Monday, September 09, 2013

Syria

It is consistent with President Obama's core goal to embrace Russian mediation in the Syrian situation. The core objective has always been about enforcing Chemical Weapons ban. If Russia and Syria want to propose something which addresses the goal of stopping future use of Chemical Weapons, indeed it is a welcome development.

The basic case here is there are no internationally achievable mechanisms to enforce global pact like banning Chemical Weapons. General expectation is UNSC would play that role. But when UNSC is paralyzed, which is the case today when Russia and China simply do not see the seriousness of spreading usage of Chemical Weapons, it falls on other capable nations like USA to try to enforce Chemical Weapons ban. Yes, there are dangers of reprisal; there is uncertainty of consequences. But not taking the risk of enforcing accountability on Syrian regime is a slippery slope of increasing usage of weapons of mass destruction. America, which has been victim of large terrorist attacks has every reason to be alert in this regard and adopt the path of enforcing these global treaties even if no one wants to do that job. That is the core argument expected from President Obama tomorrow.

President Obama can very well argue that precisely because America has not been hesitant in proposing military intervention; Syrian regime is talking about the possibility of forfeiting Chemical Weapons. That in itself is a strong reason why Congress should back President Obama's call for authorizing Syrian military intervention.

Politics is what it is, President knows he does not have votes today to secure any such backing. Surprise is wouldn't have Russians also seen it? May be they would be thinking 'risk of unilateral attacks' by Obama Administration without Congressional backing (even though that would certainly open the politics of impeachment) is still worthwhile to mitigate. Or Russia and Syria would not want to disturb Assad's relatively stronger position in Syria by allowing American missiles on key infrastructure pieces. Whatever is their reasoning, Russia is indicating some flexibility here. For Obama Administration, it is time to 'walk the talk' - that what Administration has been claiming all along that American intervention is not about regime change but is about Chemical Weapons ban enforcement. 

President Obama can ask Russians to make their cards open by asking:
- submit a realistic plan to enforce eradication of all of Assad's Chemical Weapons and
- move a serious proposal in UNSC.

Meanwhile, it would give room and time for American Congress to wait. Ideally Administration would have liked to have a Congress authorized resolution. But considering all negative sentiments of Congress and American Public in air, Obama Administration would prefer to wait here simply. That seems about a practical path going forward. 

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Going forward Obama Administration will seriously have to get their act together as far as how to conduct Foreign Policy.  Some of the obviously avoidable mistakes are:
- President did an abrupt turn in going for the Congressional Approval. White House should have maintained from start that at some point Administration would start a serious dialogue with Congress so as there were no surprises. This one is on President's lap when he dumped his Cabinet Secretaries.
- Next, Sec. Kerry got to be lot prudent in what he talks and he cannot be a lose cannon. That had been his Achilles heel in his past political roles and general expectation has been that he would avoid such mistakes. Clearly, that has not happened. Agreed, the job is taxing and times are trying. But still Secretary needs to up his game here.
- Finally, in going to Congress 'so ill prepared' for this vote; it is not so inspiring as far as abilities of the President to understand what Americans are thinking in general. Once dust settles (and Obama Administration may not be so lucky here considering the stack of all the problems pilled up with Congress in coming months); President Obama needs to think hard in terms of how to bring more competence and professionalism in all of this.
- One last point: as America explores the option of Russian offer; clearly it would mean no regime change. How is that going to be taken by Syrian Rebels which Sec. Kerry cultivated so far? What happens to Prof. Drezner theory of 'keep Syria-Iran-Hezbollah' engaged with the Civil War? Clearly Syrian Rebels, any good of them, would not take this 'throwing of them under the bus lightly'. Well, guess what? Once again that is the job of Sec. of State in 'mopping up the mess left behind' even though it is not his fault.

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