Update: High-stakes talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continued on Friday in Geneva. They say they are continuing to negotiate a deal on Syria's chemical weapons, as well as try to renew talks on ending the Syrian civil war.
It has been a roller coaster week for U.S. policy toward Syria.
When the week opened, the Obama Administration was engaged in a full-court press with members of Congress, trying to build support for U.S. military action against the Assad regime.
Now, as the week closes, Russian President Vladimir Putin has floated a plan to put Syria’s chemical weapons cache under international control, even writing a piece for The New York Times that strongly urged the United States to not use military force against Syria.
In response, President Obama gave a televised speech in which he both defended the need for military action, but urged Congress to wait on a vote so the Russian plan could be pursued.
Foreign policy contributor Art Cyr of Carthage College says Russia is making a shrewd move with limited resources. (Even though Russia has nuclear weapons, they are not as much of a threat as they once were; today chemical weapons are more threatening.) Putin proposed Syria should bring its stock of chemical weapons under international control.
Cyr also finds parallels between Putin and Russia's pre-communist ways of foreign policy. George Kennan, a Milwaukee-native and American foreign policy advisor during World War II, studied Russian foreign policy tactics extensively. He found that, in pre-communist times, Russia’s tradition was to emphasize continuity, focus on the country’s self-interest, and be careful and strategic when dealing with foreign policy.
Cyr says we should watch for the following developments in the coming days of decision-making:
- Putin’s proposal will help get the United States off the hook. Cyr says Obama dropped the ball by not acting quickly enough and Putin grabbed the ball. Successful leaders “do not confuse rhetoric and talk with action,” which is something Cyr says former professor President Obama has already done.
- If you are going to use military force, use it as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. As it is, if Congress passes anything, Cyr says it will be bogged down by intricacies, essentially a legislative "Rube Goldberg machine."
- We are still a generation away from leaders who do not have an Eastern Bloc mentality. Presidents ranging from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush have had experience being in military warfare. “Starting with Clinton, there is a detectable lack of insight, lack of skill, and sort of casual approach to military affairs that can hurt us and has hurt us,” Cyr says.
Professor Arthur I. Cyr is the director of the A.W. Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage. Cyr is the author of four books on international relations and British politics, and is currently a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. He has a Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from Harvard University, and an M.A. and B.A. from the University of California-Los Angeles.