Anybody who spent time around college pool tables would recognize the Obama/Kerry vs. Putin game yesterday.
On college campus beer-joint pool tables you are supposed to call your shots. Slopping your ball in doesn't count. But slopping your opponent's ball in does count... against you.
I used to play against the Willie Moscone of UCLA campus pool tables. He never let me have shots I didn't call in advance, but boy oh boy, when I accidentally put his ball in the pocket he was delighted to take the point.
That exact scenario played out for all the world to see yesterday when Secretary of State John Kerry, in answer to a question from a London reporter, blurted out that Bashar Assad could avoid an attack by turning over his chemical weapons, while simultaneously declaring it unworkable and impossible. Unworkable/impossible was shortly confirmed by a State Department spokesperson saying Kerry's remark was purely "rhetorical and a low probability of happening."
But surprise! The ball slopped into the pocket... Vladimir Putin's pocket.
He promptly declared it his point by having his Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov call Kerry to say "we will make that offer to the Syrians" and the Syrians promptly confirmed it was his point by saying "we'll take that offer."
All of a sudden we were hearing of "The Russian Proposal" as a breakthrough. Wolf Blitzer repeatedly called it a "game changer."
Wiping the egg of Kerry's face, President Obama sat down for his six network interviews and jumped to take credit for the idea, claiming it was a "continuation" of conversations he'd had with Putin at the recent summit, and a meeting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a year ago. Obama seized on the idea as a way to escape the vice closing on him which might require he violate his firmly held anti-war principles by actually waging war (even if "unbelievably small", as Kerry characterized the war plans.)
Glossed over in all this Presidential happy talk about a possible Syrian solution is the problem of how to find and secure Syria's chemical weapons?
Do we trust Assad to voluntarily just turn over whatever it is he has? No.
Do we trust Putin to seize and secure all that Assad has? No.
Do we trust the United Nations to put together a weapons inspection regime and get the job done?
The answer to that last question is two names: Hans Blix and Scott Ritter. Remember how long it took for the UN weapons inspectors to get up and running, to do their inspections, to formulate their findings. You really want to go through all that again? Oh and by the way, Blix and Ritter did their work in an oppressive and secretive totalitarian state that was at peace. In the case of Syria it is a similar totalitarian state in the midst of a raging civil war.
The successors to Blix, Ritter, et al would be under withering fire during their entire mission in Syria.
(Just to catch up on the Iraq Weapons Inspectors: Hans Blix is still actively campaigning for disarmament, recently telling the British government it did not actually need a Trident class nuclear submarine. Another involved in the U.N. weapons inspection regime, Mohammad el Baradei is currently active in the tumult of Egyptian politics. As for Scott Ritter, he was a very familiar face on television in the run up to the Iraq war, and famous for campaigning against an American military action based on missing or hard-to-find chemical weapons. He was later convicted of attempted child molestation and jailed, his sentence running until 2016.)
I don't suppose this Putin sleight of hand is going to matter, anyway. As Kerry said in the first place, it's not going to happen, obviously. The idea is entirely too complicated and unworkable, and therefore impossible. But it's also a handy distraction in that it gets Obama off the hook for the moment, and allows members of Congress to escape a vote they regard as gawd-awful.
However, in terms of putting points on the board, while John Kerry blundered his way into saving face for his boss, President Obama, it is Vladimir Putin claiming the victory. It is the Russian president who appears to be the angel of peace at the exact moment the American president is still arguing he wants Congressional authorization to bomb.
It's not a good look.