Option 1: Syria cooperates completely and turns over all of its chemical weapons. In that scenario, the winners are Assad, who continues his unfettered reign of terror, and Putin, who is the grand diplomatic chess master. The losers are the Syrian opposition, Syrian Christians, any Syrian political “moderates,” and the United States, whose words and threats are shown to mean nothing.
Option 2: Syria feigns cooperation initially but does not turn over its weapons or permit unfettered weapons inspections (a la Hans Blix in North Korea), Russia does nothing to ensure Syria’s compliance and everything to prevent its accountability, and six months from now we are in the same position we are today, only America’s credibility has been tarnished. The winners (again): Assad and Russia. The losers (again): the Syrian opposition, Syrian Christians, Syrian political “moderates,” and the United Sates.
In this scenario, what is Obama’s play six months hence? He can’t go the UN route: Russia would simply veto any resolutions penalizing Syria for an attack the president confidently asserted was committed by the Assad regime. He could hope the world and the mainstream media lose interest and move on, like they did from the Benghazi debacle, to domestic topics: government funding, debt limit increases, Obamacare implementation. This would be a cynical strategy, but this is Barack Obama.
Would Obama then threaten military strikes, so close to the run-up to the 2014 midterms and endanger Democratic chances of retaining the Senate and taking back the House? Not a chance.
Option 3: Syria rejects the proposal and continues to gas its people. And why not? Its initial deployment of WMD invited no punitive sanction, and Putin and Assad know the American people are not convinced a Syrian strike furthers our national security. What does President Obama do then? Draw another red line in the sand to be muddled when the time comes for action?President Obama said America is not the world’s policeman. That is certainly true when its threats are shown to be mere bluffs. A president deeply distrustful about the use of American military power abroad must come to terms with the consequences of his failure to wield that power and enforce his own ultimatums. As he said, inaction harms America’s national security. If that is true, what is he waiting for?
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