In what looks like an off-the-cuff blunder, Secretary of State John Kerry might have accidentally given Russian President Vladmir Putin the opportunity to muddy the international diplomatic waters and buy his friends in Syria some time.
During a press briefing on Monday, Kerry said that Assad could avoid American air strikes by giving up all his chemical weapons within a week. Within hours, the State Department was forced to walk Kerry’s new red line back with the claim that he was making a “rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.”
It seems, then, reasonable to conclude that Kerry spoke out of turn. Kerry was not authorized to offer Syria an “out” or a new ultimatum. But Kerry’s hypothetical hyperbole appears to have already backfired.
In an obvious desire to make Kerry pay for his flub and throw a wrench in Obama’s determination to go to war with Syria, Putin has seized upon Kerry’s hypothetical and called on Syria to accept Kerry’s offer and turn over all of its chemical weapons. No one believes Assad would ever willingly give up his chemical weapons, but should he agree to an offer the Obama administration did not mean to make, it could stall American action for weeks and even months.
Syria is already warming to the idea.
This complication could be a major blow to all of the Obama administration’s prepared plans to punish Assad for using the weapons and to change the balance of power in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Public opposition to Obama’s war is already surging. Weeks or months from now, after the torturous international diplomatic process that no one believes would end with Assad giving up the chemical weapons that keep him in power winds down, it is doubtful Congress or the American public would be ready to stomach a renewed push for war.
But now that Putin has suggested Syria say “yes” to an offer Kerry was sure no one would accept, the Associated Press is reporting that the State Department will take a “hard look” at Russia’s proposal.
Just like Obama’s unscripted “red line” comment that started this debacle, it looks as though another off-teleprompter administration blunder has shoved America’s foreign policy into a corner.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC