Smart money puts chances of U.S. missile strike in Syria at less than one in 10

Barack Obama

George Packer of The New Yorker, a keen observer of political matters, SAYS President Obama’s speech last night is an indication that U.S. military action in Syria is now highly improbable:

The White House had announced the speech a couple of days before John Kerry accidentally breathed life into a diplomatic initiative with Russia, and by the time Obama turned onto the red carpet leading to the cameras in the East Room, his objective had already been compromised. That’s been the case from the beginning of the Administration’s march to limited strikes: everything crumbles from half-heartedness before it can harden into action. The speech was written as a piece of persuasion, an effort to get the country and the Congress behind the President in standing up for Syria’s children and international norms. So Obama took on the doubts and the questions one at a time. What’s so special about chemical weapons? Why does this matter to American security? What if this turns into a quagmire? Why does it always have to be us?

He answered those questions in his respectful, reasonable way, and although I don’t think he made the case for national security, which has become the sine qua non, the mere act of taking seriously the skeptical letters of his fellow-citizens distinguished Obama dramatically from his predecessor. When he talked about ideals and principles—sounding, for the first time in his Presidency, like his new Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power—Obama seemed to feel that those words meant something. Yet somehow it didn’t matter. The country won’t be persuaded. The case wasn’t made. The vote is already lost.

And Obama had already moved away from his own cause even as he spoke. Kerry’s slip about Syria avoiding a military strike by turning over its chemical weapons and the instant Russian response had taken the pressure off; you could hear all of Washington (other than the local office of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces) breathe a sigh of relief. White Houses don’t do this sort of thing, but the speech probably should have been cancelled, because it no longer served any purpose. The President spoke to the nation because he said he would, just as he prepared for military action because he said he would.

So the Administration has had the good fortune to stumble into diplomacy, randomly sprung from the trap it set for itself. I’d say the chances of missile strikes are now less than one in ten. The sudden turn of events has already led the Syrian government to reverse its longstanding policy of denying that it possesses chemical weapons, a situation that would have Monty Python-like possibilities if not for the daily horrors. That move suggests the better possibilities of diplomacy.




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