P resident Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, in the Oval Office, Sept. 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The just announced U.S.-Russia agreement in Geneva on a "joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons (CW) program in the soonest and safest manner" sounds the death knell to an attempt by Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to get the U.S. into the war in Syria.
Equally important, it greatly increases the prospect of further U.S.-Russia cooperation to tamp down escalating violence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. That the two sides were able to hammer out in three days a detailed agreement on such highly delicate, complicated issues is little short of a miracle. I cannot remember seeing the likes of it in 50 years in Washington.
On Aug. 30, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to seal the deal with an impassioned address that declared some 35 times that "we know" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed President Barack Obama's "red line" against using chemical weapons with an Aug. 21 attack and needed to be punished. Just two short weeks ago, the prospect of a U.S. military strike against Syria looked like a done deal with Official Washington abuzz with excitement about cruise missiles being launched from American warships in the Mediterranean, flying low toward their targets and lighting up the night sky of Damascus like the "shock and awe" pyrotechnics did to Baghdad in 2003.
Along with Kerry's speech, the White House released a four-page "Government Assessment" declaring with "high confidence" that Assad's regime was guilty of the attack on a Damascus suburb that killed precisely "1,429" people and "at least 426 children." Though the white paper included not a single verifiable fact establishing Assad's guilt -- nor did it explain where its casualty figures came from -- the assessment was accepted as true by most of the mainstream U.S. news media.
At that moment, Israel and its many backers had every reason to believe they had won the day and that at least the first stage of the retribution would be delivered before President Barack Obama flew off on Sept. 3 to Europe and to the G-20 summit. But then came a series of disappointments for them, beginning with Obama's abrupt Aug. 31 decision to seek congressional authorization.
Still, the prevailing attitude was that the Israel Lobby would simply get to work whipping members of Congress into line with a variety of arguments (and a mix of threats and inducements) to ensure that a use-of-force resolution was passed and sent to the President's desk.
The confidence was so high that there was no need to disguise what was afoot. Usually the mainstream media avoids mentioning the extraordinary influence of the Israel Lobby on Congress, but this time the New York Times displayed unusual candor describing who was egging on the march to war.
An 800-Pound Gorilla
In an article posted online Sept. 2, the Times reported...
"Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group Aipac was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad. ... One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called Aipac 'the 800-pound gorilla in the room,' and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, 'If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line' against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, 'we're in trouble.'"
This warning about "loss of credibility" is a familiar one, artfully promoted in Saturday's Wall Street Journal in an article by Leon Aron titled "America, Syria and the World." Aron quotes a long list of Israel loyalists like Brookings Saban Center's Kenneth M. Pollack, who warn that foreigners may come to view us as wimps if strong action is not taken against Syria.
A contrary point of view was expressed by former U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman, who commented: "There is another possibility, however. And that is that they have come to see us as bullies, prone to resort to force rather than diplomacy when problems arise. The latter possibility puts a whole different face on Obama's hesitation to go to war with Syria."
In any case, to the surprise of many Washington insiders, the dreams of U.S. bombs raining down on another Mideast country began to slip away as many members of Congress listened to their constituents speaking out against war, and some even disbelieving the administration's assessment because no hard, checkable evidence was being revealed to the American people.
Morose at CNN
As the march toward war began meandering off in unexpected directions, I was lucky enough to observe, up-close and personal, the angry reaction of some of Israel's top American supporters on Monday evening. That was after Russia drew Obama a new map for how to reach the desired destination of removing chemical weapons from Assad's arsenal without going to war.
After doing an interview on CNN International, I opened the studio door and almost knocked over a small fellow named Paul Wolfowitz, President George W. Bush's former under-secretary of defense who in 2002-2003 had helped craft the fraudulent case for invading Iraq. And there standing next to him was former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the neocon from Connecticut who was a leading advocate for the Iraq War and pretty much every other potential war in the Middle East.
Finding myself in the same room with two gentlemen responsible for so much misery in the world, I fell back on my recent training in non-violence, as we watched Piers Morgan try earnestly to spin the day's astounding events. On the tube earlier, Anderson Cooper sought counsel from Ari Fleischer, former spokesman for George W. Bush, and David Gergen, long-time White House PR guru.