Obama Nearly Blundered the U.S. Into a War. Will John Kerry Blunder Us Out of One?

State.govState.govThe march to war in Syria has turned into a kind of farcical stumble. With his chemical weapons red line comments, President Obama nearly blundered us into a war. Now we get to wonder if an off-handed remark by Secretary of State John Kerry will somehow blunder us out.

Kerry’s “proposal” that Syria could avert an attack by turning over its chemical weapons to the international community was delivered as a sarcastic remark. Kerry didn’t think it was serious, or doable, and he said as much at the time.

Yet Russia and Syria reacted positively—and Obama said yesterday that he’d consider the idea. Now, with Russia playing middleman, Syria has reportedly agreed to officially declare its chemical weapons stockpiles and sign onto the worldwide anti-chemical weapons convention.

Well, that’s interesting. Complicating matters, however, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s notion that the idea can only work if the U.S. completely gives up on the idea of force. Which U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that America won’t do—because only the threat of force will ensure that a Syrian chemical weapons drawdown succeeds. It’s a chicken and egg problem, but with cruise missiles and sarin gas: Does Syria give up its chemical weapons first? Or does the U.S. withdraw the threat of force before Syria takes action?

Does it have a chance of averting strikes? Is it all just a stalling tactic on the part of Syria and its allies? A face-saving out for the White House? The best answer is…who knows? For now, however, all of the players are at least pretending it’s a live option. The Senate has delayed a vote on the authorization of force. Obama is saying he’ll consider the idea. Russia, Syria, France, and the U.N. are all playing along to some degree as well.

And here’s the thing: Despite the absurdity of the sequence of events that led to this situation, it’s not a half-bad deal in a lot of ways. As Dan Drezner argues at Foreign Policy:

First of all, this solves the inherent tension between Obama's goals in Syria.  He really does want to enforce the chemical weapons taboo, and yet he really doesn't want either side to claim victory in the civil war.  Essentially, this deal creates a liberal solution (Security Council resolution, Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention) to the liberal problem (enforcing the chemical weapons taboo).  Richard Price would be proud.  At the same time, minimizing the chemical weapons issue allows all the major parties in the conflict to do what they wanted to do anyway: revert to the pre-August 21 status quo.   

Second of all, it's not like Obama was gaining much political traction with Congress or the American people or even the foreign policy community on this issue.  Politically, this solves a brewing political fiasco and would permit both the executive and legislative branches to focus on other things like, you know, funding and staffing the U.S. government

What about the problems?  What if the Syrian government tries to evade the deal?  The worst-case scenario is that, after a spell, we're back to where we are now -- with the benefit of the United States observing that it gave the UN route a fair shake.  Diplomatically, that's still a win. This also holds, by the way, if the Syrian government defects and uses chemical weapons again. 

On a very basic level, anything that removes even some chemical weapons from Assad’s control while avoiding U.S. military involvement in a Syrian civil war is a huge improvement over the U.S. strikes that, until just a few days ago, looked inevitable. 

We'll find out more about what the Obama administration is actually thinking when Obama addresses the nation tonight. Your favorite Reason staffers will be live-tweeting, so make sure to check in here. 

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  • Aloysious||

    Maybe Kerry should throw his medals over the White House fence at himself.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Maybe Obama should give his Nobel Peace Prize to Putin.

    Or, at least use his clout as a laureate to nominate Putin for the next one.

  • Two Fingers||

    Putin, maybe. Reporter who asked the question, hell yeah.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Obama's Syria = blunder

    Bush's Iraq = show of strength

  • ||

    Shitstopper = ASSHOLE!

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Bush's Iraq = show of strength

    A popular position on the Hit & Run boards, to be sure.

  • wareagle||

    you are almost as good as Obama is at arguing against a point that absolutely no one is making.

  • #||

    Do you think PB is aware enough that this isn't Red State?

  • #||

    Then again to be fair to Red State, I don't even think Iraq = Sign of Strength was ever one of their arguments.

  • Tony||

    It was the flightsuit.

  • fish||

    It was the flightsuit.

