The confrontation over Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons on its own civilians last month is mired in confusion and controversy, and if you want to know the latest, you might want to check with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He seems to be running the show.
President Barack Obama is likely to be unhelpful. He and his advisers are making it up as they go along, and they aren't constrained by the truth, as the president demonstrated during a 15-minute performance Tuesday night. (More on that later.)
The status at this writing:
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have started talking about destroying Syria's chemical weapons, estimated at hundreds of tons and thousands of weapons designed to be delivered by artillery and aircraft.
The talks are the climax of a confusing week of back-and-forth. Polls show that the American people overwhelmingly oppose Obama's plans to bomb Syria. Congress doesn't like the idea, either.
The administration last week considered an ultimatum for Syria - dump the chemical weapons or else. It was a non-starter. But this past Monday, Kerry, when asked if there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack, tossed out a throw-away line.
"Sure, he (Assad) could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week ... turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."
The next day, the State Department said he was speaking only rhetorically. Kerry, himself, told the Russian foreign minister the same thing by phone. Only joking, or words to that effect. Ha ha.
Too late. Putin said "check." Russia and Syria immediately embraced the idea, pushing Obama into liking it or at least talking about it. Negotiations are likely to be protracted.
The president took to the airwaves Tuesday night to sell his policy, whatever it is, and he might just as well have been selling cheap suits on a street corner.
- He said, "We cannot resolve someone else's civil war," and he twice said that the United States is not the world's policeman. Then he pushed the case for bombing Syria. (Too bad he can't show half the moral outrage over the murders of four Americans in Benghazi a year ago.)
- He claimed there's "proof" the Assad regime ordered the chemical weapons attack on civilians, but he didn't offer any. No transcripts of communications intercepts. No satellite imagery.
- He cherry-picked scenarios. "I don't think we should remove another dictator with force ... we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next." He neglected to mention his misadventures with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Chaos reigns in both countries today.
- He misled about "international law." He accused Assad of "brazenly" violating "international law" by using poison gas. Truth is, there isn't any "international law" as we understand "law." The 1925 Geneva Protocol outlaws using poisonous gases in war (not domestic conflict), and there's the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, but Syria is not a signatory.
Now the other shoe: The United Nations Charter would prohibit U.S. military action against Syria. The Charter allows military force by one nation against another only in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. Neither applies in Syria today.
- He minimized retaliation. Obama: The Assad regime "does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military." Oh? What about his chemical weapons? Obama: "Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise."
Well, what about escalation that ensures his survival? Assad saw what happened to other deposed dictators, so he'll do whatever is necessary to remain in power.
Confused? Call Putin at +7 (495) 606-3602.