Free Markets, Free People

Russia


Russia, Afghanistan and the US: A changing of the guard

Earlier in the week, former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had some rather harsh words to say about the current administration’s relationship with Afghanistan.

“Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first-rate in the Bush administration,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren on Monday. “It has gone down hill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came in.”

Rumsfeld pointed to the fact that the Obama administration has failed to get Karzai to sign an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when combat ends.

The U.S. has status of forces agreements with more than a hundred countries, Rumsfeld noted. “A trained ape can get a status of forces agreement,” he said. “It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship.”

Now I’m not going to go for the troll about that being a “racist statement”.  Neither of our SecStates or SecDefs were/are black and that’s who would be charged with getting a SOFA agreement.  Rumsfeld’s right.  The relationship has dramatically and drastically changed.  And he’s also right about why:

“And what happened is, the United States government — and I realize these are tough jobs, being president or secretary of state. But, by golly, they have trashed Karzai publicly over and over and over — (Richard) Holbrooke, the special envoy did, Vice President Biden did, Secretary Hillary Clinton has. The president has been unpleasant to him.

“And it seems to me they pushed him in a political box where he really has very little choice. I think there is probably not a politician in the world who dealing with the United States, instead of having the United States deal with him privately through private diplomacy, came out repeatedly, publicly, in an abusive, unpleasant, manner. And I personally sympathize with him to some extent.”

Again, he’s precisely right.  This administration did all it could … in public … to poison the relations.  And yes, Afghanistan is likely corrupt and Karzai as well, but that’s nothing new there.  Karzai was installed by the Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (assembly).  He’s their president.  It’s a tribal culture.  Figure it out for heaven sake … oh, and keep in mind the big picture instead of playing small ball.

Anyway, these sorts of actions cause reactions and have consequences.  The latest?

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” Karzai’s office said, “We respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.” To date, only Syria and Venezuela have taken a similar position.

Does it embarrass the US publicly?  You bet.  And that’s precisely why Karzai did it (or it is at least one of the reasons he did it).  And, there’s more:

“In Afghanistan, Russian officials point to their development activities as a counterexample to U.S. aid projects, which many Afghans criticize as wasteful and misguided. . . . Many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, praise the Soviet model even though they fought a bloody 10-year war against the country’s army, which invaded in 1979 to support an unpopular communist government.

“The Soviet money went to the right place. They were efficient in spending their money and doing it through the Afghan government,” Karzai said in an interview with The Washington Post this month.

Yes, there’s likely corruption. Yes the “Afghan government” is likely getting its hands on some of that money. But when in Rome, and looking for particular results, maybe knowing what to expect in such a culture and a willingness to play the game might turn out better results (and be cheaper) in the long run that trying to go around the incumbent government and forcing yourself on the population. You know, just a thought … which, apparently is more than our State Department commits to Afghanistan anymore.

Funny, in an ironic sense, isn’t it? “We welcome our former overlords”.

Outplayed by Russia … again.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Mar 14

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Russia, ICANN, and Bill Quick’s new novel, Lightning Fall.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.


Europe discovers its gas problem

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared the G8 to be dead, thanks to Russia’s take over of the Crimea:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the Group of Eight leading nations defunct given the current crisis in Ukraine, in a clear message to Russia that the world’s seven other major industrialized countries consider its actions in Ukraine unacceptable. “As long as there is no political environment for such an important political format as the G-8, the G-8 doesn’t exist anymore, not the summit nor the format,” said Ms. Merkel, in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. “Russia is widely isolated in all international organizations,” the chancellor said.

Ah, yes, the old “isolated in all international organizations” gambit.  And what have all the “international organizations” done in reaction to Russia’s Crimean takeover?  About what they did when Russia pushed into Georgia.  A whole lot of nothing. It is one thing to have international organizations that have teeth and are willing to do something in reaction to such a blatant act.  But when they mostly issue statements condeming the action and void the Netflix accounts of certain Russian officals, being isolated from those organizations isn’t such a big deal.  All it does is make further diplomatic efforts more difficult, not that it is clear that Russia is open to diplomatic overtures.

Another thing that is happening is Europe is discovering it has managed to put itself in an energy situation that isn’t at all to its advantage.  30% of Europe’s natural gas flows through Russian pipelines (Germany gets 40% of its natural gas supplies from Russia).

So the scramble is purportedly on to change that situation.

