When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the reported chemical weapons attacks in Syria this week, it was like watching a bad Stanley Kubrick movie cross between "Dr. Strangelove" and "Spartacus." As in, "I, Spartacus, would like to claim full responsibility for the battles and woes in everyone's backyard."
This self-sacrificial impetus to take on all the world's ills needs to stop, particularly when the crisis of conscience belongs in someone else's dacha.
Syria isn't America's problem to fix -- it's Russia's. So why is the Obama administration refusing to say this? It's unfathomable that Kerry didn't even mention Russia and its regional and moral responsibilities during his entire press conference statement. It would have been the perfect opportunity for Kerry to say, "Saddle up, Vlad. You've got some trouble in your town, Sheriff."
The only thing Kerry's press conference was good for was generating hot air. That likely fits with what I've contended is America's overall objective in Syria: to allow the situation to grind on with various entities hostile to American and Western interests knocking each other out. Still, why blow an opportunity to make Russia pull its weight and, in doing so, take a load off your own plate?
Historically and militarily, Syria clearly falls into Russia's sphere of influence. The Russians are the ones selling weapons to Assad and nuclear plants to Iran -- the two primary entities neck-deep in fighting against rebel forces. And the longer the Syrian mess drags on, the greater the risk of regional al-Qaeda factions taking a little road trip to join their Chechen Islamist brothers in crashing the Sochi Olympics early next year - and not to watch the hockey or bobsledding. America's message right now shouldn't be directed at Assad, but rather at the other self-declared adult in the room: Russia.
Instead, America is taking a terrible misstep by implying that it's responsible, along with its allies, for the outcome of that civil war -- either via action or lack thereof. Team Obama is way off-message, and it's time to place the Syrian burden on its rightful back -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's oft-shirtless one. What's the point of Putin constantly flashing the biceps and fluffing up the proles with judo demonstrations unless you're going to use all that muscle on a dictator or two?
Unless Obama successfully counters the Russian propaganda machine's "blame America" narrative on Syria, nothing America does there will garner support -- whether that means allowing the conflict to continue to a stalemate or lobbing a few missiles into the area to symbolically enforce red lines against the use of chemical weapons.
Speaking of which, where in Kerry's statement was the irrefutable evidence proving Assad responsible for the use of chemical weapons?
"The U.S., U.K. and France officially announced they have solid information on the Syrian authorities' guilt, but can't present evidence," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following Kerry's statement.
I hate to say it, but he's right. Presumably there is supporting intelligence and physical evidence linking the chemical attacks exclusively to the Assad regime -- particularly with the Free Syrian Army spokesman in Paris telling Reuters that the chemical weapons included a Russian-made nerve agent (SC3) and a liquid ammonia made in Iran. So where are the specifics?
Facts and indisputable proof are the only things that matter in this conflict. And even armed with those, it will still be an uphill battle to convince the anti-Americans and anti-Westerners who prefer Russia's English-language media (at least since their sympathetic coverage of Occupy Wall Street movement). Viral videos of the effects of the attacks on the poor Syrian civilians will not alone suffice in an era where conspiracy theorists abound on social media.
Just 9 percent of Americans support intervention in Syria, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken last week. Perhaps it's justifiable for the U.S. to take military action on the basis of "doing the right thing" in the absence of popular support, but it's hard to find examples of any nation's perceived military success when a campaign was widely unpopular.
Team Obama needs to realize that the Syrian conflict has two fronts with which America must contend: the physical confrontation itself and Russian propaganda efforts. Start with the soft target: challenging the ego of the hard-bodied neo-czar.