Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Looking beyond the procedural chaos..."

"After a week of almost unprecedented rapid vicissitudes in US policy toward the Middle East, it may seem reckless to look ahead more than a few hours, let alone weeks. Two narratives are competing for dominance in Washington: one highlights the haphazard quality of the White House’s approach, criticizing President Obama’s perceived indecisiveness; the other looks beyond the procedural chaos and detects a glimmer of hope in what has emerged. Certainly, US officials to whom we have spoken adhere to the latter interpretation, characterizing developments as “ constructive.” They see the Geneva meeting between Secretary of State Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the UN envoy Brahimi as laying down what may become the building blocks of a broader peace in Syria.  US officials are at pains not to get ahead of themselves – and profound skepticism, especially about the good faith of Russian President Putin, is the order of the day in Washington – but they calculate that, with Syria now coming clean for the first time about its chemical weapons stockpiles and Russian prestige committed to a collegiate process, they do have something to work with. White House staffers quietly admit that, compared to the prospect of the certain defeat they were facing in the Congress, they can hardly believe that they find themselves in such a defensible position. What lies ahead is less predictable. As one State Department official put it to us: “Much will depend on how quickly we can obtain verifiable responses from the Syrian regime. Patience is in short supply in Washington and Kerry is under pressure to show that he is not being suckered. I would say we have a maximum of two weeks to show concrete results. Otherwise we will be back to square one.” With the Syrian crisis dominating the agenda, other developments have taken place behind these scenes. These include a further round of US-China military talks in Beijing and stepped up efforts to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pentagon would much rather be attending to tasks such as these than preparing for a new war in the Eastern Mediterranean."

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