I sense a phony baloney resolution to the crisis created by President Obama’s warning to the Assad regime that it better not use “a whole bunch of” chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. Having sized Obama up as an “unbelievably small” fellow, to borrow Secretary Kerry’s formulation, Assad and his supporters went ahead and crossed the red line that Obama disclaimed last week. He explained that the red line had been set by someone bigger than he. It had been set by “the world.”
Yesterday was a fast news day and Rich Lowry captured the gathering farce in his column “Unbelievably small and incredibly unpersuasive.” Rich writes:
A reporter in London asked what Syrian president Bashar Assad could do to avoid war. Kerry responded: “He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”
The State Department quickly noted that the secretary was merely making a rhetorical point. But the Russians immediately embraced the Kerry flourish as a serious proposal. It was “welcomed” by Damascus and spoken of warmly by the U.N. secretary general and the British and French governments.
In her highly anticipated remarks on the Syria crisis, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said action on the Kerry gaffe-turned-plan would be an “important step.” In his briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney triumphantly noted that there wouldn’t have been so much diplomatic progress absent the “credible threat” of force.
Never mind that Kerry punctuated the launch of his unintended Syria peace plan with the words “it can’t be done.” In a storm, any port will do, and during a catastrophic meltdown of an administration’s case for war, so will any diplomatic fig leaf.
Not all of Kerry’s gaffes in London rose to the level of game-changing diplomacy. He said the strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” Surely, Kerry was making another one of his rhetorical points — that compared with, say, Dresden or “Shock and Awe,” the strike on Syria would be a much more circumscribed affair. But “unbelievably small” is not a rallying cry.
An anonymous administration official resorted to an analogy to children’s cereal. As USA Today paraphrased his explanation: “If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.”
Kerry’s gaffes, it turns out, hold the key to peace. Or “peace.” Or “peace for our time.” The Russians have taken Kerry up on his non-offer, details to be arranged later.
I’m pretty sure that will be good enough for President Obama. As the USA Today headline has it, “Obama says Russian Syria proposal could be a breakthrough.” If you heard any of Obama’s six interviews yesterday (such as the interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News or the interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN) you learned that the operative phrase is “run this to ground.”
Translation: Obama will exhaust the multifarious possibilities offered up by the Russian proposal, or the Russian stratagem, or the Russian bailout. But let’s not give the Russians all the credit. Don’t overlook Secretary Kerry’s contribution, or Bashar Assad’s desire to play his role in the denouement.
Peace, They Say is the somewhat enigmatic title of Jay Nordlinger’s (terrific) history of the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a chronicle of world-class geniuses, heroes, rogues and frauds.
Barack Obama fits into a couple of the relevant categories. However, he has already won his Nobel Peace Prize. Jay’s book has me thinking of the possibilities thrown up by yesterday’s news. I sense a Peace Prize in the wings — think Arafat/Rabin/Peres (1994) — for Putin and Kerry and maybe even Assad, just in time for the paperback edition of Jay’s book.