Recent returnee to the weekday MSNBC lineup Ed Schultz whole heartedly endorsed President Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis Tuesday evening only a day after declaring this may be “the end of his administration.”
Schultz effusively praised the president’s “slow play” on Syria, stating he “played this perfectly.”
The MSNBC host went on to credit Obama’s decision to delay strikes with sparking the Russian proposal which would force Assad to place his chemical weapons in international custody:
ED SCHULTZ: […] This is Democratic foreign policy at its finest, I guess. President Obama made a great move by putting off military action and leaving it up to the Congress for a vote. And let me be clear: if President Obama had jumped the gun and hit Syria without delay, this deal would have never happened. So the cerebral move was to be cool, be patient, go to the G-20, try to get something done, and let’s work every diplomatic channel we can. That last guy didn’t do that too well. He just went ahead and shot and listened to the rest of the guys around him. We would have engaged in another Middle Eastern country with consequences unknown. Everybody you talk to in Congress wants to know about, okay, what happens the day after? I think dissenting voices across this country only strengthen this president’s position, because President Obama did not waiver. Dissenting voices gave President Obama the opportunity to show his resolve. President Obama played this perfectly […] This is going to be productive and this may forge a new relationship between President Obama and “Ole Putey.” You never know, they might go fishing at Big Eddie’s North Country Lodge.
Schultz’s appraisal of the situation omits a litany of obstacles that could derail a potential deal and prevent the Security Council from even acting on the Russian proposal, Michael Crowley of Time reports:
Are the Russians Serious? Moscow isn’t just a longtime supporter of Assad. It has shielded him even from the smallest gestures of international condemnation for his alleged use of chemical weapons. In the past two months, “Russia has blocked two resolutions condemning the generic use of chemical weapons and two press statements expressing concern about their use,” United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power said in a Friday speech. Any plan that the U.S. and its allies can support will probably require a U.N. resolution backed up with the explicit threat of military action, something it’s extremely difficult to see Vladimir Putin supporting.
Can Assad Be Trusted? Obviously any plan to secure or remove Assad’s chemical arsenal will require thorough verification. But the process of sending inspectors or security forces to accomplish that task will take time, and Assad will have opportunities to delay and complicate it — perhaps buying himself time in the hope that the world’s attention and indignation will fade. As Roger Cohen of the New York Times noted on Twitter Monday night, Bosnian Serb forces forestalled NATO air strikes in the 1990s by making false promises to hand over their heavy weapons. In the 1990s, Saddam mastered the art of delaying and deceiving U.N. weapons inspection teams.
Is it Logistically Feasible? Last year, the Pentagon estimated that securing the dozens of sites at which Syrian chemical weapons are thought to be stored could take up to 75,000 U.S. troops. A much smaller number (of what would almost certainly will be Russian, and/or United Nations personnel) should be required here, given the presumed cooperation of the Syrian government; they won’t have to shoot their way in. But it’s still a mighty task that could require many hundreds, if not thousands, of trained professionals — plus ample security to protect them: remember that U.N. inspectors were fired upon in Syria earlier this month. “It is a daunting task to get a hold of all these weapons,” deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken told CNN Monday afternoon, “and you probably need a cease-fire.” The odds of that seem awfully small, not least because it would require the fanatical Islamist fighters of al Nusra to agree.
Seriously. How Would This Even Work? Even if trained and armed inspection teams do reach every chemical site, then what? Securing as many as 50 sites for more than a nominal period of time isn’t very practical. But destroying chemical agents safely can take years. A workable option might include moving the chemicals to an easy-to-defend central location in a remote part of the country, but that’s not a simple thing to pull off in the middle of a civil war and in concert with a government that will resent the outside intrusion. Plus, moving Assad’s nerve gas invites the risk of a horrible accident, or an attack by would-be terrorists who want to steal the weapons.