Sunday, September 15, 2013

Arlene Kushner Explains How Unserious Obama's Agreement With Putin and Assad Really Is

From Arlene Kushner:
September 15, 2013

Who Are They Kidding?

I knew before going into Yom Kippur that a US-Russian deal for disarming Syria would be reached in Geneva while I and fellow Jews were observing Yom Kippur.  And so the news I picked up last night did not take me by surprise.  But it did sadden me immeasurably.
Thus do I ask: Does ANYONE really believe this deal is serious? 
Clearly, Obama likes the deal because it gets him off the hook with regard to having to bomb Syria.  Which says nothing about a genuine commitment on his part to make the world safer. 
The fact that he was able to say yesterday that the international community expects Syria to "live up to its public commitments" to hand over its chemical weapons shows how unserious he is.

Read: Obama praises deal with Russia on Syria, but cautions that work remains
There is less than zero reason to believe that Assad will live up to any commitment regarding his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.  Anyone who is familiar with Assad's MO -- his utter ruthlessness and his disregard for truth -- understands this.  But there is, as well, concrete evidence as to how Assad is already playing it:
Last Thursday the Wall Street Journal reported that an "elite" Syrian unit -- "Unit 450-a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that manages the regime's overall chemical weapons program" has been moving the stock of weapons around for months now, with material located in as many as 50 different sites.  
Until a year ago, the chemicals were stored in a few major sites in western Syria. But then Unit 450 began dispersing them to a couple dozen major sites and many smaller ones in all part of the country.  The US tracks Unit 450 vehicles by satellite, but tracking is imperfect. Acknowledged one US official, "We know a lot less than we did six months ago about where the chemical weapons are." (Emphasis added)
This unit, "from janitor to commander" is composed of Alawites and is absolutely loyal to Assad, to whom it reports directly.  The members of the unit are responsible not only for manufacturing and deploying the weapons, they also guard the sites where they are stored.  Their devotion to Assad's purposes makes it close to impossible to compromise them.

Read: Elite Syrian Unit Scatters Chemical Arms Stockpile
It would be difficult not to ponder whether there might have been a correlation between Obama's red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons and Assad's order to disperse those weapons more extensively -- timing seems to dovetail.  And then, there is the question of why the US -- tracking this dispersal -- didn't act at that very moment, when it was obvious that Assad's intentions were, shall we say, less then peaceful and forthright. 
But that's all water under the bridge...
I have picked up reports that some of Assad's weapons have been moved into Iraq, and some possibly into Lebanon, for Hezbollah:
"The Syrian regime has begun transferring its chemical weapons to neighboring countries to deceive U.N. inspectors, the anti-Syrian Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal claimed on Sunday, a day after Russia and the U.S. announced a new agreement aimed at destroying Syria's chemical weapon arsenal.

"According to the paper, some 200 Syrian trucks were loaded with chemical-warfare-related equipment and were then sent to Iraq. The paper reported that the trucks arrived in Iraq on Thursday and Friday and were not inspected by border guards as they entered."
Read: Report: Syria transferring chemical weapons to Iraq, Lebanon
According to Chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avigdor Lieberman, speaking to Voice of Israel radio today, Israel has no information to confirm Syrian rebel claims that the Assad regime has sent chemical weapons to Iraq.

Read: Liberman: No Confirmation that Assad Sent Poison Gas to Iraq
What especially fascinates me is that Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesman Luai Al-Mekdad told Asharq Al-Awsat news (London) that Assad still plans to send such weapons to Iraq: he is "returning the Iraqi chemical arsenal, which Saddam Hussein had sent to Syria before the 2003 Iraq War." (Emphasis added)
This would be a confirmation of what I have always been convinced of: It was not true that the Bush administration was mistaken with regard to Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD -- they weren't found because he sent them to Syria.
How obvious, then, that Assad would follow Saddam's example, and move his weapons, or some part of his stockpiles, where they cannot be accessed by inspectors.
Al-Mekdad says Hezbollah also will be receiving WMD from Assad soon, and will be storing them in the Bekka Valley, near Syria.
The charge regarding movement of weaponry to Lebanon -- on which I have no confirmation as I write -- would be the most disconcerting and is something to be watched with exceeding care. 
The concern is two fold: First, putting such weapons into the terrorist hands of Hezbollah means they might be used anywhere in the world.  Hezbollah is an world-wide terrorist operative.
And then, this would be crossing Israel's very clear and oft-stated red line.  Either this information is incorrect or Israel must hit.  That is something Obama would not want to see happen now, as he's "solving" the problem without military action. And so it would require Netanyahu to order that attack in the face of American objections.
Putin clearly likes the agreement because it puts him in charge, makes a fool of his rival/adversary Obama, and protects his client Assad.  A fantastic situation for him. 
And that Assad is happy because he will not be attacked and expects to get away with a great deal is a given.
But what of the people? The people of Syria who have been hit with these weapons, and of surrounding regions that might yet be hit?  What of the wider Western world and the implications of pretending that all is well when it is not?
The deal was announced yesterday in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Kerry and Lavrov
Credit: Reuters
The first stage of the "deal" requires Assad to make declaration within a week to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of all of his WMD and their location.  The OPCW will (as necessary) then report to the UN. 
A note of explanation:  the OPCW is the international organization, located in the Hague, that monitors compliance on the Chemical Weapons Convention.  At Russian urging, Syria has signed the Convention and will become a member of the OPCW in 30 days.  If Assad must make declaration within a week, this is before Syria's membership in OPCW has become operative.
The Obama administration is claiming the declaration of his chemical weapon arsenal is a first "litmus test" of Assad's willingness to cooperate.
But wait just a second.  The US is saying Assad has "about" or "at least" 1,000 tons of chemical weapons.  Suppose they have 1,005 tons of such weaponry and account for 1,000 tons.  Five tons of chemical weapons can do a whole lot of human damage.  But how will the US or the OPCW know what is being held back -- especially as the material is so far scattered and intelligence is imprecise?
By November, all sites that have been declared by Assad are to be inspected, and all production equipment destroyed.  By the middle of 2014, all chemical weapons are to be destroyed.
Kerry calls this "ambitious."  I call it impossible. A joke. 
All responsible experts whose opinions I've encountered say this operation, even if successful, would take years. There is a huge (humungous) amount of chemical material and equipment to contend with -- some of which would be moved out of Syria before being destroyed. 
And I would remind my readers that the civil war has not stopped and inspectors and other officials from OPCW would have to work in a dangerous environment that requires considerable security back up at some 50 different sites.
According to the agreement:
"The Russian Federation and the United States will work together closely, including with the OPCW, the UN and Syrian parties to arrange for the security of the monitoring and destruction mission,noting the primary responsibility of the Syrian government in this regard." (Emphasis added)
Understand: they are counting on Assad to provide security for the crews that will inspect and destroy his chemical weapons, while he continues to fight the rebels. And, the underlying assumption here is that he will willing cooperate in this regard and that his 450 unit forces will stand back. 
There will be UN Security Council involvement at some level, but this seems amorphous in the agreement, with Russia still resisting anything in the way of major enforcement or punitive measures.  Russia is going to watch out for Assad to the best of its ability.
You can see the text of the agreement here: Framework For Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons 
Obama is still claiming that the US will hit Syria if this falls apart.  Count me as exceedingly dubious.  Russia is resisting this, and did from the very beginning, saying that success depends upon no threats. Last week, Assad told Russian state television that he will only cooperate if the US stopped threatening him. (See the NY Sun article below for more on this.) 
Today Syrian Minister Ali Haidar told Moscow's RIA news agency: "These agreements ... are a victory for Syria, achieved thanks to our Russian friends."

Read: Assad government hails 'victory' in arms deal, troops attack
The New York Sun is comparing what Obama has done with the 1938 appeasement at Munich (emphasis added):
The agreement between Secretary of State Kerry and the Russian Federation makes the Obama administration a partner of not only President Putin but also of President Al-Assad of Syria. The idea is that the Syrian will destroy his chemical weapons, which the Kremlin helped him acquire, and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. In return - according to the Washington Post - the Obama administration may have agreed not only lay off a military attack but to forbear from bringing Mr. Al-Assad before the World Court."

Read: ‘Imbeciles’
Faoud Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is a savvy observer of the political scene.  I want to share with you what he has to say -- with astuteness and considerable insight -- about Obama's conduct, in "Obama Is Lost in the Mideast Bazaar" (emphasis added):
"There is a trick in the great labyrinthine bazaars of the Middle East: petty hucksters luring the vacationing  franjis into the market maze and then getting paid to lead them out. As dusk looms, the unnerved outsider is always glad to be steered to familiar surroundings. In the matter of Syria, and America's staggeringly inept diplomacy, Vladimir Putin is the clever trickster who has seized upon an unsuspecting prey...

"The survival of the Syrian regime was a 'red line' for the Russian ruler—a true red line. The dictatorship in Damascus had been forged four decades ago, when Soviet power was on the rise. Syrian armies and factories, the intelligence services and the architecture, were all in the Soviet mold. The sun may have set on the old Soviet empire, but on the shores of the Mediterranean, with a derelict naval base in Tartus waiting to be revived, Syria offered Russia the consolation that it could still play the game of the great powers. In the Syrian mirror, Mr. Putin sees a version of his own battle with Chechen insurgents.

"Now it is dusk, and the hapless Barack Obama has lost his old swagger.  He had feigned intimacy with 'the East,' he had thought he was at ease with that big Islamic world. Instead, he was befuddled by what awaited him, and now he finds himself at the mercy of a Russian skilled in the ruses of the bazaar...

"Mr. Putin has an eye for the fecklessness of the democracies.  He knew that the Obama administration, seized with panic, would take the bait he offered: custody of Syria's chemical weapons in return for giving the Damascus regime a new lease on life.

"We are war-weary, Mr. Obama intones repeatedly. He was elected to end wars, not to start them, the president reminds us. But none of our leaders—certainly not the ones who mattered, who answered the call of history—was elected to start wars.

