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U.S., Russia Agree to Do Nothing About Syria

The Obama administration has reached an agreement with Russia that provides, in essence, that the U.S. will not interfere in Syria’s civil war. To be sure, the agreement pretends to be about chemical weapons: Assad’s regime has one week to disclose its stocks of such weapons, and they are to be inventoried by an international group and destroyed by the middle of 2014. In the meantime, the practical effect is that for the U.S. and, for what it’s worth, the rest of the West, have taken any military option off the table, as long as Assad goes through the motions of complying.

I didn’t think we should intervene in Syria in the first place, so I am not much troubled by this result. And it can only be a good thing to destroy some of Assad’s chemical arsenal, although presumably he will keep some in reserve. But for those who hoped for Western intervention on the side of the rebels, Obama’s agreement with Putin is a bitter blow:

[T]he deal represented at least a temporary reprieve for President Bashar al-Assad and his Syrian government, and it formally placed international decision-making about Syria into the purview of Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest supporters and military suppliers.

That reality was bitterly seized on by the fractured Syrian rebel forces, most of which have pleaded for American airstrikes. Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the Western-backed rebels’ nominal military command, the Supreme Military Council, denounced the initiative.

“All of this initiative does not interest us. Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people,” he told reporters in Istanbul. “A crime against humanity has been committed, and there is not any mention of accountability.”

If the rebels expected more from Barack Obama, they were badly deceived. The inseparable John McCain and Lindsey Graham also expressed dismay at Obama’s concession to the Russians:

Arizona’s John McCain and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham say friends and enemies of the U.S. will view the deal as “an act of provocative weakness” by America.

They argue that the agreement will embolden Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.

The senators say Syrian President Bashar Assad will just use the time the agreement gives him to delay and deceive the world.

Well, sure. But what did they expect? Fig leaves aren’t free. Obama has now wriggled out of the mess he created with his thoughtless “red line” threat, and no doubt he is breathing a sigh of relief at having avoided a potential confrontation with Iran. Putin made Obama look like a fool, which reminds us once more that the White House is no place for on-the-job training.

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