Putin the big winner in Syria affair

Putin with tranquilizer gun

Russian PM Vladimir Putin holds a tranquilizer gun in 2008, when he (supposedly) helped wildlife authorities tag a tiger. Yesterday he tranquilized President Obama on Syria.

Thanks to the quick work of Vladimir Putin, there will almost certainly be no US attack on Syria.

Putin, as you have probably heard, picked up on an off-the-cuff remark made by Secretary of State Kerry that Assad could avoid an attack by placing his chemical weapons under international control, and Assad happily agreed.

So now any military action will be considered premature because a diplomatic solution is allegedly in the works. Putin and the Assad regime are putting together a ‘plan’, and Obama, along with European allies, has agreed to discuss it at the UN Security Council.

In one fell swoop, control of the affair has been taken out of Obama’s hands and placed in Putin’s. The US Senate has delayed its debate, and the chance that Congress will approve a military option — small to begin with — is now close to zero. Which is just as well, since military action without a concrete objective is usually disastrous.

This is a great victory for Putin, who is playing the role of world leader to the hilt, and for Assad, who will now be permitted to stay in power and continue his war against the various rebel groups. It remains to be seen to what degree the negotiations that will follow will legitimize the Butcher of Damascus and limit possible Western help to the rebels. But he isn’t going to give up his weapons (or even pretend to) for nothing.

Obama can relax that he is no longer required to make a decision and take responsibility for the consequences. He no longer needs to worry about losing a vote in Congress, even if in his heart of hearts he would prefer to do so. Members of Congress who favored intervention can relax in that they don’t have to take an unpopular position.

Obama will now pretend that his ‘courageous’ action forced a peaceful solution, but nobody will be fooled. His own and US credibility and posture of deterrence were severely damaged by his delay, vacillation and lack of focus — as well as the unprecedented leakage of the parameters of the planned strike.

The actual control or destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons will be complicated and difficult, and it is not at all certain that it can be accomplished. So the ‘solution’ may not be a solution after all, except that it will save Assad’s murderous ass.

From the Israeli point of view, the development is mixed. On the one hand, the possibility of a US strike developing into a regional war has been reduced (although most analysts thought that Israel’s warning of a strong response would have been an effective deterrent by itself). On the other hand, it isn’t clear what the effect of an international presence in Syria will be on the transfer of advanced weapons to Hizballah, something which Israel is absolutely committed to prevent.

One beneficiary will be Iran, which will keep its Syrian connection to Hizballah open, and whose busy little nuclear bees will continue to work while attention is diverted to the Syrian situation.

But the biggest winner of all is Vladimir Putin, now the go-to man in the Middle East.

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