Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The President's Speech

The game has changed. Tonight the President made the moral case for American action, calling for targeted strikes against Syrian regime assets. And then he said that in light of the recent overtures from Russia and apparent agreement by Syria to sign the Treaty Banning Chemical Weapons, to turn their CW over to the UN, and to assist in their destruction, he has asked Congressional leaders to put off voting on the Authorization to Use Military Force. It looks like we will spend time trying to get a Security Council resolution demanding that Syria sign the CW Treaty and turn over all chemical weapons.

How much time? That's the question now. And what penalties if Russia and Syria just try to run out the clock. This is where the Manchin-Heitkamp resolution circulating in the Senate may come to the fore. The resolution has been under development for ten days or so, so it precedes the recent diplomatic flurry; and it is being rewritten, I understand, to specifically authorize the President to use force, if the diplomatic process drags out beyond, say, 45 or 60 days: Security Council Resolution, Syria signing the CW Treaty, and beginning the process of UN inspectors securing the weapons.

Suspect they will proceed with this in the Senate, certainly through committee. And it might well be brought to a vote. My hunch says such a resolution would pass the Senate, but not the House. However, even if just the Senate approves such a conditional resolution, Russia and Syria will see confirmation that the threat of force has not been voted off the table. And I think diplomacy would work, mainly because Russia and the US actually share the interest of not letting Islamist terrorists get their hands on chemical weapons. Assad wants to stay in power and he will do what his sponsor tells him to. Also, although we in the US weren't much impressed with our Libya strike, I suspect Assad was very impressed, and does not want to be put in a similar bulls eye.

My summary: There will not be a US strike. A diplomatic solution will be found within 60-90 days. The road will be very bumpy - already Russia has caused cancellation of this afternoon's planned Security Council meeting, because they don't want the resolution to include the threat of force, as the US, France and England do. But it will happen, I predict. And the law of unintended consequences will work here, as it does everywhere, and this time the unexpected outcomes will be positive: the process of intrusive inspections and the mechanical requirements of securing these weapons in a hot war zone will lead to cease fires, and a structural diplomatic process to end the conflict. All in all, very good stuff.

I was glad to see the President say tonight that he had "earlier" talked with Putin about a pathway of securing the CW as an alternative to the use of force. He didn't say exactly when, but sources say it was initially in June at the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, then again last Friday at the G20 in Russia. What will the myriad conservative and MSM pundits say to this information - will they continue to put out the story that Kerry's comment at the news conference in London was a gaffe, and that, as Piers Morgan said last night on his show, "Looks like it's Putin - 1, Obama - 0."

Face it folks: Obama planned the whole game, like a chess master , as one of my readers commented. This is not Putin's initiative. It was Obama's, first in his brief meeting with Putin in June, then again, in his 20 minute meeting with him on Friday. Kerry didn't make an unintentional gaffe. This was a planned "slip". What Obama had to do was secure Putin's approval, without letting the world think he was caving to Obama. And if anybody thinks Putin would have been amenable to helping Obama without the very immediate and credible threat of force (Putin saw what we did with "limited strikes" in Libya, and knew Assad could not withstand such a pounding), I have a great bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Two paths: Behind the scenes, essentially invisible diplomacy, working to secure the weapons and avoid the use of force and moving publicly to get approval for a strike.

Why did Obama take this to Congress? This is a tough one. His strategy didn't require it. It could even put his strategy at risk if he lost the vote, although neither Putin nor Assad would ever believe he would be constrained by such a vote. I sincerely think he felt the country would be better off if everyone got to speak and got to vote. And I think he calculated that neither Putin nor Assad would pay much attention to the vote, and that his willingness to hold it was a sign of strength, not weakness. Whatever happened, he would strike. And both men knew a strike would be deadly. So here we are, midway through a brilliant series of chess moves by the President.

Remember: we must learn to look through the eyes of our adversary, and distinguish what we find there, from our personal perceptions. Obama did this. And knew he could take the vote to the people.

And one side benefit: everyone gets to see the precise extent that isolationism has taken over the heart of the GOP.

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