Saturday, September 14, 2013

Let the Games Begin!

So we have an agreement with Russia on Syria's chemical weapons. I don't want to be afraid to take "yes" for an answer, but is that what we have?

The deal is done:

The United States and Russia agreed on Saturday on a proposal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, averting the possibility of any immediate U.S. military action against President Bashar al-Assad's government.

So the first part of Russia's objective is done. Assad's forces are free to keep killing Syrians the way they got the first 110,000 rather than the way they got the last 1,400.

Let's see. Step one:

Kerry said that under the pact, Syria must submit a "comprehensive listing" of its chemical weapons stockpiles within one week.

This is a potential hole. First, what about the means to produce chemical weapons? What about raw materials to make chemical weapons? If Assad really does get rid of all chemical weapons, having the means of production just allows Assad to make sure he has the freshest WMD available in the future.

Second, we won't really know if Assad provides a comprehensive listing, will we? Or is it late enough for Kerry to trust Lavrov on this?

After that?

[Kerry] told a news conference with Lavrov that U.N. weapons inspectors must be on the ground in Syria no later than November. The goal, he said, was the complete destruction of Syria's chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.

Oh!! Weapons inspectors!! Weapons inspectors!! We know how easily they can verify the absence of chemical weapons in a Baathist-run country, don't we?

"Technical difficulties" in implementing this (after all, we and the Russians have had trouble meeting deadlines to destroy our own stockpiles--and we are trying) will stretch this out.

And oh wait, the Syrians will say! We found some more we didn't realize we had. Give us a couple weeks to write this one up for you, won't you?

And, Oh! say the Assad people, you thought that kind of poison gas is included? We thought it was dual use and since it has a civilian purpose in agriculture (and really, aren't the food shortages bad enough without doing this to poor, suffering Syria?) it really didn't count... But okay, give us a few months to write up this list for you. If only you'd been more clear from the beginning, you see.

Assad will also have a ready excuse that the rebels hamper him. Oh, if only we could crush the rebellion we could rapidly disarm as we promised! Alas, evil rebels prevent us from honoring the wishes of the sainted international community!

Hey, this does put the rebels in a bad position, doesn't it?

In Istanbul, the head of the opposition Syrian Supreme Military Council, General Selim Idris, said the rebels regarded the deal as a blow to their struggle to oust Assad. But they would cooperate to facilitate the work of any international inspectors on the ground, he told Reuters.

But another military council official, Qassim Saadeddine, said the opposite.

"Let the Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria."

It's almost like we put the rebels in a bad position by legitimizing Assad as a reputable man necessary to disarm when the rebels are the only means of making Assad go--as President Obama once demanded. Oh well, the revolution is complete, right? What will President Obama choose? Assad going or chemical weapons going? He'll choose the latter and get neither, of course.

And bonus opportunities for beginning inspections during a civil war! If weapons inspectors want to go to Warehouse Q and the Syrians (who provide the military escorts for safety) say it is too unsafe to go there at the moment, what do the inspectors do? Wait until it is safe? A good artillery barrage will "make it safe" for the inspectors, Assad will say. And until the inspectors can go, the Syrians can move stuff around. Or will the UN teams go anyway without Syrian escort? Leading to "rebels" ambushing the UN inspectors convoy.

And Good God! A rebel raid--says the Assad spokesman (Damascus Dan, anyone?)--ran off with a bunch of weapons and we don't know where they are!!!

We all know the script on this process, don't we?

But surely, the Syrians know that failure at any step could lead to a cruise missile barrage, right?

Kerry said that if Syria did not comply with the agreement, which must be finalised by the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, it would face consequences under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, the part that covers sanctions and military action.

Sanctions! Oh no! Iraq under Saddam and Iran have endured years of sanctions!! The horror! The horror! How will Assad survive other than by making sure that his own supporters get all they want and then blaming the West for the hardships that the other 75% of the Syrian population--that wants Assad dead, anyway--has to endure?

But hey, it is a victory to get the Russians on board military action in case Assad does not comply, you have to admit.

Cue the Russians:

Lavrov said of the agreement: "There (is) nothing said about the use of force and not about any automatic sanctions."

Wait. What? We didn't get the military option in this resolution? Imagine that.

Which means that if Assad does not comply we have to go to the UN Security Council for a second resolution authorizing UN-blessed force under Chapter 7. A resolution Russia or China will veto.

Well, that does put a fly in the Sarin, doesn't it?

Surely, it is only my failure to appreciate the deep nuance of our smart diplomacy that leads me to question the diplomatic victory that Kerry has achieved in Geneva. Assad is probably sobbing in his bunker, worried for his future as America, Russia, and the United Nations have joined forces to cripple his criminal regime.

Syrian state media broadcast the Kerry and Lavrov news conference live, indicating that Damascus is satisfied with the deal.

I tip my hat to the administration. We clearly have a splendid agreement, all prettied up with fancy wax seals and lovely ribbons (in English, Russian, Arabic, and French, no doubt). Assad will turn over the Sudetenland to Germany chemical weapons to the UN and all will be well.

Truly, we have peace in our time.

UPDATE: France wanted Chapter 7 enforcement for failure to comply with the resolution. So we threw the only country to publicly stand with us to strike Syria under the UN bus.

Why would France stand with us now?

When President Obama abruptly called off the bombing strike on Syria and decided to seek the approval of Congress, he surprised no one more than French president Fran├žois Hollande. France, the only country set to join the United States in the raid, was left in the lurch. Hollande was humiliated and isolated. Now, if an assault on Syria occurs, France is unlikely to participate.

After 5 years, it isn't amateur hour. Our foreign policy team simply sucks.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link.

There's more on the deal. Production facilities are included in the agreement--which is an improvement.

But the entire agreement is flawed in that it takes our eye off the ball of making sure Assad must go to the distraction of the possibly temporary disarmament of chemical weapons.

Consider that if accepting Assad as a partner in disarming leads us to lessen support for rebels, Assad gains the chance to demoralize the rebels and restore hope in his outnumbered loyalists. Obviously, we won't be trying to overthrow Assad if we count on him to eliminate chemical weapons.

So the chemical weapons designed to deter US invasion serve their purpose--but just in a different fashion. Which allows Assad to focus on the rebels.

If Assad uses that near certainty of US cooperation to demoralize the rebels and restore hope in his casualty-stricken and shaken loyalists, he has been allowed to focus on the rebels and defeat them.

Once the rebels are defeated and the prospect of our intervention is less worrisome (because our intervention is only cost-effective if there are rebels to take advantage of our intervention), Assad can start cheating and rebuilding his chemical weapons stockpiles (assuming he even has to get rid of all of them before the rebels begin a downward slide).

Clearly, we need to keep arming and training rebels while WMD disarmament efforts proceed just to keep pressure on Assad for the narrow goal of WMD disarmament. Ideally, we press Assad by supporting the rebels and get Assad to give up chemical weapons so that when Assad finally falls there isn't a threat of WMD falling into jihadi hands.

Are we up to something that thinks ahead to victory rather than something that just gets President Obama's chestnuts out of the vise he put them in?