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A method to the madness

Brian Kaneb | Friday, September 13, 2013

It would be an understatement to say America and Russia have butted heads on Syria. America wants to take military action to deter Assad from using chemical weapons again, while Russia opposes any sort of strike. This much is known, but less so is how the countries plan on reaching their respective goals. With that being said, I think this past week gave us a glimpse into their strategies.
President Obama is aware that he cannot depend on the public to pressure him to intervene. The percent of the population that favors military action is merely 36 percent, the lowest preceding any intervention in at least two decades.
This lack of a mandate has forced our officials to rely on other methods to create the correct conditions for military action. One of these has been the media. Secretary of State John Kerry made this clear when he said at a press conference that Syria could avoid a strike if it put its chemical weapons cache under international control.
The media jumped on these remarks not only because they seemed newsworthy, but also because they seemed impromptu. The State Department added to the hoopla by saying Kerry was “making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons” instead of offering an official proposal. But is he really oblivious to the consequences of his comments? I don’t think so.
He knew the first procedural vote was going to take place in a couple of days. He knew the whip count, at least in the House, had more congressmen in the “no” or “lean no” category than the necessary amount to block intervention. He knew the resolution would not pass, so he looked for a way to buy more time without appearing desperate.
He found it on Monday. Kerry could not have thought the idea would be implemented – Syria could not collect all of its chemical weapons in just a week – but he could have expected a response from the Russians. He got it on Tuesday, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia supported Syria surrendering its chemical weapons to international control. This gave the story new legs. It developed into enough of a distraction to delay the vote, with Senator Harry Reid doing so Tuesday until further notice.
Yet, lost in this is Russia and its plans to prevent intervention. This is not because it is inactive, but because its goals are in line with those of America right now. Both want to delay military action for the short term. Nobody knows what to expect when the superpowers turn to the long term again, but both are bent on using the media in the meantime.
 If you need more proof, just look at the op-ed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote for the New York Times on Thursday in which he said he “felt the need to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.” When Russian politicians start sounding like American politicians, you know they’re in a war of words.

Brian Kaneb is a senior studying political science. He can be reached at bkaneb1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.