What Does Obama Get From a Syria Compromise Besides Political Relief?
Things are falling into place for the Kerry/Putin Surprise Solution to U.S. Intervention in Syria. France will bring a proposal to the UN; Syria and Russia and the United States and China have endorsed it. Everyone is happy. Except that the actual collection of chemical weapons is enormously tricky. And everyone is happy -- except for the Syrian rebels.
Early Monday morning, only a handful of people knew that a breakthrough was even this close. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a seemingly off-the-cuff response to a question from a CBS reporter, suggested that if Syria gave up its chemical weapons, we could avoid inserting ourselves into the conflict. It wasn't that accidental -- the idea had been raised in conversation between presidents Obama and Putin during the G20 summit last week, as Obama acknowledged on Monday and Putin did on Tuesday. Syria has formally agreed to the idea. Russia is hoping to flesh out a concrete plan, according to Reuters; France wants to bring one to the U.N., as The New York Times reports. (The paper's editorial board also endorsed the idea.) If a concrete plan is formalized, it appears that there will be no more vetoes at the U.N. Security Council from Russia or China.
From the standpoint of American politics, the shift is sudden and severe. A president facing the difficult task of convincing the nation of the need for war with a speech from the Oval Office now simply has to make the case for a brokered compromise. Those on Capitol Hill who backed the call for force -- usually quietly -- are broadly relieved not to have to take an increasingly unpopular vote to that effect.