SYRIA SEPTEMBER 10, 2013
Okay, so Secretary of State John Kerry inadvertently opened the door to getting President Barack Obama off the hook, and saving him from an inevitably embarrassing vote in Congress on the use of force in Syria. Now, the White House can, as opponents of a military strike have argued, really try the diplomatic channel while regrouping up on the Hill. Syria would hand over the chemical weapons it's started to move to the desert to avoid attacks, sign on to the treaty banning the use of chemical weapons, and the Obama administration will have overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenge of reaching an agreement with the Russians on Syria.
It's a lovely and miraculous picture of things, and you can hold on to it for another ... 42 minutes (at this writing), until 4 p.m. EST when the U.N. Security Council meets and this thing inevitably collapses.
Why? Because Russia. Because Syria. Because everything is still a disaster and we've just allowed ourselves to bask in some foreign policy placebo.
Going into the UNSC meeting, there are already big disagreements mounting. While Washington slept, France and Russia immediately took the lead when the White House gave a tentative green light to pursue this Hail Mary attempt at diplomacy. But by the time Washington had breakfast, they had already run into disagreement: The French wanted the U.N. resolution to carry consequences if the Syrians did not fully comply, the Russians immediately called it "unacceptable."
So what is the resolution the council votes on going to look like? Given stated U.S. priorities and Obama's stated hesitation on the authenticity of the Russian proposal, the U.S. would probably like to see a resolution that is closer to the French variant. Given Russia's priorities, and given that the Syrians have already said they're going to turn everything over and sign the ban treaty, which is probably good enough for Moscow, Russia will want to see something vastly different.
Then there's the other matter of whether military strikes remain on the table. Last night, Obama said that it was key that the threat of strikes remain on the table since it was what forced this diplomatic solution to begin with; this afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Americans and their allies have to take that option off the table before talks go forward.
And ... just before I hit publish on this post, Russia has withdrawn its earlier request for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting. So that either buys us time, or we were just robbed of, at this writing, 22 more minutes of hope.