Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How the Syria Crisis was Defused

President Barack Obama's handling of the Syria crisis had little resonance with his primary audiences. His Arab audiences puzzled over his focus on death by chemical weapons much more than the deaths and suffering of countless others. Moreover, they contrasted the quick reaction to rebellion in Syria to the chaos in Egypt and the Middle East. Obama asked the US Congress to authorize what then Senator John Kerry called an “unbelievably small strike” alienating Republicans and Democrats alike and left Israel rubbing their eyes in disbelief. The Obama administration then took two steps back from its push for an immediate attack on Syria allowing weeks to slip by without the diplomacy that should have been the first choice for pressure on Syria. Obama and his team even lost the public-relations battle to the Russians who initiated proposals that defused the crisis and made it possible to initiate diplomacy and to defer military action. As Winston Churchill said famously and repeatedly,” talk talk is better than war war”. The world was impressed and mighty surprised that Vladimir Putin of Moscow and the KGB would turn out to be a better politician than Barack Obama of Chicago, satisfying his own constituency impressing the world with his ability to develop and implement solutions to intractable problems without the use of force. In an earlier crisis in the Middle East, Harvard professor and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “Let’s be slow to war”, urging support for diplomatic solution in the similar crisis of 1990. Among his supporters in 1990 was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts who also pressed for diplomacy and negotiations. Until the military face-off ends, we cannot be sure that the horrors of war will not be visited on our troops, the opposing troops, and the region's inhabitants. Diplomacy took over. Inside the White House, confusion reigned as US policy changed on Syria and chemical weapons. On the same day, a potential breakthrough via a diplomatic opening provided by Russia, the Obama administration sent a memo to Congress highlighting why Russia should not be trusted on Syria. Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an eleventh hour break; the US stumbled on the solution, emerging from the brink of war to making a deal with its biggest adversary.

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