    Think of it is a public service.....Bush providing you with "macho" imagery as a masturbatory aid.

    Fap strong!

  • ||

    Tony!

    Psh.

  • Jordan||

    Shorter shriek: LOOK OVER THERE!!1
    Even shorter shriek: derp

  • CatoTheElder||

    You think PB is bad now?

    Just wait a few days to watch how the MSM will spin Obama/Kerry bumbling into stellar statecraft, Obama's Cuban Missile Crisis. Before long they'll be saying that Obama's deft diplomacy brought about Middle East peace, effectively manipulated the Russians to pressure Assad to destroy his CW arsenal, protected Israel, brought hope for democracy to Syria, and so forth.

    And PB will be here spinning the bullshit with them.

  • Loki||

    Palin's buttplug derpde derp, ta teedly derp! Derp de derp da derpity derpity dumb!

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Obama's War-Fags !!!!! are not done. Remember they vowed to kill as many Syrian children as necessary and arm as many Al Qaeda rebels as needed to knock Assad out.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    !!!OBAMA USAF = AL QAEDA AIRFORCE!!!

    WAOR WOAR WAR FAGGGGGG!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Actual diplomats know not to make sarcastic proposals. Regardless, Putin comes off looking good, Syria averts meaningless but still destructive missile strikes, and congressional Democrats don't have to vote between hypocrisy and sacrilege.

    Really, the only thing coming off looking bad here is the Obama administration. And it seems like maybe everyone will be able to live with that.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Really, when compared to Obama, who wouldn't come off looking good?

  • ||

    Really, the only thing coming off looking bad here is the Obama administration. And it seems like maybe everyone will be able to live with that.

    You know perfectly well that the fucking scumbags in the White House will be championing this as a huge foreign policy win as they explain that getting Syria to surrender their chemical weapons and sign on to the treaty was their intention all along.

  • fish||

    You know perfectly well that the fucking scumbags in the White House will be championing this as a huge foreign policy win as they explain that getting Syria to surrender their chemical weapons and sign on to the treaty was their intention all along.

    Too late.....the fool is out of the box.

  • Loki||

    THIS. They'll spin it as a brilliant win for the 3 deminsional chess master/ omnipotnet God-King Obama.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Really, the only thing coming off looking bad here is the Obama administration.

    Wait till the MSM starts spinning the story.

  • ||

    Thank zod we have Putin to save us from our leadership.

    In other news, China draws a Red Line telling the US to give up its nuclear arsenal or it will commence bombing. Putin suggests compromise of handing US nukes over to Russia. Film at 11.

  • Almanian!||

    sweet

  • ||

    Complicating matters, however, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s notion that the idea can only work if the U.S. completely gives up on the idea of force.

    You can look at this two ways. One is that the US blundered into an out. The other is that the threat was so credible that the Russians and Syrians were eager to jump on that remark and use it as an out for themselves. But now they are walking back on it, apparently.

    I take the walk-back as a sign that they think they could have gotten a better deal, given the swiftness by which the Obama administraiton embraced the idea.

    The correct response is to say that the turnover *cannot* be conditional. Kerry didn't originally say it would be conditional, so they have effectively changed the "offered" terms, if their response was indeed an "acceptance" of the terms of Kerry's remark.

    Of course, this is all high stakes negotiation. The Russians and Syrians are buying some time. And what exactly would be mean to "withdraw the threat of force" anyway? What are we supposed to do, move some aircraft carriers around? Obviously, we're not going to make some absurd statement that we would never, ever, bomb Syria anyway. It's just a negotiating stall so that the Syrians can demand better terms for how the inspections will take place.

  • Tony||

    The ironic thing is, since everyone apparently has the time to do nothing but care about Obama's favorability ratings, things must be pretty swell in the US.

    Nah it is pretty funny that the ways into and out of this incident seem to be the casual remarks or American leaders. Haha dead children.

  • fish||

    The ironic thing is, since everyone apparently has the time to do nothing but care about Obama's favorability ratings, things must be pretty swell in the US.

    Crushing mediocrity: It's the new normal.

