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Like many, I’ve spent much of this past week being bewildered by the twists and turns of the ongoing Syria debacle. Putin the Peacemaker? Obama the Lord of War? Assad the Suddenly Amenable and Risk-Averse Dictator? It don’t make no sense. None of it. (Well, the Lord of War title holds some water, but you get the point).

Thus, over the past few days, I’ve been wondering: what are the simplest explanations for what has gone down? If we look at some of the most important events, and we ask: “what is the simplest explanation for this to have occurred in the manner that it did”, what are the results? Or, in other words, if we give a liberal dose of Occam’s Razor to the news reports, what is left?

The results of this thought exercise are as follows. I gladly admit that this is the work of one person, whose brain was also occupied by work, making dinner, doing laundry, and etc. It is obviously 100% guesswork – that much is admitted upfront.

Anyway, what follows is one person’s attempt to take Occam’s Razor to some of the more baffling occurrences of the past week. First, the Razor created the delicately carved orange onion shavings you see below - then it slices up the Syria events.

1) Was Kerry’s now-famous statement a gaffe, or a strategic maneuver?
The Razor says: Strategic maneuver.

Rationale: I mean, come on – there’s no razor necessary here; you could use a butter knife to cut this one. For starters, listen to the detail in Kerry’s statement – the precise timeline, the lack of pauses. He’s not making it up on the spot. More importantly, though, consider for a moment the virtually impossible odds against one individual, no matter how knowledgeable they may be, dreaming up a win-win-win scenario to prevent a major military conflict in the span of a few seconds, with no pauses or missteps, all in front of the media. To use Bill Bryson’s term, the chances are ‘vanishingly small’. And finally, consider the utter impossibility that Russia and Syria would have so rapidly and so publically seized on this plan without vetting the plan every which way – which takes lots of time. In short, the likelihood that a win-win-win diplomatic solution was seamlessly dreamed up by one man in front of cameras and microphones, and then seized on by two other adversarial nations within the span of several hours, is much more remote than the likelihood that John Kerry’s statement was a planned act of diplomacy. The Plan had been on the table for quite some time, and all sides were knowledgeable about it.

2)    Then why the hell did Kerry phrase it as he did?
The Razor says: Because The Plan had to come from Russia.

Rationale: Assad can acquiesce to allies; he cannot acquiesce to the U.S. Kerry wanted The Plan to work, but he could not be the one to present it to the world. Consider for yourself: what would have happened if The Plan had first been presented as a full-throated demand from the big-stick-carrying U.S.?  I'd argue that there’s a high likelihood that Assad would have summarily rejected it, because he can’t be seen as being weak in the face of American aggression. If The Plan came from Russia, though, Assad could refer to it as “the Russian plan”. And that’s exactly what they are doing – they’ve made a point to emphasize that the plan came from Russia, and not the U.S.

3)    So if The Plan had to come from Russia, why did Kerry even bring it up?
The Razor says: Because Russia (and Syria) were dragging their feet, and every minute that passed was weakening the U.S.’s leverage.

Rationale: The American public’s opinion was trending heavily against intervention. More importantly, the Congressional vote to authorize the use of military intervention was approximately 48 hours away when Kerry made his statement – and as the vote was almost certainly going to be a strong rejection of military intervention, it was shaping up to be a severe blow to U.S. leverage.  By bringing up The Plan in a roundabout but public manner, Kerry put Russia and Syria on the spot – either they get moving, or the possibility would be lost.

4)    So if Russia and Syria both knew that President Obama was in a tough spot, why did they latch onto The Plan? Why didn’t they let Kerry’s remark pass, watch the President’s leverage erode along with public support and the Congressional vote, and dare him to act in such a weakened state?

The Razor says: Because President Obama’s team had privately assured Russia and Syria that they would launch a military intervention regardless of the Congressional vote.

Rationale: President Obama was truly boxed in on this one. His ‘red line’ statement is the kind of thing that a President cannot take back. Internationally, it would be a tremendous loss of face for his administration and for the nation. Domestically, it would have been a godsend to Republicans before the 2014 election. And for him, personally, it may have become a defining moment of his presidency. In a political sense, launching a few cruise missiles was the best possible route for him to take – he’d live up to the ‘red line’ statement, keep American boots out of Syria, and rest assured knowing that the American public would forget about it in a few months. The attack was going to happen, regardless of public or Congressional support.

5)    So why would Russia care? Why would they hop so quickly after Kerry’s statement?

The Razor says: Because, in the end, Russia wasn’t going to do anything about the U.S.’s military intervention, and this was going to diminish their standing as a useful ally.

Russia was going to sit on the sidelines and watch the U.S. attacks unfold, and this was going to send a terrible message to Russia’s other allies. The message would have been: when push comes to shove, Russia is powerless to stop the U.S. from doing whatever it wants, even to close allies.


In the end, none of the three primary nations involved wanted U.S. military intervention, but all were somewhat boxed in: Assad couldn’t be seen as giving in to U.S. demands, President Obama couldn’t be seen as going back on his ‘red line’ statement, and Russia was essentially powerless to stop the U.S. from doing whatever it wanted - but it couldn't be seen as such.

The three nations had to come up with a solution, and that’s what happened. There’s no 11th-dimensional chess being played by any of the actors here – they all wanted to avoid a U.S. strike, and they had to figure out a politically viable way to prevent it. The President is undoubtedly taking the hit by having The Plan portrayed as originating from Russia, but that was the approach that had to happen for Assad to be able to accept it.

Originally posted to yelloweye on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 09:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I believe that Kerry's statement was on purpose (17+ / 0-)

    also. Good observation.

    "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar." Abraham Lincoln

    by appledown on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 09:51:35 AM PDT

    •  Thanks! (11+ / 0-)

      If diplomacy is a carefully orchestrated dance, the chances of Kerry coming up with this plan on the spot are about the same as of me dancing a seductive tango after stepping on a Lego and grabbing my wife's arm for support.

      •  The diary misses perhaps the most important (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        fact that have led to all subsequent policy decisions.

        That fact involves the political reaction of the House and Senate when it was discovered that the vast majority of Americans wanted to see a debate in congress before the launching of another Mideast war.

        House members were inundated with calls, and since all of them are up for reelection next year, this was a good opportunity to appease their constituents.

        I think that the diary is probably right by pointing out that both Obama and Putin did not like the idea of war. They probably discussed options on war avoidance. I do not believe, however, that Assad had anything to do with this CW plan. But he also gains by this new proposal.

        The MIC, AIPAC. and the media do not like this peace plan. They will continue the pro-war propaganda, and the extremist MS media will likely furnish the platform.

        War is costly. Peace is priceless!

        by frostbite on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 04:45:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'd like to believe (5+ / 0-)

          that the Republican opposition to military involvement was indeed a reflection of their constituents' desires. Hell, I'd like to believe that conservative voters' opposition to military involvement was due to a new appreciation of the horrors and the more mundane, daily stresses of war.

          Somehow, though, I think that conservative politicians and voters would be singing a very different and much more warlike tune if the President was a Republican.

          •  The Razor applies there also (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mikejay611, cherish0708

            I prefer to think of what's going on as Temporal Fuge rather than eleven dimensional chess, but in general when Obama engages he does his community organizing in such a way as to include everybody.

            His foreguards or the protections he places in the future so that other timelords are foiled seem to universally escape the pundits attentions, but taking for example Obamacare which will be coming to fruition and flowering in a couple of weeks and our departure from Afghanistan due in a couple of months, these seem well placed to spoil the Republicans attempts to defund Obamacare and to make cuts in health and human services in order to enable more defense spending. Indeed, one might even imagine cuts in defense spending and a peace dividend following Syria and his rearguards.

            His rearguards or the protections he placed in the past such as the START treaty with Russia, his swapping out of Kerry for Hillary to take advantage of connections to Israel and the Senate, the environmental progress on China and Indias concerns over the coming end to fossil water and intensification of  climate change threats to the rice bowl of Asia are helping with the UN security Council.

            Republicans have no unified policy on anything except opposition to everything Obama, even if it was originally their idea so that alone makes co-optation of their special interests such as voter suppression almost offhandedly easy to parry as the Republicans systematically piss off every potential demographic constituency except elderly southern evangelical racists.

            Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

            by rktect on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 01:00:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Re: Conservatives (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I have heard/seen some/many say that if we had a 'real' or 'qualified' Commander in Chief, then they would support a war.

            But since it is President Obama, we should not be using military force to do anything/much, because they don't think he should be leading the military.

            I also think that  if it was a republican president, they would be ignoring their constituents, and pushing for a big war.  

    •  Somebody had to pull the pin... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, Reservoir, highacidity

      ...and Kerry was in the right place.

      Love or hate the President all you want -- but we have GOT to retake the House and hold the Senate in 2014!

      by mwm341 on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 01:51:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I also think they way he phrased it 'within a week', left if open for Putin to reject that part but do what we wanted.

      It gave Putin the ability to 'stand up to' the US, and appearing strong while doing exactly what Kerry & President Obama wanted.

      It wasn't a stumble, it was part of the negotiations (in my opinion).

  •  Also, #5: Because avoiding the air strikes... (15+ / 0-)

    was very important for Assad's ability to stay in power, more so than keeping the chemical weapons, and Russia wants their ally to win the civil war.

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 10:37:37 AM PDT

    •  to me this is the clincher on this (7+ / 0-)

      Whether Kerry's statement was on purpose or not I have little doubt that after it Putin called up Assad and basically said to him 'which do you want more to win this war or your chemical weapons?'

      •  The law was laid down by Putin. Assad was not (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        corvo, duhban

        a player. He is not in a position to oppose any proposal by Putin. Obama was also not in a very good position in regards to the upcoming House anti-war vote. But at least, he was a player.

        War is costly. Peace is priceless!

        by frostbite on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 04:51:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Obama didn't give a shit about the house (0+ / 0-)

          vote and I would bet he expected to lose it. That's why he always reserved the right to attack with out regard to Congress.

          I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

          by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 03:58:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I doubt very much Assad will stay in power (0+ / 0-)

      very long after this. But Russia, as the countries ally, is in a much better and more attractive position to maintain Syrian stability after the transition. In a similar manner that we remain Egypt's sponsor following the Mubarak ouster we welcomed.

      Is the Cold War truly ending? There's a permanence about it to someone my age.

    •  No one can win this war. The (0+ / 0-)

      longer it goes on the more people will be hurt and the more the likelihood of chaos and collapse.

      This can lead to a negotiated settlement leaving the government structure intact and power sharing which will ease Assad out.

      This is not a civil war in the sense of two sides.

      I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

      by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 03:57:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't buy your explanation for a second (13+ / 0-)

    Kerry's people tried to walk it back immediately afterwords.

    That's the tell.

    •  I agree that this was a strange aspect (9+ / 0-)

      of the whole thing, and I don't have an explanation for why they did that.

      However, I still think that it's far more plausible that Kerry's team got its talking points confused rather than that Kerry essentially made up a largely perfect diplomatic solution on the spot.

      •  Perhaps they thought it would blow the concept of (8+ / 0-)

        the Plan coming from Russia...

        But when Russia rushed in supporting/proposing The Plan and it was taken in the media as a Russian proposal, then all was on target again.

        Some people fight fire with fire. Professionals use water.

        by Happy Days on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 01:17:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It wasn't entirely a walk back (11+ / 0-)

        It was sort of a double-dog-dare in some respects ("yeah, sure, like Assad is going to do that, srsly") and a threat ("we didn't fall off the turnip truck and the tomahawks are still pointed at you")

        "Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

        "His (Kerry's) point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."

        “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

        by Catte Nappe on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:08:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  "Walked back" to save face. (5+ / 0-)

        That Kerry's people distanced the State Department and Administration from the policy prescription the Secretary put out in the press conference is consistent with their not wanting to make it an American demand that would freeze Russia and Syria from availing themselves of the opening.  It also needed that space for the, uh, "demand" to not become a political millstone around the Administration's neck when and if nothing came of it.

        Of course, yelloweye, it's not necessary for an "all parties" proposal floated in that manner to assert that it was a planned answer to a planted question.  The exchange had none of the earmarks of a set piece.  (I'm convinced Kerry is not THAT good an actor.)  The whole offhand delivery speaks to a formula that had been under discussion, back and forth, for some time without its being the focus of hard negotiation yet.  All parties obviously had prepared contingent positions that hadn't hardened.

        •  Now that France has said that they would (0+ / 0-)

          not take any military actions on Syria without first seeing the results of the UN CW investigation. Obama and the USA pro-war crowd are left in a pretty lonely location

          War is costly. Peace is priceless!

          by frostbite on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 04:56:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Kerry may not have been authorized to disclose (0+ / 0-)

        it when he did; perhaps disclosure was being discussed and he thought he had the greenlight but others wanted to wait.

    •  Perhaps because (0+ / 0-)

      The Administrations' whole part of this dog-and-pony show depends upon people believing that Obama and his people are champing at the bit for a military strike?

    •  no that was part of the show.n/t (0+ / 0-)

      I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

      by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 03:59:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Plausible, but way too complicated for Occam. (7+ / 0-)

    "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." --Townes Van Zandt

    by Bisbonian on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 11:09:05 AM PDT

    •  I don't think it's complicated (6+ / 0-)

      I think this is a very simple possible explanation of events - is there a simpler one?

      •  Sure (9+ / 0-)

        Kerry flubbed his lines, and Putin pounced on the opportunity.

        If Kerry's statement was meant to be an olive branch they wouldn't have tried to walk it back so much.

        Banking on the American people to be able to sort all this out and declare the adult in the room the winner is a very big bet. -Digby

        by Boogalord on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 12:18:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Flubbed how? (10+ / 0-)

          Flubbed by smoothly and unhesitatingly defining the conditions under which a U.S. attack might be prevented? A set of conditions that just so happened to be amenable to Russia and Syria? I wish my flubs were this graceful and productive. He didn't stumble over his words, he didn't try to walk them back upon having said them, etc.

          Also, the entire 'Kerry goofed up' interpretation is predicated on the assumption that the U.S. gave something up, and that Putin got something he wanted at the expense of the U.S. What exactly did the U.S. give up that Putin pounced on?

          Ultimately, it seems like it's pretty safe to assume that if the U.S. didn't want to abide by Kerry's words, they'd just barge right through them - they'd say that the Russian/Syrian plan was too weak, had too may holes, etc. In other words - if he President wanted to attack, he'd still be attacking.

          •  Well (5+ / 0-)
            Flubbed by smoothly and unhesitatingly defining the conditions under which a U.S. attack might be prevented? A set of conditions that just so happened to be amenable to Russia and Syria? I wish my flubs were this graceful and productive. He didn't stumble over his words, he didn't try to walk them back upon having said them, etc.
            I admit I don't see why you're so impressed that Kerry put together a coherent sentence. So he didn't stutter, so what? I don't see how that's definitive proof that this was all part of the grand plan. As for "walking it back"...
            He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.”
            “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
            Does that qualify as a walkback? How about the DOD coming out and saying Kerry's remarks were "rhetorical"?

            Obviously I'm not there to see all the backroom diplomacy going on for this highly volatile situation. But when I try to apply Occam's Razor to the situation, it seems that the Obama administration had been pretty dead-set on bombing Syria. It obviously didn't have faith in a diplomatic solution. Kerry threw out this off-the-cuff statement, dismissed it literally right after he said it, and was supported in the walk-back by the DOD. Russia pounced on it anyway, the Obama admin is smart enough to take the lucky out, and here we are, maybe about to work out a diplomatic solution to Assad's CWs.

