No, a “half-step” is not a full one divided by two. Rather, it’s picking your foot up but not setting it down because you are unsure of the firmness of your landing spot. We’ve indicated a willingness to engage the Russians in talks about how to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons. Now the question is “Will Russia come back with something substantial and credible so we can complete that ‘first step’ ?” On that score, there is good reason to proceed with caution. But, proceed we must and that will require our best diplomatic and negotiating skills. What we do not need as a backdrop to those efforts is the sort of din created by the saber-rattling and war drum beating that has already begun over at Clusterfaux News where, in addition, attempts to belittle our president continue unabated.
As this is being typed, Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting in Geneva with his Russia counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Hopefully, they can agree that as an important first step, Syria promptly becomes a signator to the international chemical weapons ban treaty. That’s what is often called “low-hanging fruit” and thus, relatively easy to pick. The hard work will come thereafter, to be discussed in detail next.
It is a bridge too far to actively entertain any proposal that assigns to Syria the responsibility of disposing of its chemical caches without some external monitoring group watching every move. And how is any such process to be conducted in the midst of a civil war that involves Al Qaeda-backed insurgents who would love to disrupt it and get their own hands on those wmd to use wherever and whenever they pleased? There must be a cease fire and the establishment of a “safe zone” around every one of the chemical storage facilities. But who would be on the ground to guarantee those? A sizable, armed international force would be required.
The contents of this last paragraph should give readers a sense that what lies ahead are many long, difficult bargaining sessions. In all likelihood, some will be conducted behind closed doors. A perfect outcome would be an extraordinary foreign policy achievement and probably not in the cards. In that case, we may have to come to terms with what is achievable now and in the foreseeable future. As is so often the case in contentious negotiations, no one gets everything they want. But it is possible for all sides come away from the table feeling satisfied with the outcome.
As the president and our diplomatic corps move forward, we need to watch and listen patiently, providing constructive criticism and suggestions in a timely fashion. That would be quite a change from the more than five years of incessant negativity and personal attacks that have so characterized the behavior of Obama’s opponents. Maybe just this once, considering what is at stake, those people can summon the good will to help rather than hinder and facilitate rather than obstruct.