Friday, September 13, 2013

Death, Détente, & Diplomatic Drama: How the Syrian Dilemma is Unfolding

Forget about West Wing re-runs or anticipation for the upcoming new season of Homeland - the diplomatic drama that's unfolding on the world stage right now is down right fascinating.

To briefly recap:

We have the main characters: Syria (our antagonist), Russia (our untrustworthy co-lead), and the United States of America (a protagonist torn between being policeman to the world or non-interventionist for a war-weary public)

And, of course, the supporting characters: Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Gulf countries, Europe (namely France and Britain), and the United Nations

The catalyst: On August 21, 2013, the Syrian government allegedly launched a chemical weapons attack in Zamalka in Eastern Ghouta, Syria.  Social media sites streamed the graphic images of the sickened, the dying, and the dead. 

Our Backdrop: In the midst of an on-going Syrian Civil War that sparked in March 2011 and resulted in an estimated 110,000 people dead, President Obama declared prior to the alleged sarin attack his red-line: "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

The Tension: Syria crossed POTUS' stated red-line, and violated an international norm prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.  How should and how will the United States respond?  


President Obama found himself in the minority in his desire to launch a limited strike against targets in Syria with his stated objective of deterring future CW use by the Syrian regime.  

According to a Zogby poll, the majority of the American public opposes intervention.
The United Kingdom's Parliament voted against military action.

The President, citing the War Powers Act, consulted Congress regarding a military strike against Syria.  The US Congress drafted a resolution for military action and prepared to vote.  With heavy constituent opposition, vote projections did not bode well for support of the President's initiative.


The Twist: During a Q&A in Britain, US Secretary of State John Kerry was asked whether there was anything Syria could do to avoid the threatened strike on Syria.  Kerry, perhaps joking, responded that Syria need only turn over all its chemical weapons.

The Reaction: Russia seized on the statement and proposed that Syria do exactly that: turn over the chemical weapons and avoid a US-led military strike. Damascus supports the proposal.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is skeptical of the Russian proposal.  Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarek al-Khalifa looked beyond the focus on chemical weapons: "The Russian plan is all about chemical weapons but does not stop the bloodshed."

Dramatic Pause: President Obama, also weary of the Russian proposal, addressed the American public and pressed ahead with a presentation of his case for a limited strike while also announcing that he had asked the US Congress to postpone their vote to allow for further diplomatic discussion.

Secretary Kerry is now in Geneva for discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Levrov.  

How will this play out?  Stay tuned.

To be continued...

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