            Banking on the American people to be able to sort all this out and declare the adult in the room the winner is a very big bet. -Digby

            by Boogalord on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 01:20:51 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It is the detail. (13+ / 0-)

              I listened a second time a few days later and Kerry listed off details that could only have been talked about in diplomatic relations.  What he proffered is a finished plan.  I then found out that US and Russia had been talking for months. That makes the diary's premise very plausible and the speed with which it was agreed to be implemented. I do however, think that Kerry had no idea they would jump on it that quickly or at all.  I think he was feeling frustrated that there as no movement in the negotiations and he really didn't want to go military. He spelled out the negotiation points out of frustration and lo, it moved them forward.

              Everyone! Arms akimbo! 68351

              by tobendaro on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 01:49:10 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  At the end of the Kerry talk he did say something (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                about doing everything in the proposal within a week.

                "But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

                So, after Addad fails to meet demands for doing everything in a week, will it be OK for the US to have their unilateral bombing run on Syria? Can the MIC and the other war profiteers real be expected to loose this profit opportunity without a fight?

                War is costly. Peace is priceless!

                by frostbite on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 05:06:38 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Diplomacy isn't about (0+ / 0-)

                  setting parameters and sticking to them.  Diplomats and sensible people realize that lives are at steak and they work out the problems and give a little here and get a little there.  This country seems to have forgotten how important and exceptional diplomacy is and should be. So many of us prefer the GWB style of shoot and ask questions later.  So manly and all. Results are the goal here, not the perception of macho.

                  Everyone! Arms akimbo! 68351

                  by tobendaro on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 06:20:15 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  My suspicion: (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    Obama all along dreaded being boxed into the "humanitarian bombing" of Syria and so kept open a back door for informal talks with Lavrov and Putin about a diplomatic option.

                    But until this diplomatic option could be agreed upon Obama's first priority at home was to get Congress to authorize a US strike. He used Kerry as attack dog for this. It required a blunt approach: overheated bellicose rhetoric and appeals to emotion rather than reason (a calm and reasoned argument would never sway the Senate or House). Kerry is much better suited to that than Obama.

                    I don't think Kerry was entirely prepared for the sudden shift back to diplomacy. The shift made him look a little ridiculous and at the least "out of the loop." He may have been kept partly out of the loop; he may not have understood how much Obama was now wagering on getting a diplomatic breakthrough.

                    In other words, Obama and Kerry played "good cop"/"dumb cop."

            •  I have to say my money is on your (0+ / 0-)

              viewpoint. Like others are saying, why would Kerry's people have walked his comments back, if this was all so cleverly calculated?

              Obama looked dead set on war. Why? I don't know. But given that the war against Iran is very much something the PNAC crowd has wanted forever, and that to be successful in that war, the USA must boost Russia out of their one and only seaport on the Mediterranean, that is, Syria, and then given that Obama's polling numbers have gone into the toilet due to many things, Benghazi, IRS scandal, the lack of real recovery for the middle and lower class, and lastly  the Snowden Surveillance leak, this was a chance for the PNAC people to get what they wanted, while Obama had some pressure taken off him.

              I mean, "We have to do an  attack on Syria" stuff was a pretty good wag the dog. I also mean, does anyone even see a Snowden headline anywhere? Even a single headline? Those Snowden/Surveillance articles are gone now, as though they had not been prevalent all through June and July.

              Offer your heart some Joy every day of your life, and spread it along to others.

              by Truedelphi on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:10:40 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Putin didn't pounce (7+ / 0-)

          Nor did Assad. Diplomacy at that level doesn't happen that spontaneously. Various aides and underlings spent days, weeks, potentially even months talking and crafting a degree of agreement before Kerry ever opened his mouth.

          “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

          by Catte Nappe on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:11:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Alternative to #3 (13+ / 0-)

    While the plan had to come from Russia, Syria needed some assurance that the US would go for it, and would be willing to cancel bomb dropping in exchange for it. This was Kerry signalling them we were amenable.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 11:57:52 AM PDT

  •  No matter how it played out (15+ / 0-)

    The reality is the process was followed.  Think about this: past presidents would have just rushed the bombers in and then asked people to rally around after the fact.

    Whether we liked the plan or not, this was done not for political points but out of respect for our way of government.  The administration laid out a case that also put pressure on Syria, and they let the people decide.

    This is what our government is supposed to do.  And I have to at least give Obama credit for respecting the system enough to follow it through rather then act on his own without those steps.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 12:14:42 PM PDT

  •  This isn't applying Occam's razor (11+ / 0-)

    This is simply saying that "It was intentional" is the explanation most supported by Occam's razor. Occam's razor is, basically, that the most parsimonious explanation is the best. Saying that everything was well planned out is rarely the most parsimonious explanation for a serious of events, especially when the alternative is that a solution just got lucked into.

    Ultimately, I don't think Occam's razor is useful for politics. I don't know whether this was intentional or the result of a gaffe, and I imagine we'll never know, or at least we won't know for a long while. Politics is too complicated for anything to be parsimonious.

  •  Slightly sideways (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chira2, Sylv, highacidity

      This was reposted earlier today:   The justification that Putin used to take action in Chechnya ( circa 1999) via NYT.

        That may be why Putin had to go with the "terrorists did the CW attacks".    

         Perhaps that is also why he seems to be ignoring that Assad is now saying that he wants to turn in his stash and will counter no discussion re:  if he did or didn't use them.

         Sounds more and more like players are trying to do some 1.  End the madness of CW and 2. CYA and 3.  Hope no one notices anything BUT the final outcome.

