THE AGREEMENT OVER SYRIA: DID THE AMERICANS 'BLINK' FIRST?
“We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other guy just blinked."American Secretary of State Dean Rusk to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, 24 October 1962.
"Syria's Minister for National Reconciliation said on Sunday that the chemical weapons agreement between Russia and the United States was a "victory" for Damascus, won by its Russian allies, and had taken away the pretext for war".Reuters, "Syrian minister calls chemical weapons deal a Russian-won 'victory' over U.S. 15 September 2013, in www.reuters.com.
"In Europe, Clausewitz is either dying (Britain and France) or dead (Germany and the rest). Recall the famous counsel of the Prussian general: "War is the continuation of policy with other means"—that is, with force. Germany, the loser of two world wars, cut this seamless web in 1945, followed by all those former warrior nations from Spain to Sweden. Force as tool of statecraft? Heaven forfend! Europe shall be an "empire of peace." Britain and France, ex-imperial powers both, are going down the same road. David Cameron was trashed by Parliament when he asked for a war resolution on Syria. France's François Hollande would suffer the same fate if he went to the National Assembly. In his heart, Mr. Obama also would like to ditch Clausewitz, as he signaled in his Tuesday speech. He would like to turn the U.S. into an XXL medium-power. He wants to unshoulder the burden of global leadership and to drag the U.S. out of harm's way. As in Europe, his priority is welfare rather than warfare—"nation-building at home." If it has to be force, it must be on the cheap—"limited" and "narrow." Mr. Obama is probably as grateful as Mr. Assad for the reprieve cooked up by the Russians, who want to save the despot at all cost. Ms. Merkel and Messrs. Cameron and Hollande are delighted as well. There is now no shame in hanging back. There is just one problem, and it is bigger than to strike or not. Or to extract well-hidden chemical weapons from a war zone the size of Oklahoma. The U.S. is not an XXL medium-power but the housekeeper of the world. If it outsources the job, there is nobody else—not Europe, Russia or China. And the vandals are watching".Josef Joffe[in],"America, Syria and the World: How is President Obama's turnaround on Syria playing abroad? Seven views from around the globe." The Wall Street Journal. 14 September 2013, in www.wsj.com. It is difficult for the independent or neutral observer to not come to similar conclusions as the intelligent and well respected German commentator Josef Joffe. Notwithstanding my own opinion that not launching military strikes at Syria is by far the best course in the current environment, the fact of the matter is that the American President's hesitancy in not launching military strikes on Syria was due to equal parts the American President's dislike of military action in Syria (which I agree with) and a fear of the unknown consequences of launching said attacks given the weak support both internationally and domestically for any such action. Once again: I applaud the agreement that the Americans and cobbled together with Putin's Russia. Notwithstanding the fact that there is no enforcement mechanism in said agreement 1. That fact however cannot gainsay the fact that the Americans only came round due to the other variables cited herein. Hence, the less than positive take on the outcome of the crisis internationally. In short: in this crisis, unlike in say the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, it was indeed the Americans who did 'blink' first 2. Whether or not (pace Herr Joffe) this is an important harbinger for the future, only time will tell. 1. James Blitz, "Syria crisis: US and Russia agree chemical weapons deal." The Financial Times. 15 September 2013, in www.ft.com. 2. See the comments by the Near Eastern researcher and commentator at the Brookings Institute, Shadi Hamid, who comes to the same conclusion:
Assad and his Russian backers played on Obama's most evident weakness, exploiting his desire to find a way -- any way -- out of military action. There was a threat of military force, but it was a weak and not entirely credible one, and this has only been further confirmed by the events of the last few weeks. Assad is still in power, prosecuting his war. Before the "deal," Assad had to at least worry about the possibility of military intervention and modulate his daily kill rate accordingly.Shadi Hamid, "The U.S.-Russian Deal on Syria: A Victory for Assad." The Brookings Institute. 14 September 2013 in www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/09/14-chemical-weapons-syria.