  • Generic Stranger||


    The unemployment rate has fallen, but keep the cork in the champagne bottles: it’s falling because people are just giving up looking for work. The share of the population that is either working, or looking for work, has fallen to a 35-year low. The economy created just 169,000 jobs last month, barely more than we need to keep up with population growth. It’s nowhere near enough to absorb the people who have been out of work for months or years -- what Karl Marx called the reserve army of the unemployed. No wonder fast-food workers are demonstrating for higher wages; jobs designed as supplementary income for kids, or housewives, are now being taken by breadwinners who can’t find anything else.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/.....-drag.html
    "So far this year there have been 848,000 new jobs. Of those, 813,000 are part time jobs.... To put it differently, an incredible 96% of the jobs added this year were part-time jobs." http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com.....-fact.html

    Yeah, things are just swell, fuckface.

  • Tony||

    Unemployment would be below 7% if government jobs had remained steady. Nothing happening in the economy is Obama's fault, because he hasn't been able to get anything to help the economy passed through a Congress that wants it to stall or is too stupid to understand how to improve it.

  • Generic Stranger||

    That's idiotic, even for you. The economy is shitting itself very much thanks to the shit that Obama has pushed through, namely Obamacare. The 30 hours limit for extending benefits is directly responsible for the fact that 96% of new jobs are part time.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Simpering sock puppet tonny - WarSlime Barry is very queer for war. He has plundered the productive taxpayers out of $trillion$ executing his on-going wars of choice and child-killing drone-death programs. Stop talking crap about "jobs". Next: NSA. shit.

  • Sevo||

    Tony| 9.10.13 @ 5:33PM |#
    "The ironic thing is, since everyone apparently has the time to do nothing but care about Obama's favorability ratings, things must be pretty swell in the US."

    The non-ironic 'thing' is your abysmal ignorance:
    1) NSA snooping
    2) DEA snooping
    3) Our idiot president using the IRS for political purposes.
    4) The slowly unfolding disaster of Obozocare.
    5) The debt
    6) The insecure idiot in the WH, backed by sleazeballs in congress

  • Tony||

    Two of those things are valid. The rest suggest you're a Drudge butt bot.

  • Sevo||

    Tony| 9.10.13 @ 7:21PM |#
    Two of those things are valid. The rest suggest you're a Drudge butt bot."

    Your denial proves you're a huffpo asshole.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    All that stuff is valid except to knee-jerk Democratic Party $oros toady-trolls who let others make decisions for them.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    OOOhhh tonee Drudge butt bot, that is realllly hurtful. "Smarmy Smugness" is a well-trained dog. Under no circumstances can you be more than mildly critical of the great US GOVT. Definitely wouldn't want to criticize George Bush more than superficially, right? Might reflect badly on the current creep-in-chief.

  • ||

    Can we just quit fucking around and start extorting other nations for money? I mean if we have the stones to unilaterally tell other nations what they can and cannot do with their weapons, why don't we just start telling nations we don't like that they need to pay us or we'll start bombing them. Maybe we could pay down the debt some.

  • Loki||

    "That's a nice little 3rd world shithole you've got there, be a pity if something happened to it..."

  • CatoTheElder||

    The threat isn't credible unless Saudi Arabia and Qatar promise to bankroll it, maybe?

  • Michael Price||

    Who do you think will be first to get a visit?

  • ||

    If Pootine manages to pull this thing off with Syria will he get a Nobel Prize?

    And to be sure, at what point will Obama claim a high five? It works both ways with this guy. Blames others for a lot including the red line, so why wouldn't he take credit for Russia's move?

    Think like Obama. Think dammit!

  • ||

    Poontang Pootine.

  • ant1sthenes||

    I wouldn't be so hopeful. Isn't this the same bullshit song and dance routine we were in with Saddam in the years leading up to the second war? Maybe less formal, in the absence of a UN resolution.

  • powerdoggames||

    Political affairs always seem so complicated
    more free online games at www.powerdoggames.com

  • XM||

    If Assad turns in the chemical weapons and chemical attacks still happen, do we then turn our attention to the rebels?

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