While reading the summary of key 2013 events, when I got to the description that "Syria blinked," I had to blink myself. I assume the writer meant "Syria winked." At least that's about as much attention as Bashar al-Assad paid to President Barack Obama's red lines — or maybe they were dotted lines free to cross if you doubted any serious consequences.
When mounting evidence no longer permitted President Obama to avoid some response, he deftly pirouetted to Congress, asking unnecessary permission to take action ("Atypical images of war," Jan. 2). Still on the spot when Congress refused to provide cover, he grasped the remarkably naive idea of Secretary John Kerry conferring with Russian leadership to divest the Assad regime of chemical weapons. That's the same Russia that several weeks earlier denied the existence or use of any chemical weapons in Syria; was feverishly sending advanced anti-aircraft equipment to Syria to increase the risk of air attack on weapons production and storage; and who has blocked for years any significant United Nations action as Mr. Assad was killing an estimated 130,000 of his own people.
This arrangement gives 21st century international meaning to the old expression of the fox guarding the hen house. The only interest the Russians have in the Middle East is to foment and maintain unrest to keep the price of oil high to support Vladimir Putin's failed economy. A British observer called this the greatest diplomatic disaster in Western history, but I still think the Brits hold the record with Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" claim after the 1938 Munich Agreement.
But not to worry, the Obama administration has engineered a second chance to trump the Syrian diplomatic charade with the current negotiations on Iran's nuclear weapons activities. Actually, there have been no negotiations since the current interim accord was signed a month ago — that's one month vanished out of the allotted six month time period. The likely future caption at the end of 2014 for this mess will be the "U.S. blinked," and what's worse, there was no compelling reason as Iran was headed toward economic collapse and probable internal rebellion — which couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.
The mullahs only came to the bargaining table because the sanctions which President Obama tried to reduce in severity were having a significant impact. A bipartisan group of senators observing allied consternation with the tentative agreement have supported legislation that not only promises greater sanctions if negotiations fail but also establishes clear criteria defining success — so President Obama and Secretary Kerry can't pull another diplomatic fantasy like the Syrian deal. The senators realize the stakes are too high. The president has promised to veto the bill — to the cheers of the mullahs.
One only has to objectively consider, for even a few moments, the impact on the Middle East and the world of a nuclear-armed Iran. This is destined to be the worst diplomatic disaster in Western history.
William D. Sauerwein, Phoenix
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