Why did Russia broker a deal calling for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, thereby bailing President Obama out of the mess he created by his “red line” rhetoric, his request for congressional authorization to strike Syria, and his failure to obtain such authorization?
Vladimir Putin wanted, of course, to play the international big-shot and to do an end-zone dance at Obama’s expense. But these desires would not have trumped his overriding goal of preventing the overthrow of the Russia-friendly Assad regime.
Putin brokered the deal because the tide had turned in Assad’s favor, and he could not be confident that U.S. military action, even though limited, wouldn’t stem that tide or even reverse it. As a bonus, the deal would shift the world’s attention away from the situation on the ground — mass civilian deaths and all that — to technical compliance issues arising from efforts to destroy chemical stockpiles.
Putin knew what he was doing. The Assad/Hezbollah forces have been on a roll since Obama cut his deal with Putin. In the past 10 days alone, five towns south of Damascus have fallen into the regime’s hands. And even in the North, the Assad/Hezbollah forces have experienced recent successes.
The regime’s military gains represent a blow to prospects for the best way out of this horrific war — a negotiated settlement. Hopes for such a settlement, never terribly high, depended on a military stalemate that would largely eliminate the prospects of both sides for victory.
Now that the regime is winning, it has little incentive to negotiate. And the rebels, who are far from vanquished, are making it clear that they do not wish to negotiate from a position of weakness.
Meanwhile, as Putin expected, the Obama administration pays little attention to Syria. It is focused on easing sanctions on Iran and coercing Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians. What little attention it pays to Syria is centered on matters like persuading Albania and Norway to take custody of and destroy Assad’s chemical weapons.
Talk about jobs Americans won’t do.
It is estimated that 150,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war so far, with no end in sight. The outcome is uncertain. However, it looks very much like the Assad/Hezbollah/Iran side will prevail, but with portions of the country in control of al Qaeda style forces possibly aligned or consolidated with similar forces in Iraq.
In short, pretty much the worst of all possible worlds.
All of this has happened on Barack Obama’s watch. Or rather while, except for a few embarrassing weeks, Obama was looking the other way.