"We anoint our leaders to rid us of our weariness when resolve is called for, to draw for us the connection between our security and menaces at a seeming far remove. The leaders of the past two decades who sent American forces to Bosnia, to Kosovo, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, were not thirsting for foreign wars. These leaders located America, and its interests, in the world. Pity the Syrians, they rose up in the time of Barack Obama."
Read: Obama Is Lost in the Mideast Bazaar
And then, a biting Mark Steyn, also astute but with a very different tone, on "American Ineffectualism" (emphasis added):
Steyn begins his piece by writing about an op-ed Vladimir Putin did in the NY Times, in which he "warned against chest-thumping about 'American exceptionalism'"...
"Charles Crawford, Britain’s former ambassador in Serbia and Poland, called last Monday 'the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began.' Obama set it in motion at a press conference last year by drawing his famous 'red line'...Obama doesn’t interact enough with the press for it to become normal or real. So at this rare press conference he was, as usual, playing a leader who’s giving a press conference. The 'red line' line sounds like the sort of thing a guy playing a president in a movie would say.  It never occurred to him that out there in the world beyond the Republic of Cool he’d set an actual red line and some dime-store dictator would cross it with impunity...

"...In the Obama era, to modify Teddy Roosevelt, America chatters unceasingly and carries an unbelievably small stick. In this, the wily Putin saw an opening, and offered a 'plan' so absurd that even Obama’s court eunuchs in the media had difficulty swallowing it. A month ago, Assad was a reviled war criminal and Putin his arms dealer. Now, Putin is the honest broker and Obama’s partner for peace, and the war criminal is at the negotiating table with his chances of survival better than they’ve looked in a year.

"Putin has pulled off something incredible: He’s gotten Washington to anoint him as the international community’s official peacemaker, even as he assists Iran in going nuclear and keeping their blood-soaked Syrian client in his presidential palace. Already, under the 'peace process,' Putin and Assad are running rings around the dull-witted Kerry, whose Botoxicated visage embodies all too well the expensively embalmed state of the superpower...

"As for Putin’s American-exceptionalism crack, he was attacking less the concept than Obama’s opportunist invocation of it as justification for military action in Syria. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans alike took the bait...Marco Rubio National Review Online that America was still, like, totally exceptional.

"Sorry, this doesn’t pass muster even as leaden, staffer-written codswallop. It’s not the time — not when you’re a global joke, not when every American ally is cringing with embarrassment at the amateurishness of the last month. Nobody, friend or foe, wants to hear about American exceptionalism when the issue is American ineffectualism..."
Read: American Ineffectualism  (With thanks to Barbara O.)
At a memorial for the Yom Kippur War on Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that what mattered with regard to Syria were not words but deeds.  If Syria can actually be stripped of its WMD, then that would be wonderful.

Read: Netanyahu Hopes for 'Actions, not Words' on Syria
Very quickly, Netanyahu drew the parallel with Iran.  Today Kerry paid a quick visit, which was devoted primarily to briefing the prime minister on the situation with Syria. At the press conference that followed their meeting, Netanyahu said (emphasis added):
"The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don't have weapons of mass destruction because, as we've learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction they will use them...

"If diplomacy has any chance to work it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of... Syria is true of Iran."
Read: Kerry in Israel: Threat of force against Syria is real
Kerry's visit, which had been scheduled some days ago, was supposed to provide an opportunity to "discuss" the "peace negotiations," but Syria seems to have trumped this as the main focus of discussion.  We must be grateful for small favors. 
Anticipation had been that Kerry was coming to pressure Netanyahu in order to achieve the semblance of a diplomatic success -- but now he's touting the agreement with Russia as a success.  He made all sorts of tough noises about the fact that the US means it and might still attack.  Which is, in essence what Netanyahu was responding to with a "show me, don't tell me," sort of message.
And what do you know:  In an interview today on ABC. Obama said that the US threat to Syria, which transitioned to a diplomatic solution, signaled to Iran a possible solution. 
He believed, he said, that the situation with Syria increased US deterrence power. 
This is amazing poppycock. How does he have the nerve to say this?
The world knew he was looking for a way to back out of attacking, and knew that he could have attacked without Congressional approval and did not.  That, as I've described above, he grabbed the Russian deal out of panic.  Iran watched all of this.
"They shouldn't draw a lesson ... to think we won't strike Iran [but] there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically."
Translation: See Iran, I'm talking tough. Be afraid. And then let's resolve things without military action. 
For the first time, in this interview, the president confirmed that he had corresponded with Iranian President Hassan Rohani.  So he's into the "diplomatic track" now.

Read: Obama: Tehran should not look at Syria and assume US won't attack
And sure enough, the Iranians, seeing their opening have lost no time in responding:
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today in an interview with Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen, which is Hezbollah-affiliated: "We are suffering from lack of mutual trust with the US," but we are willing to "build trust with the United States" on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, which was "established for peaceful purposes."
Zarif wants the US to "present a genuine desire for peace and stop using the language of threats."

Read: Iran says willing to build trust with US on nuclear issue
This is nauseating. But how will Obama respond?  Will he promote some picture of Iran turning more conciliatory because he talked tough?
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 

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