American diplomacy is suffering from a self-inflicted crisis of credibility. It is self-inflicted because the United States has repeatedly drawn bold, bright lines in the Middle East that it has failed to defend. The Foreign Policy Initiative has compiled a list of the standards for the Iran deal that US negotiators have declared they would insist upon, nearly all of which were completely abandoned in favor of the Iranian position. On everything from Iran having a “right to enrich” to terrorism sanctions, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the Obama administration have worn out their shoes walking back from their promises.
The whole affair of American diplomacy has become tainted with an air of unseriousness. Not only do we not keep our word, we look foolish doing it.
It is impossible to advance American interests in this environment. The failure to keep our word stretches all the way to the top. When President Obama blinked on his ‘red line’ in Syria, it set up a chain of events that now threatens to spark war as far away as East Asia. This is because the ‘red line’ — that the Assad regime would not be allowed to use chemical weapons against its own people — went utterly unenforced when it was violated by President Assad. As a consequence, when President Obama tries to draw another ‘red line’ in the East China Sea, both allies and competitors have to wonder if he will do anything at all to uphold it. At the least, it draws provocative moves to test American resolve that could result in our allies taking defensive action on their own. Weakness is provocative, and moral weakness most of all.
So it is ironically appropriate that the Assad regime’s survival may have been blessed last week by the Secretary of State’s comments on his hope to work with Russia and Iran on Syria. The last thread of a suggestion that Assad might face some sort of punishment for his use of chemical weapons and “barrel bombs” on his own people is the American-led position that he will have to step down as leader in Syria. The Russians do not agree. Last week they allowed Assad to come to Moscow to meet personally with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a strong show of support for Assad’s rule.
Secretary Kerry commented on the matter.
“It is clear that Russia and Iran are supportive of Assad….[while] a whole bunch of countries…understand that Assad creates an impossible dynamic for peace,” Mr. Kerry said Friday in Vienna, following the meeting with the three foreign ministers. “But if we can get into a political process, sometimes these things have a way of resolving themselves.”
Indeed. To return to the Foreign Policy Initiative piece on the Iran deal, in a political process such as Secretary Kerry describes “sometimes” proves to be “always,” and always in favor of Russia and Iran. Just as the United States gave away the uranium enrichment “right” that was Iran’s goal for a deal as a precondition to having talks, so too is Kerry proposing to ‘resolve an impossible dynamic’ in return for Russia and Iran simply agreeing to have a political process. Given the history of American negotiations under this administration, that should be read in no other way than an offer to become pliant on Assad in exchange for talks.
This is no time to pursue talks with Russia and Iran. American negotiators would have little leverage to effect any policy in such a “political process” until we change the military dynamics of the conflict. At the moment, we are a bit player in Iraq, while Russia and Iran have significant troops on the ground pursuing a unified plan of war. The time to talk is when Russia and Iran need to talk to us. Diplomacy works best when it comes from strength, and when it is conducted by men who keep their word. At the moment a political process such as Secretary Kerry describes can only be a venue for surrender.