John Kerry’s Syria Proposal: Was it a Goof or Guile?
Policy + Politics

John Kerry’s Syria Proposal: Was it a Goof or Guile?

REUTERS/Susan Walsh/Pool

As President Obama continued his push for action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, John Kerry went off script and made a statement that could drastically change the course of the Syria standoff.

The Secretary of State, speaking in London on Monday afternoon, appeared to give Assad an exit visa from the wrath of the U.S. military. He suggested that an attack could be avoided if Assad were to surrender his chemical weapons.

“Sure, 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 the full and total accounting (of it), but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done,” Kerry said. 

The State Department later walked back the comments. But it looks like the White House is willing to consider the proposal since Russia and Syria immediately welcomed the idea as the best way forward.

Hillary Clinton also weighed in on this “unplanned” policy proposal: “Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians that would be an important step. But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely, or be held to account.”

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem then said the Syrian government was open to the Russian suggestion and would consider giving up control of its chemical weapons to international monitors.


This forced deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken to tell reporters that Obama “would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons," but he said he doubted they would give them up. At the same time, prominent backers of action against Syria, such as Diane Feinstein (D-CA), were pushing the diplomatic solution – the same solution the State Department had backed away from just hours prior.

This latest twist in the chain of events around a possible strike against Syria has become a theater of the absurd. According to critics in Congress and the foreign policy community, Obama has lost control of the debate.

There are three likely outcomes as of Monday afternoon: 

  1. Congress fails to authorize action and the president does it anyway.
  2. Congress authorizes action and the president follows through.
  3. Syria gives up control of its weapons cache to a third party.

All three make the United States look weak: The first scenario shows the American political process is broken. The second shows it takes months for America to follow through on clear threats against criminal regimes. The third would be the result of a statement initially called a mistake.

 “The only thing more confusing to me [than] what their Syria strategy has been the last two years is their strategy to try to get buy-in by the representatives in Congress and the American people,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday. “It is a confusing mess up to this point, and that has been, I think, their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue.” 

 The White House’s mishandling of Syria shows the failure of diplomacy and presidential leadership. But in the end, if Assad’s weapons cache is neutralized, all that bungling may not matter.