In certain parts of the world wide web - whether it be the "liberal" The Nation or any of the conservative outlets - the narrative is that Russian president Vladimir Putin "outsmarted" President Obama by coming up with a peaceful solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons. Russia seemingly jumped on John Kerry's suggestion that the way for Syria to avoid US military strikes would be to completely and immediately submit its chemical weapon stash to international inspection and destruction. Russia immediately suggested that idea to Syria, and Syria agreed in the blink of an eye. And thus began the media narrative of Vladimir Putin as savior of all things peaceful.
President Obama of course revealed last week that he spoke with Putin about something exactly like this during the G-20, and I blogged a Haaretz report last Sunday - before the rest of the media got a clue and before John Kerry's "off-hand" (ha, ha, ha) remarks the following morning - that Russia and Syria were poised to make this move thanks to President Obama's threat of American missiles hanging over their heads.
Today, the State Department released the full agreement between the United States and Russia for a full disarmament of Syria as Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a joint press conference. This agreement does things beyond the wildest imaginations of a military campaign that would merely be able to degrade Assad's capabilities but not dismantle them completely. Secretary Kerry outlined the proposal in his remarks.
- Syria must submit a comprehensive list of its stockpiles within a week.
- Syria must provide to inspectors from the Organization of Prevention for Chemical Weapons complete and unfettered access to all of its facilities.
- All of Syria's chemical weapons will be destroyed, as well as production equipment and delivery capacity by the first half of 2014.
- The international community (the Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons) will rapidly assume control of Assad's chemical war-chest.
- Unprecedented and extraordinary procedures will be used under the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure rapid and elimination of Syria's stockpiles.
- The agreement will be enforced by Chapter 7 in the UN Security Council, the chapter that covers, among other things, the use of military force.
So let's review, shall we? The United States gets a full disarmament of Syria - verifiably, completely, and and transparently. Russia, which until the G-20 refused to even talk about consequences for Syria is suddenly on board. Syria can't act fast enough to show and turn over the chemical weapons that until last week it didn't even admit it had. Chemical weapons? What chemic... here you go! (credit: Stephanie Miller) And to boot, the United States got Russia to agree to govern this agreement under the part of the Security Council documents that covers military action, even if Russia is still putting up a front against it.
No one should forget that the United States was forced to consider limited military strikes - unilaterally if needed - because of Russia's intransigence in protecting Syria from international consequences no matter its sins. As the president and the Secretary of State consistently said, the goal of the United States with respect to a military strike would be exclusively to degrade Assad's chemical weapons capability and deter its future use. A military strike would certainly achieve those goals, but it wouldn't completely eliminate Assad's chemical weapons. The president has, from day one, preferred a diplomatic solution - but a solution that must be able to reach the goal he was willing to use military strikes to accomplish.
He got that. He got more than that. Because of his steely resolve, he got full disarmament of Syria, Russian cooperation, international transparency and even Security Council buy-in.
It was Russia that moved from its earlier position of "no consequences for Assad" to "Okay, we'll do whatever you want, just don't bomb our boy!" John Kerry, President Obama and his team achieved complete victory, because they got everything they wanted and more.
So I guess Putin did outsmart Obama. By completely surrendering to all of President Obama's demands. Let's all hope Congressional Republicans begin 'outsmarting' the president like this right away!