold of its chemical weapons.

        • “The United States should become militarily involved only when its interests are at stake”

          Once again, which and what and where and when are those “interests,” and “why,” too, and just who are your editorial or imperial “we?” And since, as another person here observed, the history of “military” is the history of “stupid,” as so many times and in so many ways demonstrated, with the stupid excuse of the exigiences of hot combat when the biggest part is procurement and logistics and generating Milbabble, maybe “smarter” would be figuring out a way to keep the evil and greed that seem to define or characterize “US (the reification) interests” from giving the Generals a reason to Demonstrate Their Branches’ Capabilities…

          And gee, how unfortunate, how sad, how almost unfair, how pitiable, how “the US” keeps getting somehow handed, or running up against, these “realities” to “deal with,” as if they are landed on Earth from some distant planet, with no relation to anything “we” have been doing in “our interest.”

  4. I find nothing humorous in today’s reportage of government to government relationships; at least as far as America goes in its march of hegemony.
    But; I must say that Kerry’s gross incompetence and Putin’s grasp of the moment, brought an ongoing chuckle from me.
    Hammer to nail; foot to mouth; it was a true moment of levity and revelation.
    And yes, Obama is grasping this kernel, to save his political ass.

    • It’s always amusing to me to watch people respond to the Obama administration’s achievement of their long-stated policy ends by insisting that they’ve been incompetent, and sure got lucky.

    • Arn, your post had me laughing out loud. So did a Guardian poster who said “You simply couldn’t make this shit up.”

      At this point, Kerry’s best move is to just quit talking.

      • It’s always amusing, too, to follow an apologist at work. Wonder if his creds will ever be actually displayed, other than with flirtatious displays of Deep Knowledge and coy glimpses of well-turned ankle and Insider petticoat…

    • “Secretary of State John Kerry was asked at a press conference in London Monday morning if there was anything that could forestall a US missile attack on Damascus, and he replied off the cuff that Syria could surrender its chemical weapons stockpile to the international community within a week.”

      If this path to avoid war succeeds, watch Kerry take and others give him credit for it.

      • “If this path to avoid war succeeds, watch Kerry take and others give him credit for it.”

        In some sense Kerry will deserve credit. Even if his remark was off the cuff, he still provided Putin and the Russians the opening to lay out the idea of Syrian chemical weapons under international control. I agree that Kerry’s statement was further evidence of the Obama Administration’s inept handling of foreign policy, but sometimes ideas “out of the mouths of babes” gain traction. We shall see.

      • If this path to avoid war succeeds, watch Kerry take and others give him credit for it.

        Except that, once again, this proposal was already in the works when Kerry made his comment. He did not invent the idea at that conference, and the Russians didn’t seize on it as a result of his comment.

    • Thank you for this link, Smith Boy. Rank does, however, make a difference. The servicemen in this video are at risk of dying for the benefit of others; whereas, the people at the top of the chain of command have to consider their post-retirement prospects for lucrative seats on military-industrial-security complex boards.

    • Wish this sort of protest was around before the Iraq war invasion. Though the operations suggested for Syria are limited, their fears on who may benefit may not necessarily be unfounded.

      Just a casual look on some of the stories about the different oppositions in the BBC leaves little room for optimism either ways.

      Syria hostage Domenico Quirico ‘treated like animal’
      link to bbc.co.uk

      Hidden struggle among Syria’s rebels
      link to bbc.co.uk

      Syrians’ resentment at Western delay
      link to bbc.co.uk

      • Bigsaf, may I emphasize a bit from your first link?

        An Italian war correspondent held captive by multiple armed groups in Syria has spoken of how he was treated “like an animal”.

        Domenico Quirico was freed on Sunday, after being held hostage for five months along with Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin da Prata.

        In the pages of his newspaper, La Stampa, the 62-year-old described being subjected to two mock executions.

        He said his captors were “mixed-up” men consumed by the pursuit of money. “Our captors were from a group that professed itself to be Islamist but that in reality is made up of mixed-up young men who have joined the revolution because the revolution now belongs to these groups that are midway between banditry and fanaticism,” he said.

        “They follow whoever promises them a future, gives them weapons, gives them money to buy cell phones, computers, clothes.”

