It is quite astonishing how when it comes to diplomacy, the US finds it so hard to take yes for an answer.
Take for example Syria. Whether or not chemical weapons were used and by whom, I think all reasonable people would agree that getting rid of those weapons anywhere is a good thing. And that is what we seem to be moving towards in Syria as a result of the Russian/Syrian plan triggered by John Kerry’s remark. It is going to take some time. After all, the US is far behind schedule on its own promises to reduce its chemical weapons stockpile.
If the Obama administration wants an example of the difficulties involved in destroying chemical weapons, it might reflect upon its own struggles to get rid of cold-war era chemical arsenals stockpiled in tightly controlled storage facilities in Kentucky and Colorado.
The United States promised, but failed, to destroy these stocks by 2012 at the very latest. The most recent forecast from the US is that the process of “neutralising” the chemicals in its Colorado weapons dump will be finished by 2018; the date for Kentucky is 2023. That will be 11 years after the US promised to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, and eight years after Russia – the other major possessor of declared chemical weapons – says it will have finished destroying its arsenal.
So even if it takes some time for this to happen in Syria, can’t we just accept that the end result is the important thing irrespective of how we got there? And yet we have this caterwauling in some quarters about how doing so makes the US look weak and president Obama appear subordinate to Russian president Putin. Some are wailing at Obama in frustrated disappointment, stamping their feet and crying “You promised us a war! You promised!”
Cenk Uygur has a roundup of these hysterical reactions.
The defense of Obama supporters that the eventual outcome was due to some deep strategy on his part, an idea encouraged by the Obama administration, is also ludicrous. It was plain that he had decided to go to war against Syria but the unexpected defeat of David Cameron’s push for war in the UK parliament, the massive American opposition that was causing Congress to resist even the efforts of the Israel lobby in the US, and his lack of strong evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, caused him to switch gears and accept the new reality.
But that should be welcomed as a sign of rationality triumphing over obstinacy. Kevin Drum sums it up well:
Can we please get over the silliness I’m hearing from a few quarters that President Obama had gamed out the whole Syria affair before it even happened? It’s embarrassing. John Kerry made an obviously unscripted comment—which the press twisted into a “gaffe” because, hey, that’s what they do—and Russia seized on it for reasons of its own. Perhaps to gum up the works. Perhaps to get itself out of a jam it was tired of. Who knows? But Obama pretty plainly didn’t plan it and didn’t welcome it.
There’s really no reason to go down this path anyway. If you want to give Obama credit, give him credit for something he deserves: being willing to recognize an opportunity when he sees it. I can guarantee you that George W. Bush wouldn’t have done the same. But Obama was flexible enough to see that he had made mistakes; that congressional approval of air strikes was unlikely; and that the Russian proposal gave him a chance to regroup and try another tack. That’s not normal presidential behavior, and it’s perfectly praiseworthy all on its own.
Through sheer dumb luck and Kerry’s verbosity, we may have averted another unnecessary war. Let’s accept it gratefully and move on. But Kerry may still salvage defeat from the jaws of victory by suggesting that if the decommissioning of the chemical weapons doesn’t go ahead according to his own arbitrary schedule rather that the standard timetable for such things, then the deal may be off. This is a bit rich coming from him given that, as I said above, the US is way behind schedule on the elimination of its own stockpile of such weapons. But there is this ridiculous imperative in US politics that any deal that is arrived at by mutual agreement is somehow a defeat for the US. What must happen is that the other side must be seen as capitulating to US demands.
The Daily Show highlights the absurd reactions to the Russian/Syrian offer to decommission its store of chemical weapons.
(This clip aired on September 1o, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)