  •  This article (9/10) gives the background (6+ / 0-)

    to Kerry's "offhand" statement: John Kerry on Syrian chemical weapons: A momentary mistake, or months of machinations?

     On Tuesday, US officials were keen to play down the idea that the White House’s change of direction lacked any background preparation. Mr Obama told his US interviewers that he had discussed the idea of a chemical weapons surrender with Mr Putin last Friday at an impromptu 20-minute meeting at the G20 Summit in St Petersburg. The Russians likewise said the suggestion was “definitely discussed” between the two leaders at the G20....

    The idea of presenting such a demand to Damascus had in fact been floated publicly for the first time over the weekend at the end of an EU foreign ministers’ conference in Lithuania that was addressed by Mr Kerry and where opinion was sharply divided on the wisdom of US air strikes.

    The fourth and last item in a statement by centre-Right EU foreign ministers said: “If the evidence confirms the use of such weapons of mass destruction by the Assad regime, an immediate ultimatum should be issued to the regime to place its stockpile of chemical agents under international control – which could involve Russia – within 30 days.”...
    the EU declaration was completely overlooked by the world’s media.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 12:49:47 PM PDT

  •  It's very similar to Biden-gay marriage (12+ / 0-)

    Admin official says X

    Official pilloried by press/pundocracy

    X morphs into something more substantial

    X turns into policy

    and then it comes out that X wasn't a gaffe or poorly worded off-hand comment at all, but was where the admin wanted to go in the first place.

    We won't really know the behind the scenes stuff until after Obama is out of office and has his presidential library going up (wonder where that will be?  Columbia?  Hawaii?).  

    To be free and just depends on us. Victor Hugo.

    by dizzydean on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 12:50:21 PM PDT

  •  Much simpler answer. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, caul

    The American people were against an attack and the political backlash would be ugly.  11th dimensional chess only works on liberals.

  •  I thought Occam's Razor was supposed to... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk, Dumbo, Bensdad, JVolvo, caul

    ...take the simplest explanation.  That doesn't look like the simplest explanation to me.

    The simplest explanation is that Kerry was frustrated and made the comment in an offhand way, not expecting anything to come of it because nothing had come of those negotiations for a long time.  But Putin and Assad were finally coming to grips with the threat and took it as a lifeline out whether it is sincere or just a play to buy time.

    •  Your guess is as good as mine, but (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dracowyrm, Larsstephens, Sylv

      I'd argue that your explanation is less simple than mine, because it relies on more lucky bounces to get to where we are today. Also, it doesn't explain why Kerry didn't phrase it as a demand from the U.S., and why it wasn't part of the public discourse right from the start.

      Once again, though, these are just guesses. Not trying to get down on anyone.

      •  Hmm, well... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, Bensdad, JVolvo, caul

        ...your explanation was that this was all orchestrated and fairly complicated, whereas I think that this did rely a lot (though not completely) on luck.  Effective brinksmanship is always a potential outcome when you're threatening something serious, but you still need to be lucky that it worked out the way you hoped since it is out of your control.

        Why didn't Kerry phrase it as a demand or make it public?  Well, it was a known demand for a long, long time, but probably also because it would fail the moral argument put forth as the rationale for the attacks.  Let me put it this way: if the State of Florida had said to George Zimmerman "Look, just give up your gun and we'll call it all even" everyone would have been completely outraged.  That would be sort of the equivalent here: killed over a thousand people with poison gas?  Ok, hand it over.

        •  Exactly. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          And what if Kerry had never been asked the question? How would he have articulated his diplomatic genius (which he has shown from day one -- snark).

          If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

          by Bensdad on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 05:45:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  It's only lucky if you don't want (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to bomb Syria.  I'm sure Bill Krystol doesn't feel lucky.  "Fuckin' Kerry shoulda kept his mouth shut.  Damn."

      •  public discourse? Oh wonderful (0+ / 0-)

        Sorry, you don't play any poker games with all your cards face up on the table.

        I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

        by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:11:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's a far from simple explanation (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, Sylv, highacidity

      It presumes an amazing and nearly unprecedented process in that both Putin and Assad just spontaneously decided the time was right, didn't need to consult for any length of time with their advisors or each other, and within hours just said "okey doke".  Sorry, these things don't work that way. Lots of time spent dancing around each other with offers, counteroffers, suggestions, things on the table, off the table. And we already know the discussions had been underway as early as June 2012. I'd hazard a guess that the privaate meeting Putin and Obama had at the G20 was  a final (or near final) sign off on a proposed deal.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:17:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, it's the explanation with the fewest (0+ / 0-)

      new assumptions, and in that, this diary also fails the test.   There is one point this diary, and all the diaries calling the President a genius miss:  Britain's parliament voting down Cameron's AUMF.  That's why the President decided to go to Congress, and Congressional and intense public opposition is why he pounced on this.  

      I looked at and listened to his speech.  And it seems to me that it was a hastily crafted thing, trying to preserve all the macho bellicose posturing on display over these last weeks, with graft of diplomacy inartfully stitched on, evidence that the Russian and Syrian offer caught the admin flat-footed.

      "There's something wrong with a system where a handful of people have more than they'd ever need and the mass of the people have less than they always need." -- Rev. Joseph Lowery

      by caul on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 02:39:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So, your argument is that the President wanted war (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nzanne, LanceBoyle, earthling1

        but was too stupid and inept to get it?

        My argument is that the President never wanted war.

