I’m flabbergasted as I watch the ineptitude with which John Kerry is conducting the foreign affairs of the United States. I could start with his flippant dismissal of the possibility that Syria would give up its chemical weapons short of NATO bombing, his preferred solution, but I won’t. I could mention how he insisted the Syrian opposition had no access to chemical weapons only to have the UN report that the opposition had almost certainly used such weapons on multiple occasions, but I won’t. I’ll refer only to the latest absurdities surrounding the Geneva negotiations for a transitional government in Syria. First the US dropped the ball on Iranian participation, allowing our clueless UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to invite the regional power-broker officially into the talks. The South Korean is right, of course — how can you get any kind of realistic or enforceable agreement without Iranian participation? In any case, I guess the Obama administration forgot to give Ban Ki Moon his marching orders, because after the invite went out and became public, Kerry demanded that the invitation be withdrawn.
Kerry decreed that Assad had to agree that he was a goner and no longer could serve as president of Syria if there were to be an agreement. That’s quite an incentive to offer Mr. Assad in return for his cooperation. It reminds me of how we treated Moammar Qaddafi after he swore off weapons of mass destruction under US pressure. (We killed him, for those who forgot.) The cowardly Ban Ki Moon withdrew his invitation, no doubt with much annoyance and embarrassment and resentment, and now, suddenly, Kerry is thinking maybe having Iran in the negotiations is not such a bad idea. This is a case of Kerry being against the invitation to Iran before he was in favor of it. But he still tells Assad he’s finished (not adding, “and a prisoner in the Hague”). He presumably thinks this tempting offer will attract the full good will of Assad and his allies.
Of course the Syrians have said, get outta here. Transitional government doesn’t mean removal of the head of government. To follow Kerry’s logic, a Cabinet shuffle in DC would require the president’s removal, as well. While our figurehead Syrians sit at the negotiating table with their preconditions (give us power), the real power, the jihadists, are out there warring with the “moderates” and slitting throats right and left, anticipating the removal of Assad and their own ascent to power. The US charges of regime brutality may be true, but the opposition is guilty of the same crimes. That pretext won’t fly. These negotiations look unlikely to end up successfully.
The problem is that the US has grown far too complacent in our massive power. In the past we successfully used negotiations to rubber-stamp foregone conclusions. A good example of how this works were the Rambouillet negotiations in France. These talks were used by the US/NATO to provide themselves with the pretext for war against Serbia over alleged “massive violations” of the ethnic Albanian and largely Moslem community’s human rights. But the negotiations were a sham designed to earn the Serbian president’s rejection, including among NATO’s key demands that Milosevic accept a NATO occupation of Serbia. When the talks collapsed, as hoped, the NATO bombing of Serbia began. In the end, NATO partitioned Serbia, giving away its historical region to the Moslem-dominated Albanian population, which is now making trouble in southern Serbia in an attempt to wrest more territory from the Serbs.
It appears our government wants the same results with these Syrian talks. We want what we couldn’t get through bombing and we want it cost-free — regime change. Unfortunately for the US neo-interventionists, things are different. Russia is no longer the 90-pound weakling it was in 1999, less than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today Russia’s influence is growing well beyond its borders and it is finding its voice. The US, by contrast, is in dismal decline. Our president’s international prestige is definitely on the wane and the idea of the US as the world’s only superpower is long out of date. China is a threatening presence, too, and the Chinese seem to scoff at US pretensions to dominance, just as does Iran. Even our one-time allies are turning their backs to us in disgust at our incompetence. The US looks weak, uninformed, wavering and lacking convictions or even fundamental interests. The remains of our forays into the military occupation of the Moslem world in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and where we have abetted the overthrow of secular regimes (Egypt), are testimony to our broken dreams and ultimate impotence in democracy-building. Sectarian warfare rages. People are dying by the thousands and Christians and many others are sacrificial lambs. To what end our military adventures?
Instead of telling Mr. Assad to leave power (or what?), the US Secretary of State should give a good think to what the US fundamental interests are and then try hewing to a consistent line. Listening to Assad’s side of the story might be one way to start. We don’t want Al Qaeda to win there, or do we?