9/17/2013 10:15:00 AM Publisher's Column
History books may add
the Obama-Kerry Gambit
It begins to look as if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may have pulled off the most brilliant political gambit in the history of the United States. Whereas a week ago it appeared that they were almost isolated in their determination to secure Syrian chemical stores and in their enthusiasm for a military attack to accomplish that goal, they now appear to have almost universal backing for securing Syrian chemical weapons under threat of international sanctions and military attack.
Obama had everyone believing he was intent on sending missiles against Syria's military. Then on September 9, at a press conference in London, Secretary of State John Kerry said those strikes could only be prevented by Syria turning over its chemical weapons stores within a week. Immediately after that press conference, Russia suggested a plan for having Syria turn its chemical weapons over to international control. In the intervening week, most of the world, including Syria, has endorsed the plan, and Syria has acknowledged that it has chemical weapons.
Although bugs remain to be worked out, the plan calls for:
Syria to present information on the location of chemical weapons and weapons manufacturing supplies;
Syria to become a signatory on the international agreement banning chemical weapons;
Syria to allow unfettered access to chemical weapons stores by international inspection teams;
All Syrian chemical weapons to be destroyed or under United Nations control by the middle of next year;
International sanctions, including military force, if Syria fails to live up to its obligations under the plan.
Some in the media have speculated that Secretary Kerry made a slip when he said Syria could avoid a U.S. attack by turning over it chemical weapons stores. I think they are wrong. I suspect that it was carefully planned and that it achieved exactly what was intended. Everything just comes together too nicely for it to have been an accident.
Russia's Putin gets to be a hero and Russia gets to look like a major world power again, so both the Russian leader and his countrymen have a vested interest in seeing that the plan succeeds.
Syria avoids being attacked and retains its relationship with Russia, so it has incentive to cooperate.
Congress gets to avoid having a vote on giving Obama authority to use military force in Syria.
Obama achieves the goal of ridding Syria of chemical weapons without having to violate the Constitution.
It appears to be a win-win plan for everyone.
Right now, it is impossible to say whether President Obama and John Kerry set up the stage for the production of this plan, but it seems credible to me that they may have done so. President Obama's belligerent attitude in this situation seemed so out-of-character and senseless. However, if he were trying to convince Syria and its allies that Syria faced a U.S. military strike in order to motivate its allies to pressure Syria into giving up chemical weapons, then his attitude makes perfect sense.
As an old chess player, I look at this and see all the evidence of a brilliant gambit, and it appears that President Obama played it with finesse.
Of course, the game isn't over yet. There is still the possibility that Syrian leaders are not astute enough to recognize the necessity of cooperating with the international community. If so, military force may become necessary. In that case, though, the international community will also be involved in whatever response is made.
Have a great week.
P.S. Watch next week's paper for news on the Zumbro Bend Rendezvous coming up the last weekend in September in Mantorville.