Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Diplomacy Path

There are so few good analyses of Syria and the emergent Diplomacy Path, in my opinion. Here's one of the very few, from BooMan Tribune, titled "What Makes Syria Hard." Here's another: Smartypants on Monday, titled "What's In It for Putin." And here from The People's View today titled "The Power of Explanation: Why the President's Speech Got It Right." Today, will just give you a short list of MSM pundits who are totally panning our President:

And to many in Congress and in the media, Vladimir Putin's Op-Ed in the New York Times "A Plea For Caution From Russia", just added insult to injury. Senator Menendez (D, NJ) said it "made him want to vomit."

Wow!! And why exactly do I see lots of light in this picture? I will try (briefly) to explain:
  • Negotiations have just begun in Geneva between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Kerry spoke briefly to the press before beginning, saying the US has high hopes for the discussions, but that it retains the right to use military force if these talks break down.
  • Syria has submitted an application request to the UN to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty.
  • Discussions are progressing at the UN over drafting a Security Council Resolution requiring Syria to give up their CW. The contentious issue is whether force will be authorized for non-compliance. Russia says no. We open saying yes. Believe we will relent on this, reserving to ourselves, as always, the right to strike unilaterally.

In short, there will be an agreement reached on the collection process for Syria's CW, and there will be a UN resolution, probably by the end of next week. And some form of collection process will begin within 45-60 days. Why am I so confident? Because Putin wants this to happen and Obama is letting him take the credit on the world stage to cement his commitment to follow through. Similarly, the Op-Ed this morning, where he scolds the US like a Dutch Uncle, is a terrific sign that he is publicly committed to getting this CW quarantine/destruction done.

This whole thing has been planned. The Administration did, in my opinion, goof a bit when it said two years ago that Assad needed to step aside, but Obama's objective never hardened into supporting regime change as a firm policy. Last August, Obama made his two "red line" comments about chemical weapons, that almost everyone thinks was a mistake, even an unintentional misspeaking. But remember, at about the same time, Obama first began to talk with Putin about working together to isolate and destroy Syria's CW. The "red line" declaration was made in case discussions with Putin failed to produce agreement for Russia and the US to work together to remove Syria's CW. If the red line was crossed at some point in the future, Putin would not be surprised that Obama would begin movement towards a strike.

Kerry talked about a possible CW initiative in Moscow in April. Obama spoke about it with Putin in June at the G20 in Los Cabos, Mexico. No positive response to either conversation. On August 21, Syria attacked certain suburbs in Damascus with CW. On Saturday, August 31, Obama said he had decided to strike, but that he would go to Congress. On Friday, September 6, he had an unscheduled meeting with Putin at the G20 in St. Petersberg. It was here that Putin expressed serious interest in Obama's CW containment idea for the first time, and said to the press that he and Obama had instructed Lavrov and Kerry to move the idea  - as yet undefined on Friday - forward and into action. On Monday, September 9, Kerry said Assad could avoid a strike by turning over his CW. Lavrov, and then the Syrian Minister, quickly agreed to the CW turnover Kerry had "offhandedly" said could avoid a strike.  On Tuesday, September 10, the President spoke to the country and said the strike was on hold, and a diplomatic path would be pursued. Kerry's Monday press conference comment was walked back by State, and made to look like a gaffe, because the idea was to have the media give Putin the credit for the idea, so he would become more and more invested in the CW turnover plan.

There was no gaffe, no muddle, no accidents. The diplomatic path was always the preferred path, focusing on CW containment, not regime change. Obama was prepared to strike after the CW massacre. But the much preferred option was to draw Putin into a real strategic partnership to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. For almost a year Putin didn't bite. Then six days after Obama said the US would strike, Putin stepped up to the plate. Obama wanted him to get as much credit as possible, to increase his public ownership of the plan. Kerry's gaffe was well choreographed. Obama knew he would be punched and pilloried for his apparent indecision and weakness in comparison to the more aggressive, decisive Putin. He was. And here we are.

In an impossibly messy situation, where no military strike could accomplish very much, we now have a committed partner who has the power to bring the main opposing player to the table. As Obama clearly did in his speech Tuesday night, we have to give up on regime change as a policy objective, and focus on taking Syria's CW out of play. I think this will happen, thanks to Putin and Russia's deep and very public commitment to make "their idea" work.

This is negotiating at a true Master's level, as I see Andrew Sullivan at The Dish has just recognized in his piece Vladimir Putin, Meet Niccolo Machiavelli. And I predict there will be positive unintended consequences of all this. Here are two:

  • The US/Russian/UN partnership in formation for eliminating Syria's CW will be the same broad institutional architecture that will at some point convene peace treaty negotiations. These discussions  will eventually work out an end to the conflict, and provide protection for the minority Alawites, Christians, and Druze. This may or may not lead to Assad stepping down.
  • Strongly believe that this unfolding process will help motivate Iran to give up its nuclear weapons aspirations. Negotiations with Iran, through the P5 + 1 or in direct bilateral talks with the US, will restart soon. The new President, Hassan Rouhani, wants to move forward. I believe he will be impressed with our interest in diplomatic paths, versus military ones; and he's more likely to trust a diplomatic US than one just bursting with eagerness for military intervention. Would you give up your nuclear capacity to someone who is eager to invade your country and overturn its leadership? I wouldn't; nor, I believe, would Iran.
My predictions:

  • CW deal will happen reasonably quickly. There will be big implementation problems, but working at it will turn out to be the beginnings of peace negotiations. We'll have a peace deal by the end of 2014.
  • We will have a deal with Iran by June.
These are big deals, huge possibilities for improving chances for peace. Most of this will be made possible because we have a President who plays a long game; who is an unparalleled planner and negotiator - where the keys are the organizing principles and visions, not the specific plans or timetables; and who is willing to let the other guy get the credit if it helps to get him/her invested in the deal.

Cowboy ego is out; humility is in. Linear thinking with right/wrong answers is out; vision-inspired, complex self-organizing systems are in. The game will just keep changing. Be ready for it.

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