As we come to the conclusion of the current so-called
Syrian crisis, with its sound and fury of “red lines”
and “war crimes” faded into the soft embarrassed
pinks of salvageable faces, it might be instructive to
review this curious debacle.
Time will tell more, of course, and the final outcomes
are not yet realities, but President Obama’s original
warnings of military action against the regime of
Syrian President Assad for allegedly using chemical
warfare against his own civilians have cooled down into
a limp compromise proposed by Russian President
Putin in which Syria will turn over its chemical weapons
to international control, and will sign the treaty
agreeing not to use such chemicals in the future.
If the compromise, made by Mr. Putin following a
diplomatic gaffe by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
were truly enforceable and authentic, of course, it
might actually be an indirect, albeit bumbling, triumph
for Mr. Obama, but is there anyone seriously informed
about world affairs who believes that Syria will, in fact,
surrender all of its chemical weapons in that part of the
world where chemical warfare has been commonplace
for three decades, and in the midst of a do-or-die civil
war with ruthless rebels?
For those who remember the antics of Dean Martin and
Jerry Lewis in those post-World War II comedy films,
there is something reminiscent of the almost-silly
behavior of the “inexperienced” Jerry with his “suave”
straight man Dean. Of course, as Jerry Lewis has
acknowledged in his autobiography, Dean Martin was a
consummate comedian himself, but the schtick was that
Jerry played the fool and often somehow got what he
wanted. If Mr Obama is playing Jerry Lewis, then is Mr.
Kerry or Mr. Putin playing Dean Martin?
Alas, real-world international politics are not cinematic
fantasies. The fact remains that about 1400 actual Syrian
civilian men, women and children died horribly from
chemical warfare. More than 100, 000 Syrians on both
sides have reportedly died in the civil war which pits one
Islamic religious faction against another. Both sides are
quite capable of atrocities. The rebels have been reported
attacking Christians and their churches. Terror and violence
predominates this conflict on both sides. Neither side is
made up of forces which look kindly on the U.S., although
the rebel side is always willing to take our material help,
whether they are grateful or not.
Mr. Putin, like him or not, is proving to be a serious
international player. He has clearly outplayed Mr. Obama
at almost every turn, including the tour de force of
offering to “control” Syria’s chemical weapons.
When Mr. Obama, at the last minute, tried to obtain the
support of the U.S. Congress when he did not need it, his
bluff turned into a farce. If he hoped to use Republican
opposition to his advantage in next year’s mid-term
elections, it backfired, with numerous Democratic
senators and house members balking, so many that there
is no way to describe the opposition except as “bipartisan.”
Having set down a “red line” in the sand at the outset of
this crisis, Mr. Obama trapped himself. No doubt he is
genuinely appalled by the tragic casualties in Syria, as
most Americans are, but his job is to drive ably through the
complex obstacles of international politics to arrive at
a reasonable solution. Instead, he got stalled on the side
of the road.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved