Assad presses his advantage against a defeated Obama

Weak, confused, unqualified U.S. president?  Check.  Savvy Russian super-villain with a sharp grasp of long-term strategy?  Check.  Overbearing tinpot dictator eager to seize his moment and humiliate the defeated Barack Obama?  Checkity-check-check.  The Syrian circus swings into its big three-ring finale, as Bashar Assad starts making demands of the Obama Administration, per the New York Times:

Not long ago, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria seemed a remote and embattled figure, with the United States threatening airstrikes and other Arab leaders denouncing him for having used chemical weapons against his own people.

Yet in recent days, he appears, paradoxically, to have turned the crisis to his advantage, making clear to a global television audience that he aims to use President Obama’s own “red line” against him.

In exchange for relinquishing his chemical arsenal, Mr. Assad said Thursday, he will require that the United States stop arming the Syrian opposition — a demand that might seem wishful from the leader of a devastated country where civil war has left 100,000 dead, two million living as refugees and large swaths of territory beyond his control.

Mr. Assad outlined his demands on Thursday, telling a Russian TV interviewer that the arms-control proposal floated by his patron in Moscow would not be finalized until “we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists.

He also said “Syria has neither contacts with, nor trust in, America.”  That’s quite an insult, coming from a mass murderer… so right on cue, our preposterous Secretary of State wobbles out on a unicycle, juggling a couple of bowling pins and a live raccoon while the other clowns serenade him with plastic horns and a kazoo:

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a blunt response to Mr. Assad’s comments after meeting Thursday with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, saying the standard procedures for identifying and securing the weapons were too slow in Syria’s case. “There is nothing standard about this process,” Mr. Kerry said. “The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough.”

The international crowd roared with laughter, because of course the words of the Syrian regime most certainly are enough, at least for the time being.  That’s because Kerry and Obama bungled the situation so badly, allowing themselves to be checkmated against Russian influence and the United Nations peace process.  Assad will eventually have to hand over something.  He’s got plenty of WMD – a thousand metric tons of chemical and biological weapons, according to some estimates – so he can spare a few to placate the international community.  But for right now, all he has to do is sound reasonable.

The prospects of Western action against him were always dim – which is why you can hear those clown horns tooting whenever Obama or his surrogates talk about a “credible threat of military action” bringing Assad to the table.  On the contrary, when the Syrian butcher gave an interview to CBS News earlier this week, he had a far better grasp of the American political situation than anyone in the Obama Administration.  There’s no reason to think he ever felt “threatened” at all, especially since his worst-case scenario was the “unbelievably small” attack John Kerry was nattering about.

But now the prospects of attack are zero, because Assad has been checked into the U.N.’s dictator rehab program.  He’s sitting in the lobby, leafing through a copy of Sarin Afficionado and waving cheerfully at the frustrated Obama Administration pipsqueaks glaring through the window.  He could blow this with another big chemical attack, but he might even have enough flexibility to get away with a small one, just to demonstrate his defiance.  And he’s got plenty of room to make demands of the Obama team, coupled with Vladimir Putin asserting that Syrian disarmament “will work only in case we hear that the American side, and all those who support it, will denounce using force.”

Assad is just upping Putin’s ante a bit by calling on the United States to stop arming the rebels, a demand Putin supported in his infamous New York Times op-ed:

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

As the Times notes today, Assad is running time-tested plays from a well-worn dictator playbook, using the fundamental folly of the United Nations against it:

Mr. Assad, sounding relaxed and confident, hinted in his interview that the Russian proposal — which requires Syria to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention — could become a lever for endless negotiations and delays, much as Saddam Hussein delayed arms control inspectors during the 1990s. “It doesn’t mean that Syria will sign the documents, fulfill the obligations, and that’s it,” Mr. Assad said.

The state-owned Syrian newspaper Al Watan put it bluntly in a headline on Thursday: “Moscow and Damascus pull the rug out from under the feet of Obama.”

If the U.N. was a serious international body, it would have high standards for membership, which neither Syria nor Russia could currently meet.  Membership in the parliament of civilized humanity would be difficult to obtain, but so desirable that authoritarians would consider real reforms to qualify for it.  But that’s not how it works.  Those who take the U.N. seriously – most definitely including the Obama Administration – are obliged to work through its bureaucratic processes with a measure of integrity, knowing that people like Assad and Putin are merrily gaming a system they don’t believe in.  The U.N. is a global welfare office, as easy to rip off as the U.S. food stamp program.

Assad is reportedly using the time he gains through these diplomatic maneuvers to scatter his chemical weapons stockpiles, making them harder to take out with aerial bombardment, according to the Wall Street Journal:

A secretive Syrian military unit at the center of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track, according to American and Middle Eastern officials.

The movements of chemical weapons by Syria’s elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, officials said. It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile, they said.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons are located, but with less confidence than six months ago, U.S. officials said.

Not only are these scattered targets hard to hit without severe collateral damage, but there’s always the danger that air strikes will neutralize the regime units guarding them without destroying the chemical weapons themselves, making them easy pickings for al-Qaeda affiliated rebel forces.

Time is also working in Assad’s favor because some of the wilder claims made by a war-hungry Obama Administration are falling apart, such as their inflated casualty count from the August 21 “red line” chemical weapons attack.  According to Reuters, there are suspicions that people killed by conventional weapons during the rocket and artillery barrage have been lumped in with the WMD victims.  Not only does that make Obama’s case for military attacks look shakier, but it highlights the bloody absurdity of treating the people shredded by conventional munitions as no big deal, while the far smaller number who inhaled poison gas are a global outrage.  The Administration responded to these reports of inflated casualty counts with its typical three-ring-circus performance:

One of the congressional sources said that administration officials in closed door briefings said they could not rule out that some victims included in the U.S. death toll were killed either by conventional explosive parts of rockets which carried poison gas or in the artillery barrage the United States says followed the gas attack.

A second source, who is sympathetic to White House policy, said caveats administration officials attached to the 1,429 death total were of sufficient magnitude to cause the source to avoid citing the figure.

A third source said that administration officials confronted pointed questions from members of Congress about the accuracy of the numbers and acknowledged that they “couldn’t be sure” about the cause of death for some people counted as victims of chemical poisoning.

An administration official familiar with the briefings denied that there had been any doubts as to how the 1,429 bodies were counted; a second official asserted that Capitol Hill officials had heard what they wanted to hear because so many legislators were opposed to Obama’s plan.

Good Lord.  Does anyone in this Administration talk to anyone else at all?  Why is there any surprise that the Apple Dumpling Gang isn’t faring very well against stone-cold Russian and Syrian gunslingers?