European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now. EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. “Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union,” one EU official said on condition of anonymity. As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the European Union’s “indigenous supplies”, which include renewable energy and shale gas.

Now, one would think that such a situation would call for drastic and speedy action.  Anyone want to bet how long they dither and, should they decide to exploit their “indigenous supplies”, how onerous the rules and regulations will be?

When leaders of the European Union’s member states meet today and tomorrow (20-21 March) in Brussels, they hope to reach consensus on the EU’s long-term climate goals. But agreement appears unlikely because of deep divisions between east and west. Ahead of the summit, ministers from 13 member states signed a declaration supporting a European Commission proposal for an EU commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 – up from a 20% target set for 2020. This ‘green growth group’ includes France, Germany, Italy and the UK. But Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are wary of the target and the timeline, and are resisting any such commitment.

The latter group will most likely be all for moving ahead as speedily as possible to exploit “indigenous supplies”.  They’ll meet some pretty stiff headwinds, apparently, from the Western EU nations. You can almost see this train wreck coming.

Meanwhile in the pursuit of “green energy”, Europe is apparently ready to toss in the towel:

Governments across Europe, regretting the over-generous deals doled out to the renewable energy sector, have begun reneging on them. To slow ruinous power bills hikes, governments are unilaterally rewriting contracts and clawing back unseemly profits.

You have to laugh.  “Unseemly profits”?  They’re subsidies, sir.  Not profit.

It’ll be interesting to see if the EU has the will to sort this all out in the next couple of days.  If one is a betting person, you’d have to guess that the odds for success are long, given the EU’s recent history.

~McQ


Prepare for more foreign policy disasters

One of the foreign policy promises Barack Obama made was that during his presidency, America would have a “light footprint” on world affairs. Our first indicator of what that meant was the action in Libya when the US “led from behind”. The Obama administration belived that pulling back from our strong presence and position in the world would help mollify other powers and usher in a new era of peaceful cooperation with America as a partner and not necessarily the leader.

How has that worked out?

Ask Russia, China and a few others:

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands.

Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs. In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

What we’re actually seeing is naivete in foreign policy head toward a predictable conclusion. Foreign policy isn’t bean bag and it has been established many times in history that the retreat of a great power from the world’s stage will see other seemingly lesser powers attempt to fill or take advantage of that power vacuum.

The “light footprint” didn’t “run out of gas”, the light footprint was foreign policy destined for failure from its inception. Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team were warned about that constantly and preferred to ignore both the warnings and history.

Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment. History suggests that such eras — akin to what the United States went through after the two world wars and Vietnam — often look like weakness to the rest of the world. His former national security adviser Thomas Donilon seemed to acknowledge the critical nature of the moment on Sunday when he said on “Face the Nation” that what Mr. Obama was facing was “a challenge to the post-Cold War order in Europe, an order that we have a lot to do with.”

But while Mr. Donilon expressed confidence that over time the United States holds powerful tools against Russia and other nations, in the short term challengers like Mr. Putin have the advantage on the ground.

Mr. Obama is managing “an era of American retrenchment” he initiated.

It doesn’t look like a period of weakness to the rest of the world, it is a period of weakness that is compounded by our weak leadership. We’re engaged in bringing our military down to pre-WWII levels and we’ve made it clear that we’re not interested in fulfilling treaty obligations with the likes of the Ukraine. How else would one interpret our actions?

And, of course, one of the best ways we could address this particular crisis is to up our shipments of natural gas to Europe so they weren’t dependent of Russian pipeline supplies that flow through the Ukraine. That would give Europe some leverage because they wouldn’t be held hostage by their need for Russian petro supplies. But on the domestic front, the Obama administration has made building the necessary infrastructure to cash in on our growing natural gas boom almost impossible.

Are Russia and others testing the limits? You bet they are and all of those interested in those limits are watching this drama unfold. To this point, it appears Russia sees no downside to its action. Should that continue to be the case, you can be assured other nations will also “test the limits.”

This is Mr. Obama’s 3am phone call. And it appears he has let it go to the answering machine.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 02 Mar 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about the Ukraine, Free Speech, and guns.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.


Syrian summary

I think Marc Thiessen pens a fairly succinct one in today’s Washington Post:

We’re conducting foreign policy by faux pas. This entire episode has been driven not by deliberate strategy but by slips of the tongue. Obama’s declaration of a “red line” on chemical weapons was a slip of the tongue. So was Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons. There is no plan, no coherence to anything this administration is doing on Syria.

More embarrassing still, Obama is actually claiming that the diplomatic “breakthrough” is the result of his administration’s show of strength.

Excuse me?

Was it a show of strength when Obama went to the world’s nations and asked them to join him in enforcing “their” red line — finding only one country (France) ready to do so? Or when the British parliament rejected military action for the first time since the 1700s? Or when a U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times that any U.S. strike would be “just muscular enough not to get mocked”? Or when Kerry declared that any strike would be “unbelievably small” and would not really constitute “war”? Or when Obama used his prime-time, nationally televised address to call on Congress to do . . . nothing?

That’s not a show of strength. That’s an embarrassment.

Foreign policy by faux pas.  You have to cringe at that one. But it is certainly the truth.

In fact:

The idea that this sequence of events led Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to cower and agree to hand over his chemical weapons is laughable. Russia and Syria are playing us. And the administration, which was about to lose a vote in Congress, latched on to this diplomatic “solution” to save face.

It’s supposed to be the president of the United States who gives a dictator a face-saving way out, not the other way around. The sad fact is Obama needed this way out more than Assad.

To claim otherwise is simply laughable. And, added into all of this, it gave Assad room to do whatever it is he thinks he needs to do (not to mention legitimacy as Syria’s leader) and a chance to add his own condition to the mix – that the US stop supplying the rebels with arms. Watch for that to come into play at some point in the “negotiations”.

As the Wall Street Journal says when describing the debacle:

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And here we are. The clown car remains full and, unfortunately, will be leading the circus for the next 3 plus years. Hold on to your hats (and wallets).

~McQ

P.S. and no we won’t be saying anything about the shootings, er “workplace violence”, at the Navy Yard in DC until a whole lot more information comes in.


Syria: Humiliating, but probably the best deal possible

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, absolutely nails the magnitude of the debacle the Obama administration has suffered and the reason:

Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.

President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility. Obama had been isolated within the G-20 and abandoned by our closest ally, Britain. Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of a military strike for which the president clearly had no stomach. Obama was on the verge of the most devastating congressional foreign policy repudiation since the Senate voted 49-35 against entering the League of Nations in 1920.

This president’s biggest problem, other than a total lack of leadership ability, has been reality all along.   He’s always believed he simply has to speak and others will follow.  Yet, in reality he’s done precisely what Gerson claims he’s done – isolate himself and the US.  He has no close relationships internationally.  Our closest ally in everything we’ve done for centuries has abandoned us.  His credibility in the Middle East is hovering close to zero.  His “reset” policy with Russia has been a disaster.  And he remains reactive and indecisive at place in history that calls for decisiveness and leadership.  Consequently another nation is moving to take that lead he’s abandoned.

Vladimir Putin offered Obama an escape, which he gratefully took. But there are implicit costs. A U.S. military strike — something Putin thought inevitable just a few weeks ago — is off. Russia’s Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, stays in power. The Syrian opposition is effectively hung out to dry. Russia gains a position of influence in the Middle East it has not held since Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of Egypt. This allows Moscow to supply proxies such as Syria and Iran with weapons while positioning itself as the defender of international law and peace. Iran sees that the United States is a reluctant power, with a timid and polarized legislature, that can easily be deflected from action by transparent maneuvers.

Other than this, ’twas a famous victory.

Speaking of credibility, to watch the spin-meisters attempt to call this a “famous victory” shreds what little they may still enjoy.  No one grounded in reality and at all concerned with their credibility would declare this any sort of a ‘victory’ for the US.

But hey we had a speech …

The resulting message was boldly mixed. Assad is a moral monster — who is now our partner in negotiations. The consequences would be terrible “if we fail to act” — which now seems the most likely course. America “doesn’t do pinpricks” — especially when it does not do anything. “The burdens of leadership are often heavy” — unless they are not assumed.

And here we are.  A shrunken giant, leaderless and adrift.  “Led” by an incompetent with coming negotiations headed by another incompetent (Kerry), both of whom have been badly played by the Russians and the Syrians.  There’s no reason to believe they won’t come out on the short end of this deal either.
As for the planned, then unplanned, then delayed, then put on indefinite hold strike that Kerry claims is the reason Syria came to the table – Charles Krauthammer lays that out for you:

That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”

“Unbelievably small”.  Likely had ‘em shaking in their boots in Damascus.

