Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the U.S. might postpone a military strike on Syria if the regime put its chemical weapons under international supervision -- an offer that both Russia and Syria quickly warmed to.
So, in order to obviate an attack on a country that Americans evidently care about not at all, Vladimir Putin , the State Department's new Syria desk officer, working in concert with President Barack Obama and his intermittently slap-happy secretary of state, has come up with a fake solution to a real problem.
Here is the best thing you can say about the proposal: The byproduct of this bizarre episode is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies would have to be utterly self-destructive to use sarin gas or other chemical weapons against civilians right now. That would push Obama to strike, whether Congress approves or not.
Obama has been hesitant to use force (an understatement, I think), but obviously not hesitant enough for the Syrian government and its sponsors in Russia . Both parties -- and Iran as well, one hopes -- seem to have been at least somewhat nervous about the possibility of an American strike. Hence, yesterday's news.
So that's a good thing.
Here are a few bad things: All Assad has to do to forever stave off a punitive strike is to keep promising that he's in the middle of giving up his chemical weapons. (No one, by the way, has addressed the fate of his biological weapons.) This is a process that could go on for months, or even years. Yes, that's right -- we might be reading stories soon about United Nations weapons inspectors roaming Syria (a war zone, it should be noted) in a hunt for missing WMD. There are hundreds of tons of chemical munitions in Syria, and very few people think Assad would part with all of them. Why would he? Chemical weapons are a major deterrent to those outside Syria who seek his demise.
And if Putin and Kerry have indeed constructed, intentionally or not, an offramp for Obama, Assad can continue -- with real impunity now -- to slaughter civilians without foreign interference. He may be Hitler, as administration officials and their surrogates keep suggesting, but a Hitler we're content to see remain in power. The opposition in Syria will see all of this as a betrayal, and could become further radicalized as a result.
Here's an alternative scenario: The Putin plan won't work at all, and we'll be back, soon enough, to a congressional vote on an attack very few people seem to want, and even fewer seem to understand.
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Jeffrey Goldberg at email@example.com