My piece at Telegraph Blogs boldly asserts that yesterday was the worst-ever day for Western diplomacy:
Think about what will happen if the Russian initiative starts to fly.
Chemical weapons are relatively easy to make and store (and fire), but much harder to dismantle safely. The chemicals themselves are fiendishly dangerous and need to be destroyed with specialist equipment without creating environmental hazards. Plus the explosive part of the delivery shell needs careful handling. Destroying CW stocks is therefore a complex and expensive operation, even under calm conditions. Both the United States and Russia have both heavily failed to meet internationally agreed deadlines for destroying their massive Cold War legacy chemical weapons stocks.
There is no precedent for attempting anything like this in a country wracked by civil war. It just can’t happen. No Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed or “handed over” quickly.
Meanwhile any new process of setting up an international monitoring and destruction regime will require painstaking UN and wider negotiation with the Assad regime, thereby giving Assad and his state apparatus a massive boost of renewed confidence and legitimacy. Before long Washington may find itself locked on to implicitly or even explicitly supporting Assad in his civil war as the best chance to get some sort of internationally agreed CW destruction programme delivered in Syria…
Read the whole thing.
Yes, they hoot, but surely there have been many other days far worse than this leading to global political disasters?
Maybe. But I can not identify any occasion when the most basic precepts of diplomatic technique were more exposed as simply and drivellingly incompetent. Poor contradictory messaging. Unclear goals. Weak delivery, and lamentable coordination as between key offices. All projecting drift and indecision and generalised gutlessness.
Why is all this happening? Because President Obama himself dithered, between his instinct not to ‘get involved’ in Syria and his sense that he risked looking weak in the face of sustained Syrian regime human rights abuses on a vast scale. Having then specifically identified the use of CW as a ‘red line’, he then had no plan prepared for what should happen when that line were crossed. Worse, he even blathered that the red line was not his but the world’s.
It’s bad enough but perhaps excusable in the ghastly confusion of the Syria conflict to have no clear idea of what to do. It’s professionally unforgiveable to have no idea of what to say. It simply makes NO SENSE to froth up bloviated comparisons between the actions of the Syrian regime and Munich 1939 or the WW2 Holocaust, and then signal that the USA is going to respond only with “a shot across Assad’s bows” or an “unbelievably small” attack.
Now we see what appears to be a busy attempt by Washington to work with Moscow and shove the whole issue back to the United Nations, with a feigned diplomatic push to demolish Syria’s CW programmes. Victory for American resolve! Negotiation, not war! That Nobel Peace Prize at last earned! Nothing more to see here folks, so move along.
Who knows, maybe there will be more US blundering in the coming days and weeks as the appalling facts on the ground in Syria compel some or other response. But as things stand today, Moscow can not believe its luck. Cynical, focused Russian diplomacy is close to achieving a stunning success, winning all Moscow’s strategic goals in Syria with the Americans left sprawling behind and plaintively asking Moscow if they can climb aboard Putin’s bus. Crimes against humanity committed by the Assad regime that were denounced in the strongest terms by Western capitals may soon be shoved by Washington (and the rest of us) into the Too Difficult tray.
In all this Vladimir Putin has exploited Barrack Obama’s weakness on this issue like Rafael Nadal sending a lowly ranked tennis player scurrying to and fro across the court, steadily dragging him out of position before sending down a blistering winner into an empty space.
Putin has advantages here. His goals are simple: to keep Assad in business, and to thwart Western policies (both as an end in itself and to ‘punish’ Western capitals for their monkey-business over the Libya UN resolution). Because Putin knows what he wants, he is able to project a blunt if not often openly abusive sense of relentless diplomatic purpose.
This ruthless Russian negotiating technique is, in its own terms, impressive. For those of us brought up to look to Washington for strong, principled leadership in the cause of democracy and liberal values, it is horrible to watch just how well President Putin has played his cards, and how poorly President Obama has played his.
Overall result? The suffering of the Syrian people will continue indefinitely, mainly thanks to Moscow (and Beijing). War criminal Assad stays in business. And no other global capitals are ready to do anything serious about it.