        Such groups, he said, were trusted by the West but were in truth profiting from the revolution to “take over territory, hold the population to ransom, kidnap people and fill their pockets”.

        link to bbc.co.uk

  5. For Spain to defy Germany at this point in time is rather like a deeply indebted gambler being rude to the casino owner

    Apart from the fact that the poor are at the mercy of the rich, the only part of the sentence that rings true is that the (casino) owners naturally made sure the odds are stacked in favor of the banks. Whoever enters their establishment and plays according to their rules will wind up indebted.

    Spain did all what it was supposed to do in our “modern” economy – so referring to them gamblers only works if we recognize all of business-as-usual as gambling. They even ran a budget surplus before the European version of the housing bubble imploded (so their debts are a consequence of the meltdown and the austerity madness it triggered).

    (Implicitly) placing the responsibility for that bubble on Spaniards is akin to saying that poor minorities in the US fleeced the banks by imposing those great subprime mortgage deals on them… or that those greedy entitled third worlders have gotten such easy money from the IMF (never mind that they have paid back twice over and are still indebted).

    So let’s watch our language even in throw-away sentences…

    • I have to defend Prof. Cole here. Spain inflated a housing bubble recklessly and allowed Construction to suck resources from other industries and even from the future, getting into (private) debt to bet home prices only rose forever. And yes, if you Play that game, bankruptcy is guaranteed!

  6. He is already taking credit for Putin’s move, saying it would not have come about without his own saber-rattling.

    And this is wrong…why? Because Russia had come down so hard on Assad before for his chemical attack?

    Credible diplomacy is backed by credible force.

    This post is like watching a suspect brag that he and good cop really put one over on the bad cop.

    • Sometimes credible diplomacy is backed by moral force and the ability to attract enough humans to a position based not on fear, threats, and money (and careers) on the simpler ground that it’s the right thing to do — maybe fortuitously consistent with a “national interest,” and that sick chestnut about all actions are based on “self-interest.”

      But in the Game Frame, that’s not possible, given the immutable definition and reality of how, pace Wikileaks, “diplomacy” is imagined and conducted. Per the Serious Players, that is, who bamboozle and cozen the rest of us, and profit personally from stirring up the flames of the ancient seductions of tribalism…

      • Yes, the sort of diplomacy that results in “International We Love Kittens Day.”

        The type of diplomacy that results in a war criminal warlord and his patron giving up their chemical stockpiles in the middle of a civil war, however, is very rarely backed by appeals to the better angels of our nature.

  7. Yesterday: So US policy is to join with Saudi Arabia and Jordan to encourage a second front at Deraa with anti-al-Qaeda fighters a la sons of Iraq …The chemical attack in Ghouta seems likely a military response to these Jordan-trained, Deraa-based guerrillas coming up into Rif Dimashq. The Obama administration’s plans for a missile strike in response to the chemical attack is part of the southern, “Sons of Syria” strategy comes because that strategy cannot succeed if the regime is allowed to use chemical weapons to level the playing field.

    Today: Without a US or Western bombing campaign, the Syrian regime is likely just strong enough to hold on for years. The rebels’ advance of last spring has stalled and in some places been reversed.

    So, which is it? Is the recent rebel advance something that the regime needs chemical warfare to fight off? Or was there no recent rebel advance, only fought off with the use of chemical weapons, and the regime won’t have a “level playing field” without them?

    • That was the question I was also pondering. When two narratives are put forward by the same players which contradict each other, suspect the stories are justification for previously determined positions.

  8. There is no possible way to confirm that Assad has relinquished all of his chemical weapons (who’s to say that Assad won’t be able to hide away a fraction of their CW somewhere?).

    Anyways, I am of the opinion that Obama knew Congress wouldn’t grant approval to “strike” so perhaps this whole quarrel with was meant to send Tel Aviv a message: that it cannot count on the United States to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

    • It’s tempting to think that. But I don’t think the Administration is smart enough to be that Machiavellian.

    • There is no possible way to confirm that Assad has relinquished all of his chemical weapons (who’s to say that Assad won’t be able to hide away a fraction of their CW somewhere?).

      UNSCOM did a very good job of this in Iraq during the 1990s.

  9. One unfortunate result is that Congress will not get the opportunity to say: it is we that get to decide matters of war and peace. That would have put a stop to the presidential “war on a whim” policy that we have had for the last few decades.

    • Actually,
      if the Congress wanted to be accountable,
      or to be held accountable,
      they could still have that debate and that vote.

  10. This shows, among other things, how much we need to revive our diplomatic corps.

    We have more people in military marching bands than in the foreign relations corps dealing with peaceful diplomacy.

