That’s where President Obama now finds himself on Syria after he embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s offer to take custody of Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons. The move may rescue Mr. Obama and Congress from the political agony of a vote on a resolution to authorize a military strike on Syria. But the diplomatic souk is now open, and Mr. Obama has turned himself into one of the junior camel traders.
What a fiasco. Secretary of State John Kerry, of all people, first floated this escape route for Assad on Monday in Europe where he was supposed to be rallying diplomatic support for a strike. The remark appeared to be off-the-cuff, but with Mr. Kerry and this Administration you never know. In any case before Mr. Kerry’s plane had landed in the U.S., Russia’s foreign minister had leapt on the idea and proposed to take custody of Assad’s chemical arsenal to forestall U.S. military action.
The White House should have rebuffed the offer given Russia’s long protection of Assad at the United Nations—a fact noted with scorn on Monday by Mr. Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice. Instead Mr. Obama endorsed the Russian gambit as what “could potentially be a significant breakthrough.” The Senate immediately called off its Wednesday vote on the military resolution. By Tuesday Assad had accepted the offer that he hopes will spare him from a military strike.
France will press for a U.N. Security Council resolution supposedly for U.N. inspectors to supervise the dismantling of Syria’s stockpiles, though Russia will no doubt try to put itself in the lead inspecting role. On Tuesday Russia was even objecting to a French draft that would blame the Syrian government for using chemical weapons. Mr. Putin also insisted the U.S. must first disavow any military action in Syria, even as he and Iran make no such pledge.
On second thought, fiasco is too kind for this spectacle. Russia has publicly supported Assad’s denials that he used sarin gas, but we are now supposed to believe it will thoroughly scrub Syria of those weapons. We are also supposed to believe Assad will come clean about the weapons he has long denied having and still denies using.
Oh, and we can be confident of this because U.N. or Russian inspectors or someone will be able to locate the entire chemical arsenal, pack up arms that require enormous care in transport, and then monitor future compliance in the continuing war zone that is Syria.