A victory for Mr. Putin

 A victory for Mr. Putin

Omer Taspinar

15 September, 2013

It was a good week for Mr. Putin. At a time when the whole world expected US President Barack Obama to punish the Syrian regime, everyone has instead witnessed Russian diplomacy at its best. President Vladimir Putin claims victory for stopping a war and he also gets to admonish the Americans in the New York Times.

Of course, Washington would like to claim credit that the accord reached between Russia and the United States on Syria's chemical weapons is a product of American coercive diplomacy. Indeed without the credible threat of US military force, there would have probably been no deal. But the fact of the matter is that without Putin there would have been no attempt to find a last minute solution. Moscow's diplomatic chess game with Washington proved that Putin is a masterful negotiator.

President Obama had to back away from threats of imminent military action. Instead
of making his case in a live address to the nation he had to request a delay in the
congressional vote. All this provided a field day for the American right. The
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer in his sarcastic take on what he
calls “the fruits of epic incompetence” had this to say: "The President of the United
States takes to the airwaves to urgently persuade the nation to pause before doing
something it has no desire to do in the first place.
"Strange. And it gets stranger still. That 'strike Syria, maybe speech begins with a
heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping
poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates
with the argument that the proper response -- the most effective way to uphold
fundamental norms, indeed human decency -- is a flea bite: something 'limited,'
'targeted' or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry,
'unbelievably small.'
"The mind reels, but there's more. We must respond -- but not yet. This 'Munich
moment' (Kerry again) demands first a pause to find accommodation with that very
same toxin-wielding monster, by way of negotiations with his equally cynical, often
shirtless, Kremlin patron bearing promises."
The deal reached between Moscow and Washington on chemical weapons is also a
victory for the Syrian regime. Now, the civil war and its bloody trajectory can
continue without a limited external intervention. At best, the threat of chemical
weapons will be removed from the battlefield. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
will continue to hold the upper hand against a less cohesive rebel force in great part
thanks to the support of Russian-supplied weapons and regional allies such as Iran
and Hezbollah. What makes the diplomatic victory for Putin even clearer is the fact

there is no apparent agreement on how to enforce the deal. Despite attempts to introduce some language threatening the use of force, Putin will continue to oppose a clear UN resolution for international military force inside Syria. In fact, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “In this approach that we agreed on, there is nothing said about the use of force, and not about any automatic sanctions.” The only victory for Obama, at the end of the day, is a domestic one. The decision to go to Congress was a huge risk and probably a mistake for the American president. All signs indicated that Congress would have voted against an authorization to strike Syria. Needless to say such a negative vote would have seriously damaged US credibility in foreign policy. But more importantly, it would have also hurt Obama's chances to provide leadership on more pressing domestic issues ranging from budget talks to immigration reform. In other words, the congressional vote on Syria would have turned Obama into a “lame duck” much earlier than intended in his second term. Now, this massive embarrassment for the White House has been averted. Again, thanks to Putin, Obama received a “get out of jail free card” at home.

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