Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Syria: not ashamed to be naïve

Isn’t it heartwarming that US Secretary of State John Kerry, in full agreement with his Russian opposite number Sergey Lavrov, can describe himself as ‘very pleased’ with the initial work on chemical weapon disarmament now under way in Syria?
Lavrov and Kerry: best of friends these days...
That contrasts with his position less than a month ago. Asked on 9 September whether there was anything Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid being targeted by US cruise missiles, Kerry replied:

‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’

Now I’ve been told it only demonstrates how hopelessly naïve I am that I failed to spot the clever bluff that Kerry was playing. He never had any intention of actually using the missiles, he just wanted Assad (and the Russians) to believe that he might. All the time, what he was really after was putting enough pressure on the regime in Damascus to force it to the negotiating table.

Well, perhaps. But I remember the run up to the Iraq war, when the State Department was using the same kind of language, claiming that their intention was to set the bar so high Saddam Hussein simply couldn’t clear it. In other words, they’d made up their mind to go to war, come what may.

It felt to me as though the US administration was going down that route again. They didn’t want to give Assad any way of wriggling away from a missile attack, and no one was as committed to aggressive action than Kerry.

Which was strange, as he’d never seemed a real hawk before. But then it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been disappointed by a politician’s second thoughts.

So, in my naïve way, I’m over the moon that Kerry’s now ‘pleased’ with the progress achieved by diplomacy, without a shot being fired, without a single civilian killed by ‘collateral damage’ (at least, not inflicted by the West: the warring factions in Syria are causing tragic levels of casualties daily).

What changed over the last month? Time was bought for diplomacy. 

There’s no doubt the US threat was effective. Moscow took it sufficiently seriously to bring pressure to bear on Assad; friendless and isolated, Assad gave way and decided to meet UN requirements on his chemical weapons; the international community agreed to give this initiative time to prove itself a failure or a success; and so far it seems to be going well.

As important as the US threat of force was the time for negotiation to work. And that was made available by US allies refusing to support its unilateral action. In turn, that gave Obama and Kerry pause, and Putin the opportunity to act.

Now, wouldn’t it be major step forward if this experience marked a new trend for Western nations to moderate each other’s aggression, rather than forever working themselves up to new military adventures?

But that
’s just more naïvety on my part, no doubt.


Awoogamuffin said...

I guess the carrot is more effective if you wield a big ol' stick too. To be frank, the way this all turned out was much, much better than I (and probably Kerry too) had anticipated.

David Beeson said...

A lot better, I suspect, than Miliband imagined either. And a great relief.