Krauthammer also sums up the “deal” Obama et. al. are now trying to claim was their idea all along (not that anyone but the most gullible or partisan or both are buying that):

The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.

So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demandedthat any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.

This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.

And what does America get? Obama saves face.

Some deal.

Indeed … some deal.

All of that said, it may end up being the “best” deal we could hope for given the ineptness and incompetence of this administration. Back to Gerson:

I am relieved that President Obama was given a reprieve from a devastating rejection by Congress, which would have wounded the presidency itself. We should hope (against hope) that a negotiation with Putin, Assad and the U.N. Security Council to establish international control of the world’s third-largest chemical weapons stockpile in the middle of a civil war is successful. And Congress should seek ways to strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations.

But this remains a sad moment for the United States. We have seen a Putin power play, based on a Kerry gaffe, leading to a face-saving presidential retreat — and this was apparently the best of the available options.

Pretty bad when this is the best outcome one could hope for … a degree of face saving for a less that satisfactory president who still doesn’t realize how badly he was bested.

~McQ


Stumbling into a solution on Syria?

Yeah, not really … although the usual suspects are bound to try to spin this as a triumph of diplomacy.  Oh, it’s a “solution” (“Peace in our time”!) … but not one that accomplishes much of what the US wanted done – well, except maybe save a little face.  And for that, they’re rather glad to capitulate.

In fact, as The New Republic pointed out, Putin and Assad just played Obama … big time. They knew he was desperate for a way to climb down from his “red line” comments and so they took an absurd, off the cuff remark by Sec. State John Kerry and the administration said, “sure”.

As TNR reports it:

Speaking in London next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that perhaps the military strike around which the administration has been painfully circling for weeks could be avoided if Bashar al-Assad can “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 a full and total accounting for that.”

The fact that Kerry immediately followed with, “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” didn’t seem to bother anyone. (Probably because they were focusing on his other slip-up: calling the promised strikes “unbelievably small.”)

The Russians immediately jumped on the impromptu proposal, calling Kerry to check if he was serious before going live with their proposal to lean on Syria. An hour later, they trotted out Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, who said he too was down with the proposal, which was a strange way to get the Syrians to finally admit they even had chemical weapons to begin with. Before long, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the English, and the French were all on board, too.

As for the “truth” about this being something planned by the White House and Kerry? Too late to claim that. The White House blurted out reality:

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the White House was just as surprised as anyone. Asked if this was a White House plan that Kerry had served up in London, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken was unequivocal. “No, no, no,” he said. “We literally just heard about this as you did some hours ago.”

That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and scary.

So how did they play the Obama administration? Remember that Kerry said they had to be under international control in a “week”? Yeah, that’s going to happen isn’t it. How about 2 years? 3?

Here’s the point … they avert any strike with their agreement knowing the international community – now that the UN is back in the game and Russia and China still have Security Council vetoes – won’t be able to move the ball for months if at all.

Again, I’ll just let TNR lay it out for you:

[Kerry] answered a hypothetical question in a hypothetical way. He blurted out a pie-in-the-sky, hyperbolic idea—getting rid of “every single bit” of the chemical weapons scattered across Syria “in the next week”—but everyone seized on it as a realistic proposal. It’s not.

First, how do you deal with a regime that only admits it has chemical weapons under the threat of impending military intervention? Or that uses chemical weapons while a team of U.N. inspectors is there to investigate the prior use of chemical weapons, in the same city?

Second, that handful of chemical weapons storage and mixing facilities are just the ones we know about, and, now that the U.S. has been loudly beating the war drum for weeks, Assad has been moving his troops and weapons around. If we thought getting to “beyond a reasonable doubt” with the intelligence on the August 21 chemical attack was hard, imagine us getting to “every single bit.”

Third, negotiating with the Russians and the Syrians about what “every single bit” and what disposing them mean will certainly take more than “the next week.” Both Moscow and Damascus have all the time in the world, and the Kremlin, which has never met a legal norm it couldn’t waltz around, will quibble and hair-split and insist that this is all done legally—whatever that means in Moscow.

Fourth, the mechanics of disposing these chemical weapons are far from straightforward. Quoth the Times: “flying [the chemical weapons] out of the country is not as simple as picking up nuclear components—as the United States did in Libya in late 2003—and moving them to a well-guarded site in Tennessee.”