  11. “(For Spain to defy Germany at this point in time is rather like a deeply indebted gambler being rude to the casino owner).”

    Thank you Prof. Cole for making me laugh in spite of all the grim context. It reminds me of that priceless line in Air America when Mel Gibson’s character says: “Well Senator, if you can’t laugh about war what can you laugh about?”

    Leaving laughing aside, I think if this (the handing over of the CWs and their destruction) is for real it’s a win win. The bloodshed cruise missiles would inevitably cause is avoided AND the world gets rid of some awful weapons. So what if the tyrant survives; some of the rebels don’t appear too appealing, especially Jabhat al-Nusra, who went on record vowing to kill more Syrians if they don’t conform to their vision of an upright Muslim.

    link to mintpressnews.com

    I hope it will work out (even though some commentators, or maybe just one commentator (Doran? or something like that) on Twitter is already denouncing it. (Btw he called western intelligence services “the best in the world”. Yeah, don’t we all remember 2002 – 2003.)

  12. “Putin’s suggestion”?

    Um, it was Kerry who brought it up first (publicly).

    Gwen Ifill ha reported that this is a solution that was discussed both at the G20 and even in the last meeting between Putin and Obama before that.

    The inherent desire to attribute Obama’s successes to luck and the work of others is becoming nauseating.

    • I forgot to ask you if you find extrajudicial killing nauseating.

      Obama is responsible for the murder (that’s what extrajudicial killing is in my world) of three US citizens violating, in the process three constitutional rights. (1. Amendment, 5th Amendment, 6th Amendment). About one – Anwar Awlaki he said it “was easy”. To justify it he used a lot of lies in a public address.

      link to youtube.com

      Another, Abdulrahman Awlaki, was an innocent teenager, who was killed together with teenaged Yemeni cousins and friends, who’s only crime was to look for his father (who had been assassinated 2 weeks earlier).

      The third one, Samir Khan, published an inflammatory jihadist newsletter and his parents had been assured by the FBI, when they inquired because they were worried, that their son had done nothing against the law.

      And all this from a constitutional law professor.

      That is something I find nauseating.

      And you?

      Constitutional rights do not to be safeguarded for people you agree with. It’s those you disagree with who need the protection of their rights.

    • And so, to sum up, the achievement of Obama’s primary foreign policy goal in Syria is not a success for the administration because RANDOM BAD STUFF ‘BOUT AMERICA.

  13. “Syria’s portly Foreign Minister Walid Muallim clearly knows how to chow down while the meal is still hot” may be the single best line I’ve ever seen written in this blog. Nicely done!

    • while my Arabic is terrible,
      I question the accuracy of that translation.
      I thought the article was implying that Mr. Moallem was eating too much.

    • Can I just ask, why do Americans especially always feel the need to insert their own pejorative description of people they don’t like when referencing what they have to say? Does it matter that Foreign Minister Muallim is “portly?” What is Assad, “Skeletor?” President William Howard Taft weighed, at one point in his presidency, 340 lbs! Can we just say “FM Muallim” and leave the adjectives out of our quotes? It gives a bit more credibility to what you might be saying.

      • because he said the portly minister knew how to ‘chow down before his meal gets hot’ meaning Syria jumped on the idea of international supervision of chemical weapons before people realized Putin raised it as a sham distraction from the daily killing and the whole idea was ‘taken off the table’. I thought it was an apt description of the greed and malice and hypocracy of the Syrian regime.

  14. I don’t suppose anyone would think that Putin and Obama may have discussed something like this off-mike at their recent meeting?

    • Russia confirms that they did:

      In a further development, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Russian president had discussed the weapons handover plan with Obama at last week’s G-20 summit.
      That shed a different light on Secretary of State John Kerry’s mention of the plan at a news conference in London on Monday. That had previously been characterized by spokesman Jen Psaki as an off-the-cuff “rhetorical argument.”

      link to worldnews.nbcnews.com

  15. I’d only argue with the origin of Putin deal. I think it may well have originated (was orchestrated?) at the g20 meeting.

  16. Yeah, but Davutoglu is already throwing tantrums and Tayyip’s convened his war cabinet. So not everyone’s happy. Killing another 22 year-old antiwar protester overnight in Hatay likely isn’t enough satisfaction for the AKP.

  17. Another thing that struck me – Putin seems to be sight more effective at reining in Russia’s Middle-eastern client state than Obama is at reining in the USA’s Middle-eastern client state.