        Your argument holds that the President wanted nothing more than to go into Syria with guns blazing, but he was hogtied by low poll numbers, Kerry's Immaculate Word Vomit moment, and Russia's magically powerful, kryptonite-like suggestion for preventing war. The crux of this argument is that Russia's 11th-hour suggestion has somehow proven to be an insurmountable challenge to an American administration bent on war - a challenge that the President was forced to meekly accept, for reasons never quite explained, and a challenge that ground the gears of the administration's war machine to a halt, for reasons also not explained.

        My argument, on the other hand, is that the President did not want war - that none of the major countries wanted war- and that what we've seen has been a series of clumsy yet ultimately effective diplomatic maneuvers. I understand that there is a difference between bellicose posturing and bellicose actions - and that bellicose posturing on the international stage is actually a commonly-used means of providing leverage for diplomacy.

        If your argument is the correct one, then the entire administration is currently gnashing its teeth and pulling its hair because they'd like nothing more than to soak themselves in Syrian blood, but they can't find a way to navigate around a vague, 11th-hour suggestion from freaking Russia.

        If my argument is correct, it holds that the administration was in a really bad spot with few avenues to maneuver, but luckily, so were Russia and Syria. They worked out an escape hatch for all involved, and that's what we're seeing.

        No genius, no 11d chess, none of that other garbage.

        •  Yelloweye, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I have really enjoyed this conversation and your points.

          You're smarter than half the people [or more, as most of them are GOP] in DC.

          The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. (Chlldren's Defense Fund, 2013)

          by nzanne on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 06:11:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think the President initially never wanted war (0+ / 0-)

          I STILL don't think he wants war.  But once he made the argument for it and faced the pushback, I think he resigned himself to having to go through with it to maintain his credibility.

          Too may people mistake certainty for strength and leadership, when it may simply mean that you are too dumb or too stubborn or too beholden to certain interests to change your mind.  That's the political reality a President has to deal with, and we can hear it in the moaning by the likes of Bob Corker.

      •  Sorry for the tone, caul (0+ / 0-)

        There is a lag time between the drinking of the coffee and the effects of the coffee.

        On re-reading your statement, I was a bit too harsh. Sorry about that. Also, your argument was more nuanced than I realized at first. Anyway, I think that my point stands - that the two fundamental arguments are the "Obama wanted war and has been foiled" crowd, and the "Obama never wanted war but was in a tight spot" crowd. That's all.

        •  Good points, yelloweye (0+ / 0-)

          I think your Occams Razor argument holds more water than anything else postulated  here today. As of yet, anyway.

          The Job Killing Republican Party is directly responsible for the Great Bush Recession.

          by earthling1 on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 02:37:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  NO, going to Congress was a delaying (0+ / 0-)

        tactic to give a little more time to come over and do what Obama wanted him to do.

        He had to keep Putin convinced he was dead serious about striking. That's why he said time and again he had the authority to strike without Congress approval.

        I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

        by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:15:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •   Assad saw the light (0+ / 0-)

    I have no doubt Obama can rain down  fire on Assad from the sky,early and often ,the sheer force that Obama have in his hand convince Assad to agree too Obama terms

  •  Their just has to be assignation of blame/error. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Frankly, I find the rush to critique before we know the final to be useless.

    All the people with all the answers that are apparently obvious and easy are all on the internet. Why?

    The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

    by sebastianguy99 on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:53:49 PM PDT

  •  Occam's butter knife. n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, Bensdad, corvo

    "Toutes les guerres sont civiles, car c'est toujours l'homme contre l'homme... (All wars are civil wars, because it's always brother against brother...)" - Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)

    by Superskepticalman on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 03:10:16 PM PDT

  •  Occam's Razor is getting a little dull. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bensdad, corvo, caul

    I tried to cut a french roll with it, and it turned it into a pancake in the middle.  Yup, that's dull.

    Maybe we should try using Occam's melon baller and scooping the truth out in nice round balls.  

  •  Good diary, I'll add one more thing to #5 (3+ / 0-)

    Russia doesn't want to risk the CWs falling into the rebels' hands because some of them would consider launching terrorist attacks against them

  •  I like this analysis. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    yelloweye, earthling1

    Certainly one of the best.  Nice work.

  •  Again (0+ / 0-)

    Yup. That's what happened. Obama succeeded the last time he pulled this ploy. Remember the Biden same sex marriage "gaffe".  Works every time.

  •  Russians don’t want another Kosovo. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    While they have to sit back helpless at another turkey shoot.
    I use Lady Gillette...

  •  Occam: Please take a razor to this question: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JVolvo, caul

    Why was Kerry's utterance in RESPONSE to a question, and would he have articulated this if the question had never been asked?

    Bonus question: Why was he openly dismissive --derisive even-- of the steps he suggested?

    If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

    by Bensdad on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 05:43:44 PM PDT

    •  Strategery! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bensdad, corvo, caul

      As of 9pm 8/30/13: RETIRED Pie Warrior. Substance over Sh*t Flinging (as best as I am able) ~ JV

      by JVolvo on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 06:11:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not Occam (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Witgren, earthling1

      but I'll take a stab.

      If it were indeed a strategic maneuver, Kerry would have worked it in somewhere. Politicians aren't known for assiduously sticking to the point when answering questions. As it turned out, a very helpful question came around, and that's where he decided to roll it out.

      What I'm trying to say is that just because he said it in response to that particular question, doesn't mean that he wouldn't have rolled it out somewhere else if that question hadn't been asked.

      Regarding his self-snark - perhaps that was his way of showing that this wasn't meant to be construed as an official proposal from the U.S.?

      I'm not saying that the chain of events that I proposed explain everything. There are still some confusing things. However, the point that I'm trying to make is that the other possibility - that Kerry opened his mouth, and a perfect diplomatic solution somehow rolled out of it - is more implausible.

    •  Couple possibilities (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One, it's a pretty predictable question that someone would ask in some way, shape or form "Is they any way Syria can avoid US strikes?"  Or something broadly in that ballpark.

      Two, if the interviewer is so inept that they cannot even get close to such an obvious question, Kerry is not an idiot and would probably find a way to work it into something he said, even if he had to hand-hold the interviewer a bit to get there.

    •  Kerry's response did two things. (0+ / 0-)

      It put the U.S. offer on Assad's chemical weapons out in public, where before it had been made privately. This act committed the U.S. to it and Kerry would have know that he was committing the U.S. to this position by stating it publicly. His apparent walking back gave both sides an out if Assad did not choose to give up his weapons, which would still leave the military option open to the U.S.

      The press spun Kerry's remark as a joke, but after seeing the press conference, I agree with the diarist. It is obvious from the way he spoke that he was repeating what the administration had discussed.

      Only time will tell if peace is the objective.

  •  If the plan "had" to come from Russia. Then (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JVolvo, corvo

    why didn't it come from Russia?  Especially since it did in effect, come from Russia in the end.

    Kerry snarked it and Russia proposed it.

    Russia might not try to get involved in the US destroying large chunks of the Syrian military but it could easily replace all that was lost and send Russian civilians or military to rebuild infrastructure.

    That would make any subsequent repeat of a missile strike by the US a pretty overt attack on Russian interests, at least equivalent to our interest in any of the Mideast countries the US has made war in.

    Since both sides are aware of that kind of risk, it was of value for Russia to take up a pseudo offer that would, at the very least, forestall an imminent attack while discussions are ongoing.

    •  My guess is that (0+ / 0-)

      Russia was dragging its feet, knowing that Obama's position was growing more and more untenable every day. Ultimately, Russia didn't want a strike - the Kerry plan was their escape hatch, but they weren't going to deploy it until they had to do so.

      •  Obama's position was NOT getting (0+ / 0-)

        more untenable. He maintain he had the authority (imdeed the responsibility, according to Paneta) to attack despite Congress.

        I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

        by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:24:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  69 Dimensional Chess (0+ / 0-)

    Yeah, right.

  •  Yelloweye, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think your diary nailed it.

  •  Excellent article. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Nothing else needs to be said.

  •  you need to sharpen your razor (0+ / 0-)

    a dull blade like that could cut impact the stubble

    free the information

    by freelixir on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 01:07:16 AM PDT

  •  Another Razor (0+ / 0-)

    It seems to me we also have to take in the larger context, such as:
    - US support of opposition groups within Syria over the last few years,
    - Syria's appearance on a list of nations neocons intended to overrun at least 12 years ago,
    - US arming, training and transporting terrorist groups for the Syria "civil war" for at least the last 2 years, and
    - The continued expansion of NATO into countries bordering Russia and the military equipment and training exercises held in places like Latvia and Georgia by NATO.

    Without including this background, it is hard to evaluate current situation.  

  •  This was well written and well thought out (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  I don't think that means what you think it means. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Occam's Razor says that "among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected".   You seem to be making a whole lot of assumptions in order to defend your position.

    Occam's Razor, as it applies to this situation with Kerry, tells me that it was neither diplomacy or a gaffe.  Instead, it is much more likely that, like Iraq, the president has already made up his mind to attack and is not just looking for an excuse/reason or way to sell it to the people.  

    I think the fact that Syria, along with Libya, Iraq and Iran were circulated as targets for potential attack a few years back as that region was in the US's interests thanks mainly to oil.   General Petraus has spoken openly about such a memo.

    Also, the fact that Assad agreed to do exactly what Kerry said he wouldn't, and Kerry has now come out implying we will bomb them anyway tells me that diplomacy was never the end solution.  Instead they will keep putting harder and harder hoops up for Assad to jump through and no matter how many he does manage to accomplish, the one failure will be the definitive reason/excuse to invade.   Just like how Bush used weapons inspectors and links to Bin Laden and WMDs ( lying to the american people), in order to sell the Iraq war.

    The Syria playbook is not one bit different and this diary is twisting itself into knots trying to defend the white house.  Just like conservatives did defending Bush in the past.  The irony here is he is using Occam's Razor to defend his pretzel twist of an explanation.

    •  Your position makes little sense to me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LanceBoyle, the autonomist

      As I stated in a reply to another comment, I think that there are two fundamental camps here. One camp (yours) thinks that Obama is dead-set on attacking and has been foiled (at least temporarily), and the other thinks that Obama never wanted war and had to figure out a politically viable way to avoid (not prevent - avoid) war.

      There are a few basic questions that I'd like to ask of someone who believes that Obama is dead-set on attacking Syria:

      1. If Obama is so dead-set on attacking, why hasn't he attacked already? What more pretext could he possibly need than Assad crossing a previously-stated "red line"?

      2. If the administration is so dead-set on attacking, why exactly are they being stopped by the Russian proposal? What mysterious force does that proposal have that has brought the Obama war machine grinding to a frustrated halt?

      3. Finally, what then was Kerry's quote, exactly? You state it was neither diplomacy nor a gaffe, i.e., it was neither intentional nor unintentional. I see this as dodging the very salient point that it is highly unlikely that Kerry made up that statement on the spot. Anyway, if it was neither diplomacy nor a gaffe, what was it?

      In the end, I think that a lot of left-leaning people - and I am definitely one - have come to view Obama's actions with well-deserved skepticism. Recently, it seems that this skepticism has begun crusting over into something hard and unmovable - a belief that Obama is essentially the same as Bush, and that Syria is the same as Iraq, etc. It's my belief that people who are afflicted with the resulting crusted-over eyes are having trouble differentiating between the truly idiotic and ultimately tragic warmongering rhetoric and actions of Bush, and the tough-talking but as-of-yet action-free rhetoric of Obama.

      The case that I am making is that Obama is engaging in diplomacy and wants no part of a war. Tough talk is part of diplomacy with certain countries. If the President does indeed short-circuit or otherwise sabotage the apparent diplomatic solution in order to attack Syria, then I'll be the first to be outraged and I'll certainly own up to being wrong.

      •  Many paths to the same destination (0+ / 0-)

        Just because the White House and military are "dead set" on attacking, that doesn't mean they are going to risk the large public opposition to this battle as well as the resulting costs of yet more war.  They needed to make a case for Syria that would get the public on their side and they largely failed at that.  

        But it is fact that like Iran and Iraq, Syria is on a list of countries the US feels it needs to invade/attack out of some sense of personal interest.

        While the Russian proposal has now stopped the war drums, I'm not totally convinced yet that they won't be ramping up again in the near future.   However, may I remind you that initially Kerry came out saying that the 30 day disarming proposal was not enough and threatened that it should happen sooner.  So it didn't stop them dead in their tracks.  

        Meanwhile, from a political POV and public perception, it probably would have been a huge mistake if Kerry came out saying "they aren't going to turn over their chemical weapons" and Syria does exactly that and are attacked anyway.  Maybe if there was more public support for invading syria, they would have done it regardless.  But when 70+ percent is going to be a tough sell.

        As for diplomacy vs a gaffe, I think Kerry, much like Bush Co before him, was making a case to villainize Syria as much as possible.  Maybe he knew there was a plan already floated by Russia/Syria, maybe not.  I personally don't think it is out of the question that when making the case to villainize Syria, the administration would say "It's not like they are going to just hand over their weapons".  Bush said the same about Iraq...and there were no WMDs.  Not to mention lies about weapon inspectors, etc.

        I think it was just a comment made to support a case.  That is the simplest explanation...the Occam's Razor.  Not some overly complicated scheme to trick Russia/Syria into diplomacy.  Not a gaffe either.  If you want to make the case for war, you have to convince people that the opponent isn't going to just change overnight or magically do the right.  You tell people that they aren't going to hand over their chemical weapons, or stop being violent dictators.  You make the case that blood is on their hands and will continue to be that way unless you step in.  

        I think it makes sense for the White House to cover their bases, be ready for both a battle and peaceful negotiations.  What I don't think makes sense is this false dichotemy of "gaffe or brilliance".  It reminds me of when Bush was president and people would defend him with "Either he is an idiot or he's an evil genius!  Which is it? Can't be both!"   I agree it can't be both...but that doesn't mean it must, by necessity, be either.  

        My own belief is that the WH was preparing for war and very much ready to attack but needed to improve public support.  They weren't going to risk another Iraq, especially with such low opinion polling on the subject.  When Syria agreed to diplomacy, the WH was smart enough to change their plans, at least for now, because that was the smarter political what the people wanted.

  •  Obama has been doing everything (0+ / 0-)

    he could not to get sucked into a ME civil war with jhadists and Hezbullah added.

    So he sent a message to Assad: the Red Line statement.

    Obama's Red Line comment was a message to Syria that we would get involved if he used CW. He didn't for a long time.

    But Obama had nothing to offer Syria to bargain with Assad. Russia did. So Obama had to force Putin’s hand. (Paneta said that Obama-Putin (and lower guys) had been discussing this for almost 30 months. (See Paneta on 9/13/13).

    Putin resisted but seemed to be bending soooo    
    The whole take it to Congress was to buy time. to give Putin a little longer.

    But Obama had to work it. He had to make it seem really real. Preparations had to be made. Defense said it was ready. He went out and did interviews to every one he could.

    I think Putin had more respect for Obama's persuasive powers than anyone on this site. And perhaps  disbelief of the extent of Republican House crazy.

    On Sunday Assad was denying he had CW. Asked if he would give them up to avert a strike he said he couldn't give up what he didn't have. Later he said he would do anything to avert an attack which Rose has clipped and is spinning to make himself seem important to have gotten that admission for Assad.

    Actually Assad handled Charlie with ease and some grace. Charlie thinks he did so well — if ego was edible Charlie would never go hungry.

    Anyway, let Putin take credit; Obama has never cared who got credit as long as he got what he wanted. Getting rid of CW is exactly what he most wanted. It has been a big thing of his since he first came to the Senate. He helped get the Lugar-Obama bill through, the successor to the Nunn-Lugar bill of around 1990.

    Now the hard work of making them stick to it and on a reasonable timetable.

    I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

    by samddobermann on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:53:19 AM PDT

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