If your short term memory is intact you might be confused after the president’s speech.
Russia, often backed by China, has blocked every relevant action in the Security Council, even mild condemnations of the use of chemical weapons that did not ascribe blame to any particular party. In Assad’s cost-benefit calculus, he must have weighed the military benefits of using this hideous weapon against the recognition that he could get away with it because Russia would have Syria’s back in the Security Council. And on August 21 he staged the largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century while UN inspectors were sitting on the other side of town. . . .
Since 2011, Russia and China have vetoed three separate Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime’s violence or promoting a political solution to the conflict. This year alone, Russia has blocked at least three statements expressing humanitarian concern and calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities in Syria. And 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. We believe that more than 1,400 people were killed in Damascus on August 21, and the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval.
That was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Sept. 6 explaining why Russia had managed to thwart efforts to go after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She also argued:
The international system that was founded in 1945 —a system we designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II—has not lived up to its promise or its responsibilities in the case of Syria. And it is naïve to think that Russia is on the verge of changing its position and allowing the UN Security Council to assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security. In short, the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have.
Four days later, the president gave a speech announcing: “I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”
She speaks the truth (“Assad began using chemical weapons on a small-scale multiple times, as the United States concluded in June”) while Obama obfuscates (“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.”) She tried to set forth a policy objective:
[T]his action should have the effect of reinforcing our larger strategy for addressing the crisis in Syria. By degrading Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons, we will also degrade his ability to strike at civilian populations by conventional means. In addition this operation, combined with ongoing efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of the moderate opposition, should reduce the regime’s faith that they can kill their way to victory. In this instance, the use of limited military force can strengthen our diplomacy – and energize the efforts by the UN and others to achieve a negotiated settlement to the underlying conflict.
Obama shows no interest in it. (“I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force — we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons.”)
Power, like many others in the Obama administration, has been undercut, embarrassed and been made irrelevant by her boss. Her words are truthful and stirring, but they count for nothing in this administration. The United Nations now knows this; the world knows this.
She certainly is not alone, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry knows all too well. He told us the president would act; then Obama went to Congress. He told us a deal with Russia “can’t be done”; then Obama threw the ball to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
These and other Obama’s advisers try their best and, I strongly suspect, understand all too well the folly of the president’s meandering, incoherent approach. But they have been hung out to dry and their remarks made into falsehoods. We have no choice now but to regard them as unreliable indicators of the president’s thinking. They might reconsider what it is they are accomplishing and whether the president isn’t entitled to advisers who are actually in sync with and can convey his positions accurately.