09.11.13 4:46 PM ET
OK, John Kerry, You’re On
So now, the moment John Kerry has been waiting for all his life. He's dreamed of being secretary of State for years. Of course he wanted to be president, and came fairly close, but this is something he's always wanted to do: be today's Dean Acheson or George Marshall, broker something big. He's sitting down with Mr. Lavrov in Geneva, and we shall see what transpires.
Kerry has been rather shaky on Syria up to this point. Loose lips. Some very strange remarks, especially that one about an "unbelievably small" attack. Yikes. I don't know what made him say those particular words, but I do have a theory about the more general issue of his comments.
Hillary Clinton was kept on a pretty short leash by this White House. By some folks' accounting, astonishingly short. And, being who she is, she took it and was loyal. (I say this as primarily a compliment.) Kerry, of course, knew about all this, and I wouldn't doubt that he said to Obama when he took the job that he was demanding considerably more rein.
That's my theory. Plus, he's been a senator for whatever years, and senators have no boss and can say whatever they please.
In any case, now he's behind closed doors, and he needs to do his most important talking there. We have, now, the full text of the Security Council resolution that the French have written. It gives Syria 15 days to start fessing up to its facilities. Then, as you scan down to paragraph 17, you will see language that appears to me to authorize future use of military force in the likely event of Syrian noncompliance:
17 Affirms that it shall keep the Syrian authorities' actions under continuous review, and stresses its intention, in the event of non-compliance by the Syrian authorities with the provisions of this resolution in light of the reports requested in OP10,to adopt further necessary measures under Chapter VII;
This, of course, is the main issue. If Kerry can get Lavrov to accept that, his malapropisms become ancient history fast. And if he can't? Well, then the administration is in an extremely difficult position. The right just can't wait to crow that Putin and Lavrov ran circles around Obama and Kerry. They're already saying it. It just hasn't happened yet. But if it does, oh what joy in Mudville!
I have no idea whether Kerry can succeed. I hope he does, not for Obama's sake, but the world's and the small-d democrats of Syria and the region. If he does, it'll be hard not to conclude that it happened because Assad was and is indeed afraid of U.S. military capability. You can like Obama or not like him. Alfred E. Newman could be president. It's still the United States armed forces, and if you're a dictator with an army stretched a little thin by a two-year civil year, the thought of it coming after you can't be comforting. Of course, the threat as articulated by the president has to be credible, and on that point Obama would deserve credit, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first.