  18. This would not have happened had President Obama taken your counsel Juan, would not have happened without the credible threat that force would be used against Syria, if not in a strike on account of the last gas attack, but then certainly account of the next one.

    I think at some level it is disingenuous for you not to concede this and very disappointing.

  19. You know what really brought this about?

    The successful isolation of Putin by Obama at the G20.

    Germany has signed on: link to reuters.com

    Note that the statement was put out while the US and Russia were discussing this proposal.

  20. Not elevating Ed Miliband to peacemaker, but it was his refusal to vote for Britain to take part in bombing Syria that pulled the rug out of the plans to set fire yet again to the Middle East. Unwitting or not, it made everyone just sit up and say ‘WTF’? Even if Blair, Kissinger and Ashdown went all ‘it’s a sad day for Britain [that we’re not going to be America’s Best Bombing Buddy this time].’

  21. “They had hoped that the US would degrade some key regime capabilities, especially the bombing of airports that the regime uses to resupply its troops.”

    A strong argument for the rebels having initiated the gas attack and not the government?

    I have always felt that it would be utterly stupid of Assad to use chemical weapons, but very tactical for others to so, blame it on Assad, and dupe the US into intervention.

    • By your “logic,” there is a strong argument that the US Navy bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

      Why not be satisfied making the very strong arguments that can be made, and have been made here by Juan Cole, against military strikes? Why are these impossibly clever conspiracy fantasies needed?

      You seem to really want to believe that the rebels and whomever they’re working with (Israelis, Qatar, the Trilateral Commission, etc.) managed to pull off one of the great hoaxes of modern times. A hoax like that would have required a great deal of planning, coordination and secrecy amongst a lot of people, all of whom would have to be incredibly competent, have no moral qualms about slaughtering their own and agree to stay silent about it forever. How likely is this? How likely that they would have fooled the NSA, CIA and the intelligence services of every country that signed the G20 statement? Or perhaps no one was fooled, and they’re all in cahoots. I know that’s fun to believe, just like it’s fun to believe Kennedy was killed by a Pentagon-CIA-Mob conspiracy instead of a single lunatic. But what’s fun to believe and what’s true rarely coincide.

      As to your feeling that using chemical weapons would be “utterly stupid” for Assad, well, that doesn’t mean it did not happen. The study of military history could be defined as the study of Stupid. It’s the norm, not an exception. People in chaotic, desperate situations, and that describes the Assad regime, do a lot of things that appear stupid. I would have thought a regime that massacres peaceful protesters by the thousands would not get credited with much intelligence.

      • “….it’s fun to believe Kennedy was killed by a Pentagon-CIA-Mob conspiracy instead of a single lunatic….”

        The House Select Committee on Assassinations in its Final Report dated January 2, 1979 found that JFK was killed by a “probable conspiracy” and cited “credible proof” that organized crime and anti-Castro Cuban exiles were involved – both groups had confirmed CIA ties at that time.

        That HSCA panel also found a probable conspiracy in the MLK shooting.

        • “The House Select Committee on Assassinations in its Final Report dated January 2, 1979 found that JFK was killed by a “probable conspiracy” and cited “credible proof” that organized crime and anti-Castro Cuban exiles were involved – both groups had confirmed CIA ties at that time.”

          That House committee report has no more value and produced no more evidence that JFK’s assassination was a “conspiracy” than any of the other “grassy knoll” conspiracy theorists. To date, there is no credible evidence that JFK was killed by any other than Lee Harvey Oswald.

  22. Meanwhile, the CIA will continue their now no longer covert operation to give weapons, training and money to al Qaeda and other rebel forces in Syria.

    But with direct Russian support, Assad will win the bloody civil war that was started by the CIA, covertly of course.

    • Not only is the CIA not arming al Qaeda forces in Syria, but they are actively working to prevent third-party arms from getting to them.

      link to nytimes.com

      And if Assad’s force felt the need to use chemical warfare two weeks ago, how much worse with their position be without them?

      • On the other hand, “First Syria rebels armed and trained by CIA ‘on way to battlefield’

        The first cell of Syrian rebels trained and armed by the CIA is making its way to the battlefield, President Barack Obama has reportedly told senators….”

        link to telegraph.co.uk (3 Sep 2013)

        “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.”

        link to nytimes.com (24 Mar 2013)

        “U.S. Begins Shipping Arms for Syrian Rebels
        CIA Aims to Vet and Train Fighters With New Weapons for Deployment by August; Saudi Antiaircraft Missiles Expected”

        link to online.wsj.com (26 June 2014)

        And a whole lot more, of course.

        Oh, you were only talking about that limited set, “al Quaeda forces.” Is there a McCainDetector that distinguishes one bearded dude with an AK or RPG and a copy of the Qu’ran yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” over and over from another, so readily? Like, the CIA has such a great track record of Arming The Right People And Teaching Them To Shoot Straight. Maybe that’s why “Pentagon may help arm Syrian rebels instead of CIA

        US officials mull increased push for moderate opposition to be armed, trained via special operations”

        link to timesofisrael.com

        It is SO hard to know what the heck is actually going on over there, isn’t it? Even the people that are supposedly “in the loop” don’t seem to know… Except that guns&money are changing hands, and sneaky-petes are “building relationships” with “Freedom Fighters!”

        Why, after the CIA “successes” in places like Notagainistan, would one possibly doubt the premise of the article cited?

        • “Oh, you were only talking about that limited set, “al Quaeda forces.” Is there a McCainDetector that distinguishes one bearded dude with an AK or RPG and a copy of the Qu’ran yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” over and over from another, so readily?”

          Do all those people look alike to you, or what?

          I’ve been posting those same links for weeks, by they way, by way of explaining why Assad’s forces did, indeed have a motive for using chemical weapons, and knocking down your silly conspiracy theory about the FSA gassing itself.

      • Today, the CIA is no longer arming tha al-Nusra and FSA, the Mercenaries they stood up into an army almost 3 years ago.

        The CIA’s new darlings are the “Sons of Syria,” whatever that means.
        I wonder if it includes any actual Syrians, or is it entirely made up of foreigners, like the “rebel” force that turned rogue that they are replacing.

        • If the CIA and other US players are moving arms onto Syrian “sovereign terrain,” and the “rebels” or “insurgents” or more neutrally or applaudingly, if you happen to like the particular image of a particular bunch, “gunmen” or “fighters” consist of anomic bunches of fluid membership under grandiose names dreamed up by “charismatic” warlords and bosses and “preachers,” and these critters morph and “ally” and re-cast themselves dozens of times weekly, and there are supply lines delivering truck and planeloads hither and yon, well then, it would seem to be hard to say with any confidence that the CIA or whoever is signing the chits for them has even the slightest bit of control of who gets “armed.” And we used to police up the battlefield arms from killed “gooks,” who were even more efficient about policing up the ones laying around dead GIs, and about cleaning out “bases” and “camps” and “LZs” they overran.

          Has anything changed in the Practice of War since Achilles stripped Hector’s corpse and dragged it around the walls of Troy?

        • No, Brian, there was never a time when the CIA was backing the Nusra Front.

          It takes a very imperialist mindset to write the people of Syria out of their own revolution.

  23. It’s possible Putin wanted to stop the US strikes from degrading Syria’s landing strips and aircraft capability, which Obama indicated were fair game in any chemical weapons attack.

    Nevertheless, Putin bought an unbelievable amount of goodwill globally. Obama should demand pay-back.

  24. I really have to smirk at how Obama may come out smelling like a rose. He had “no more quagmires” Kerry cheer leading on one hand and a do-nothing GOP congress on the other hand acting completely out of character as peaceniks of the hour.

    Domestically he gets credit for cowboy diplomacy, something that used to be the bain of all dems and plays to the moderate GOP types. Also he gets credit for “finding” a new approach so his Nobel lays tarnished but not broken.

    The US executive has a long history of foreign intervention (Yeman, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Beirut, etc.) which has to put a nervous fear into the air. If Russia was so doubtful of US intentions then why did they jump so fast at the CW removal offer?

    And as we proceed, Obama still has plenty of leverage down the road if the CW removal process starts. He can hold Russia and Assad to account for it, since they so enthusiastically want to take credit for it. Ironically it brings the US closer to Assad & Russia by forming a commitment to work internationally.

  25. Me thinks that Obama should sending his Nobel Peace Prize to so someone who actually did something toward the advancement of peace, Putin.

  26. “saved” or “enslaved”?

    Putin just (potentially) garnered a huge debt from al Assad by preserving his air bases, most of his aircraft and tons of other weaponry, allowing al Assad to continue the slaughter of Syrians.

