The Ugly, Disorganized Obama Victory on Syria

The president on Sunday took credit for an apparent diplomatic solution to Syria's chemical weapons.

Syrian demonstrators carry an image of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration against U.S. military action in Syria, Sept. 9, 2013, in front of the White House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (National Journal)

If there's one thing that Washington can agree on right now, it's that the Obama administration's handling of the chemical-weapons attack in Syria has been anything but orderly.

After weeks of a concerted effort on behalf of the president and his administration to push for a military response to the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, there might be a diplomatic solution that could make the region safer.

But up to this point, the process was marked by delayed responses, double standards, failing congressional support, mixed messages, and apparent gaffes. Even President Obama agrees that the process hasn't been without issue. However, that doesn't matter, he said on Sunday.

"I think that folks here in Washington like to grade on style. So had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would've graded it well even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that because that's exactly how they graded the Iraq war," Obama said on ABC's This Week. "I'm less concerned about style points, I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right."

And that's what the president thinks he has right now: a policy victory through a rocky process.

On Saturday, the Obama administration announced that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed on a framework to remove or destroy all Syrian chemical weapons by the middle of 2014. This happened on the third day of negotiations in Geneva.

The plan is ambitious, however, and is dependent on several factors, not least of which is keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to his word. In the coming week, Assad will have to provide a "comprehensive listing" of its chemical weapons stockpile. The deal also involves a United Nations Security Council resolution and an inspection of all chemical weapons sites. Additionally, all equipment to arm or make chemical weapons must be destroyed by November.

This could prove difficult, seeing as though there are 1,000 tons of chemical weapons in Syria, housed in 45 sites, according to a U.S. official speaking to The New York Times.

And what about the U.S. military option? The president said the U.S. still reserves the right to use force if the diplomatic option fails. Plus, he says, if it weren't for the threat of force, this solution might not have been possible. In a matter of weeks, Syria has not only acknowledged that it has chemical weapons, but it is willing to join the international community and destroy those weapons. To Obama, the U.S. is "in a better position."

"I think we have the possibility that it doesn't happen again," Obama continued on ABC. "The distance we've traveled over these last couple of weeks has been remarkable."

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., though, would disagree with that claim. To him, it's "a Russian plan for Russian interests."

"If the president believes a credible military force helps you get a diplomatic solution, they gave that away in this deal," Rogers said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.

Obama, on the other hand, said he doesn't view this issue as black and white between Russia and the U.S. "This is not the Cold War," Obama said. And though Obama doesn't "think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do," the president wants Russia to be involved in issues where there is shared interested.

And still, one of the more pressing issues with this diplomatic deal is the standing that it gives Assad to continue his reign in Syria, at least until this chemical weapons issue is resolved. However, the Obama administration still says it supports the moderate opposition. In the heart of the negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry, the U.S. announced it would immediately start arming rebel fighters.

But after 100,000 people were killed and 6 million people displaced, this latest diplomatic move by the U.S. and Russia could set the framework to a political settlement in the Syria civil war, the president contends.

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