Fifth, and most important, is the fact that Assad giving up his chemical weapons was only part of the stated objective. If you listened to the White House pitch closely, the point of the military strike was not just to stop Assad from using chemical weapons further on his citizens, and it was not just to warn other rogue leaders with their fingers on various triggers. Part of the goal was to force a political solution that would remove Assad from power. That is, even though the Obama administration has been insisting that it is not interested in “regime change,” that disastrous cornerstone of the Bush era, it was, in fact, pursuing regime change, at least until Monday.

Played.

Absolutely played. Oh, sure, Obama can now climb down and pretend to have implemented a real solution by claiming his threat of a strike caused this. In fact, the threat of a strike is pretty much irrelevant right now.  We’re into interminable word wars now.  By taking this up, as TNR points out, Syria now has “all the time in the world” while Russia plays its part in international negotiations. Immune now from a military strike and no real threat that anything will happen of any significance to take control of their chemical weapons any time soon.

So Assad will pursue his strategy without any implicit or explicit attempt at regime change (or deterrence, or armed intervention or …) and, as it appears the regime is getting the upper hand in the civil war, work toward ending it. Then Russia can declare the control of Syria’s chemical weapons a moot point and veto everything in sight.

Amazing.

But it is all good in the White House – they think the president’s credibility has been saved by this charade.

Seriously … they do.

So it’s back to “leading from behind.”

As it stands now, Russia and France have taken the lead on working out a plan to get Assad to hand over his chemical weapons, a lead Obama seems all too happy to relinquish. Hammering out the details will take a some time, and, while they’re at it, Assad will still have his chemical weapons but will no longer be under the threat of a U.S. military strike. (Who knows if he’ll use them, but he certainly hasn’t let up on the conventional shelling.) Putin has succeeded in throwing sand in the gears of the American political process and separating the U.S. from its allies, and the current American handwringing over Syria seems likely to grind on for weeks. And a pro-Assad paper ran with the following headline this morning: “Moscow and Damascus Pull the Rug Out From Under the Feet of Obama.”

~McQ


UK and France backing away from Syria strike?

The shaky coalition of Western nations promising to strike Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons is getting even shakier.  In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron is reconsidering:

David Cameron backed down and agreed to delay a military attack on Syria following a growing revolt over the UK’s rushed response to the crisis on Wednesday night.

The Prime Minister has now said he will wait for a report by United Nations weapons inspectors before seeking the approval of MPs for “direct British involvement” in the Syrian intervention.

Oh look … Cameron plans on getting the approval of Parliament before committing British troops to war.

That’s because opposition British politicians apparently play hardball while ours … well they talk and complain a lot:

Senior sources had previously suggested that Britain would take part in strikes as soon as this weekend which meant an emergency recall of Parliament was necessary on Thursday.

However, following Labour threatening not to support the action and senior military figures expressing concerns over the wisdom of the mission, the Prime Minister on Wednesday night agreed to put British involvement on hold.

The climbdown is likely to be seen as an embarrassment for Mr Cameron as he was determined to play a leading role in British military strikes, which had been expected this weekend.

France too is showing signs of waffling:

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that Syria needed a political solution, but that could only happen if the international community could halt killings like last week’s chemical attack and better support the opposition.

Hollande sounded a more cautious note than earlier in the week, when he said France stood ready to punish those behind the apparent poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Damascus.

He indicated that France was looking to Gulf Arab countries to step up their military support to the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, after Paris said this week it would do so.

Not exactly the saber rattling that was going on a few days ago.  It appears a “political solution” may be code words for “yeah, we’re climbing down too.”

Don’t expect a climbdown here.  At least not anytime soon. Not only has President Obama said he doesn’t need Congress’s approval, he’s also decided he doesn’t need to inform the American people of his decision via a televised Oval Office announcement.  However he would like the cover of a coalition (my, the shadenfreude here is delicious, isn’t it?).

If one had to guess, however, any strike this week would be sans the British and the French.  And that may be enough to delay an American strike (don’t forget, President Obama claims he hasn’t made a decision yet).

Meanwhile in the Med, tensions spiral up as Russia decides to flex a little naval muscle in the area:

Russia will “over the next few days” be sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean as the West prepares for possible strikes against Syria, the Interfax news agency said on Thursday.

“The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” a source in the Russian General Staff told Interfax.

Interesting.  And, if the strikes don’t happen now, who will claim to have helped call the coalition’s bluff?

As with most things concerning foreign affairs that this administration involves itself, this is turning into a debacle of major proportion.

Stay tuned.

~McQ