    No wonder Putin is so slobbered over on FOX NEWS.

    • I agree with you about Russian motives. However, Russia’s getting nothing out of this war. Putin, if he is smart, should wrap himself in his new ‘humanitarian’ image and force Assad into a political settlement.

      • “However, Russia’s getting nothing out of this war.”

        Except that if Putin can ensure Assad stays in power, the Russians are assured of maintaining their Mediterranean naval base at Tartus. And just as important, they will continue to have influence in the Near East via their ally Syria.

  27. There are many interesting developments here that’s emerged from the so-called life-line from the Russians to the US/EU, besides their own divisions and relief.

    I liked the comment about Ed Miliband’s possible historic role. But another comment about Turkey’s AKP’s reaction and Middle Eastern client-states’ behaviours maybe most meaningful here on out.

    The ball has been kicked out of the Western court and into their’s…Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will certainly not settle here and probably raise the stakes one way or another…

  28. What, Professor Cole, you don’t think that Mr. Obama orchestrated this? If this happens, Barack Oboma will be the new living proof that it is better to be lucky than good.

  29. This appears to be neither a Putin gambit nor a game brinkmanship/blinkmanship by either of the two. Rather,according to the recent Obama interview on Rachel Maddow, both Russians and the US confirmed that this Chemical arsenal solution had been under discussion at least since Obama’s recent visit to Russia.

  30. It is amusing, though disturbing, that so many people are giving credit for this reprieve to Obama’s threats. The smart alecs in DC are twisting the news in this way. If obama and Putin discussed this, why didn’t
    Obama follow up? Come on, get real. It’s a chance not just to stop a deadly Middle East war (remember- russian and chinese warships are sitting in the eastern Mediterranean, too), but also to take other steps toward negotiation of a solution to this civil war.

  31. To some degree it is a pity that all senators are not being forced into a vote (so far), because it would have given us evidence of their positions on this issue. There are three for whom I have a great measure of respect on economic/progressive issues, but I fear they might march in step with the Israel lobby when it comes to war.

  32. The first news I heard about the proposal from the Russian foreign minister to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control came as “breaking news” on television. Now we are getting stories it was really Kerry who came up with the idea in London and it was really Obama and Putin at the G-20 meeting. No wonder the truth is the first casualty in war. People are so addicted to telling lies.

    • “People are so addicted to telling lies.”

      Remember Operation Northwoods? Create a false flag operation that will make it appear that Cuban forces attacked a U.S. vessel so we can then have public support to invade their country.

      It would not surprise me if the radio intercepts that were clamed to confirm use of poison gas were faked with some Arabic-speaking intelligence employees of some Western intelligence group impersonating Syrian military officials to provide “proof” of war crimes to spur a U.S. attack.

      Remember the July 1981 Iraqi nuclear reactor air assault by Israel? Israeli air force pilots spoke Arabic to fool Iraqi air controllers that they were a friendly force entering Iraqi airspace – then dropped their payload on the atomic energy-producing target.

      Decades after the fact, Israel released dubious recorded aircraft comunications of its air force to “prove” that the USS Liberty incident was REALLY an accident.

      Israel sent IDF commandos wearing Lebanese Army uniforms into Lebanon after the truce was reached ending the Second Lebanon War. This violated the Geneva Convention accords requiring soldiers to wear their nation’s military uniforms. The operation was a disaster and the IDF commander leading the assault was killed in action.

      Remember “Curveball” in Iraq? The code name was so ironic.

      Maybe the State Department should recruit used car salesmen
      to fill its highest ranks.

  33. This move will also highlight a key weakness in the US/Turkey/Saudi/French.. side. Let say tomorrow Syria gives the exact location of all its weapons. For any one to actually take them out of the country you would need to have teams that would need to go and survey the material and arrange for its transport. That requires cease fire agreements. With 100s of rebel factions that is not going to happen. Putin has helped Assad demonstrate the weakness of the anti-assad forces.

    • That the rebels, who just saw their comrades die from Assad’s chemical munitions, would refuse to allow the UN to seize and destroy the regime’s chemical stockpiles is not immediately obvious.

