Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kerry Puts His Foot In It: The Russians Open A Door in Syria?

Secretary of State John Kerry added his name to President Obama's list of hapless foreign policy advisers by his off-the-cuff remark about Syria's turning in of their chemical weapons to international supervision as a way of avoiding a U.S. attack on Syria.

But, the Russian ploy could also be a real opportunity,  Why?  Russian President Putin believe that the world has moved to a multi-polar configuration of power, and it is critical to his personal and political belief systems that Russia be seen as primus inter pares to China and any other aspirants to the halls of power.  The problem is that the U.S. doesn't give him any sense that we believe the same thing.  Here is a chance.

Think about President Putin's remarks all along during this crisis.  Syria is a valued Russian client in the Middle East and a big purchaser of Russian arms and services.  The Tartus naval base has been a long standing maintenance and supply port for the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean.  Clearly, the President's message is that ambitions for removal of the client would be thwarted by Russia.  On the issue of chemical weapons, Russia's demand for hard evidence never confirmed or denied the existence of chemical weapons in Syria, and even after the St. Petersburg summit President Putin said there was no evidence of their use by the Syrian government.

So now, Russia is taking the statesman's position of getting its client to agree to turning over the weapons stockpile to international supervision and destruction.  Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said, "we will immediately begin work with Damascus."  This is what a Big Power does, and we should acknowledge it instead of talking over the heads of the Russians to the Syrians.

China needs to be a part of this discussion also, primarily because their government takes a very dim view of what seems like an American preference for regime change whenever foreign politics in a country of interest doesn't evolve to our liking.  Now, there could be three Permanent members of the U.N. Security Council on the same page to eliminating chemical weapons without unilateral military action by the U.S.

Secretary of State Kerry would have to step up to the plate and work with his Russian and Chinese counterparts to work out the broad parameters of how the Russian idea would be implemented through a Security Council resolution.  In the mean time, President Obama's aggressive politicking for action so as not appear weak might be problematical.  Perhaps a phone call from the President to Mr. Putin might be a good thing to break the ice from St. Petersburg.

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