Hillary Clinton is the latest member of the Obama administration to play the fool when it comes to dealing with Russia over Syria. She joins President Obama, who was rendered almost speechless by Vladimir Putin after the Russian strongman contemptuously rejected Obama’s plea that Russia abandon its long-time ally, Bashar Assad.
Clinton, if anything, has come across as even more of a dunce than Obama. A week ago, the Washington Post reminds us, she claimed that Russia was ready to lean on Assad as part of a U.N. plan for a transitional government. “They have told me that,” she said, adding (rather inelegantly) that “they’ve decided to get on one horse, and it’s the horse that would back a transition plan that Kofi Annan would be empowered to implement.”
But Russia turned out to be riding a horse of a different color. Its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who supposedly had given Clinton the “assurances” she cited, made it plain that Russia will not pressure Assad to give up power. Lavrov said of Clinton’s claims, “this is either an unscrupulous attempt to mislead serious people who shape foreign policy or simply a misunderstanding of what is going on.”
Maybe it’s time to hit that reset button again.
But Clinton has instead lashed out at Russia and China, accusing them (again inelegantly) of “blockading” progress on Syria. Clinton added that this is “no longer tolerable” and that Russia and China “will pay a price. How feeble.
As the Washington Post editorial board observes, the Obama administration’s Syria policy is making it look foolish as well as feckless. How can Obama or Clinton be surprised that Russia doesn’t want to support a pro-Western, pro-democracy agenda at the expense of its long-time client and arms purchaser?
The Post argues that Obama and Clinton are feigning surprise. That is, they are pretending to hold onto the absurd hope of Russian assistance in order to avoid admitting that a U.N. brokered solution is a non-starter. This, in turn, reduces pressure on the administration to come up with realistic measures to deal with the situation in Syria. One such action, says the Post, is to protect a safe zone for the rebels in northern Syria. Turkey reportedly has proposed this measure, but the U.S. rejected it.
The Post may be right to view Clinton’s scapegoating of Russia as a diversion. But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the administration genuinely expected Russian help. The capacity of Obama, Clinton and company to believe in this sort of absurdity is almost limitless.