      • That might depend a bit on who the UN soldiers are. If they are US soldiers they might not be greeted with flowers. The link leads to a video posted on Twitter by Brown Moses. It has interviews with a number of rebels and while it is true that the interviews are in relation to an expected US bombing campaign some are less than enthusiastic about foreigners invading their country. (IIRC it was a FSA soldier who that the FSA would fight the Americans.) It is possible that I am making too much out of this but have a look, it’s a short and interesting video IMO.

        link to youtube.com

  34. It’s difficult to know what the real story is… but if the US team on Syria had really never even tested the waters to see if this outcome was possible it just goes to show how nothing has really changed.

    The CIA et al have had dozens of incidents over the years where their careful preplanning managed to completely miss an obvious and far less dangerous course of action.

    It’s the paranoia that is so common in US diplomatic calculations that leads them to ignore possible solutions – since the Rand corp latched onto Game Theory back in the cold war, they always seems to plan under the assumption that their opponent is always lying.

    So, after the Syrians indicated they would be OK with handing over their CW stocks, the prevailing opinion all over the US cable networks was ‘Well he’s probably just lying and stalling for time’.

    Once again, if you *start* with that paranoid assumption then you are never going to find the best solution for everyone.

    The *only* thing that could scuttle this plan is if the US powers decide that Assad must be hiding more WMDs somewhere, even if thorough inspections and accounting suggest otherwise. And you can see this idea percolating among the beltway media already.

    They don’t seem to realise that once you give in to paranoia, there’s no way back. It’s the most destructive characteristic possible in any nation.

  35. Recall Thomas Hobbes teaching that subjects should not be allowed to admire any sovereign but their own, thus Obama CANNOT have been upstaged by Putin, because Putin is over there and Obama is over here. Of course this was Obama’s plan ALL ALONG!

    Or so we’re told by the mandarins and their lackeys. I choose to believe reality.

    While I have no doubt that Obama was going to leave Kerry and the neocons hanging out to dry on Syria, it is not necessarily the case that he was going to do it via Putin’s proposal. He was likely to do it via losing the vote in the House; a painful loss of face domestically and internationally but an approach that would bolster the separation of powers, an Obama-Biden goal, and spread the blame so that AIPAC couldn’t punish Obama and the Democrats for Obama’s uppity independence.

    Putin’s proposal sets the stage for further exclusions of the neocons as the US and Iran engage in rapprochement.

    What I fear most is that the neocons will conduct another false flag and try to blame it on Iran, perhaps even a nuclear false flag; alternatively they can have Israel attack Iran directly scuttling any chances for a new direction in the world away from their diseased madness.

    Ask yourself who is wailing and gnashing their teeth and rending their garments at the sudden outbreak of peace? The usual collaborators:

    1. the global brotherhood of neocons
    2. the Syrian “rebels”

    American soldiers are not mercenaries, our blood is not for sale.

    Kerry step down, now.

    • Or so we’re told by the mandarins and their lackeys. I choose to believe reality.

      “US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the idea of placing Syrian chemical weapons under international control at last week’s G20 summit in Saint Petersburg, Putin’s spokesman said Tuesday.”

      link to expatica.ru

      Oh, and that’s a Russian web site. Somebody is, indeed, determined to let is agenda regarding Obama’s public image interfere with his understanding of how the deal came about.

  36. Under the CWC, the USA promised to destroy / demilitarize all our chem weapons by 2007. The absolute last time allowed under the treaty, with an extension, was 2012.
    Our target date for compliance is not 2022 or so.

    Wouldn’t it be great if, as we demand Syria comply with the CWC, we made a parrallel effort at compliance our own darn selves ?

  37. This looks to be a major setback for Obama. After claiming for months we ‘had to do something’ and the only possibility was to drop bombs, Putin has blindslided him by proposing something that actually deals with chemical weapons and leaves ‘Bomber Barack’ with little option but to bluster and go along.

    The fishhook is that it will take international inspection and actual boots on the ground to enforce control over chemical weapons. The US won’t want its troops to be in Syria under UN control but these are plenty of nations that will step up. Maybe we will see Russian or Chinese troops under a UN flag guarding arms dumps and supervising transfer and destruction of CW.

    The precedent of an International Team with non-US troops and independent verification as a solution to banned weapons will also hamper any aggressive attack on Iran. Game, set and match to Putin.

    • The problem with your theory, Steerpike, is that the “blindsided” Obama administration was discussing this proposal with the Russians at the G20 summit over a week ago.

      A development which occurred only after they began threatening force.

      To describe the accomplishment of Obama’s primary foreign policy goal in Syria, by the Russians, at the expense of Assad, as a setback for Obama and a win for Putin takes some serious blinders.

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