It would not be a surprise if John Kerry was being burned in effigy on the White House lawn, at the State Department and in some secure outdoor location controlled by the National Security Agency (NSA).
His ‘rhetorical’ comment about Syria handing over chemical weapons exposed the tiny fissure in the US position that could be exploited by the Russians, to remove the American pretext for military attacks on the al-Assad regime. Unsurprisingly the Syrians today appear to be very receptive to the idea of giving up weapons to prevent a US/French attack. If the Syrians comply then the threat of Tomahawk Cruise missiles raining down on Syrian military targets would appear to have been removed.
Or does it? While Kerry’s loose lips were holding back US ships, and the Russians were handing al-Assad a way out of being attacked, the US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, was delivering a speech to the New America Foundation, which underlined that the proposed deal on chemical weapons may not be enough to keep Washington at bay. For while Rice was taking up US action but denying the US was seeking to effect regime change in Syria:
So, in short, this would not be an open-ended “intervention” in the Syrian civil war. These strikes would not aim to topple Assad or, by themselves, to effect regime change. Doing so would require a much larger and sustained military campaign, putting American forces in the center of this civil conflict. And, as President Obama has made clear, it is neither wise nor necessary to do so.
… she went on to say, in a more round about way, that the US is indeed seeking regime change in Syria:
Our overarching goal is to end the underlying conflict through a negotiated, political transition in which Assad leaves power. The best way to achieve this is to keep the country and its institutions intact, but all parties have to be willing to negotiate. So ours is a multifaceted strategy that puts pressure on the regime by isolating them and denying them resources; builds up the civilian and military opposition; and secures diplomatic agreement with other key countries on the principles for transition while assisting those who need immediate relief.
This is a clear signal that while al-Assad holds the keys to the Presidential Palace in Damascus, the US will not be satisfied. The effort to ‘deny resources’ and ‘isolate’ al-Assad’s regime is still a pretext for some form or other for further American intervention. The threat of action, direct or indirect remains. Rice herself was perfectly happy to explain right at the outset what her speech was all about and intended to further – the likely next excuse in the US playbook:
Today, I want to take this opportunity to explain why Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a serious threat to our national security, , and why it is in our national interest to undertake limited military action to deter future use.
We can be fairly certain there are US boots on the ground in Syria or just over the border in Turkey, working with Syrian rebel groups to help train fighters. The US is not an impartial party. It is on the side of the opposition to al-Assad, which means anything they do to weaken the regime will give defacto assistance to, and enhance the position of, Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region.
Rice’s speech underlines the fact that no one should lose sight of. Chemical weapons were just the convenient excuse available for an American intervention that would weaken one side (al-Assad) and by consequence strengthen the other (Sunni rebels and Al Qaeda). The upshot is this isn’t going to go away. The Americans have an agenda that necessitates the removal of al-Assad and, one way or another, they are determined that he will be removed. Saving civilian lives is just the wrapper the American action comes in.
This is why yesterday, as various outlets described the Russian initiative as ‘checkmate’ we were only describing it as putting the US in ‘check’. There are many moves yet in this game. The plunger on the timer has been pressed and the clock is now ticking on the American side of the board. What they do next, we can be certain, will not be the end of this matter.