REUTERS/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisIn little over a day, Russia has successfully obstructed any White House plan to strike Syria and trumped it with one that is nearly impossible to carry out.
It began on Monday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offhandedly said Syria could avoid an American attack by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week."
Russia jumped on the offer and proposed a plan to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.
The White House, its European allies, and the U.N. responded positively — President Barack Obama said "it could potentially be a significant breakthrough" — thereby placing Russian President Vladimir Putin in the driver's seat.
Syria's foreign minister subsequently said that the country will declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign the international chemical weapons convention.
So the Syria debate has quickly gone from the White House's frantic push to win Congressional approval of the use of force in Syria to discussing the daunting process of securing and destroying one of the world's largest chemical stockpiles during an ongoing civil war.
And the White House is stuck following Russia's lead after having said that it would delay any Congressional vote to let diplomacy play out.
To top it off, the process of locating and securing Syria's chemical stockpiles would take months while destroying them would take years. And experts say that a ceasefire between Assad and the rebels would have to come first.
"There are two clear winners in this slow-motion train wreck, and they are not Obama or Kerry," New Republic Editor Julia Ioffe points out . "They are Assad and Putin."
Assad and Putin. Both wanted, for their own reasons, to avert a military strike, and a military strike was averted. Putin insisted on a diplomatic solution while doing everything to make a diplomatic solution impossible, and now he gets his phony, unenforceable diplomatic solution. Assad wanted to go on killing his opposition, and he will continue to do so.
On Friday the White House announced that President Obama would make his case for a military strike on Syria to the American people on Tuesday.
Given this week's events, that speech has likely been revamped to address the diplomatic dilemma the White House now finds itself in.
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