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Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden

The Art of Talking a War to Death

By Ivar Arpi

Translated By Grace Olaison

13 September 2013

Edited by Kyrstie Lane

Sweden - Svenska Dagbladet - Original Article (Swedish)

There are individuals who, with persuasion and charisma, can shape the world. Barack Obama is not one of them. When he tried to explain why an attack against Syria was necessary, popular resistance increased. Having made his name as a fantastic orator during his 2008 campaign, he has, as president, shown his inability to persuade outside his own ranks. He is also sending mixed messages about Syria, as his speech to the nation on Tuesday. He took great pains to first defend an attack against Syria and then devoted just as much energy to backing away from such an attack. Now he shall instead prevail upon Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons. The irresolution with which the Obama administration has handled the Syria crisis in the past weeks is disquieting. Being a friend to America is rather trying at the moment.

Yet Obama’s rhetorical pirouetting is adroit in comparison to Secretary of State John Kerry’s dodging antics. Kerry will now not only be remembered as the loser of the presidential election, but also by the blunder which during a press conference improvised a new solution for the Syrian conflict: If Bashar al-Assad handed over the chemical weapons he could avoid an attack, Kerry reeled out and lifted his hands just as one does when they are guessing. A straw at which Putin and Assad immediately clutched.

Obama is undecided and is only capable of persuading his own ranks, but Kerry seems to suffer from some sort of verbal incontinence. He bombarded the Senate with reasons for a missile strike, which weakened the argument, and with his gaffe, he has, in a twinkling, strengthened Assad’s position. One should not be fooled by the White House, now in a kind of damage limitation mode, trying to pretend that it was all planned from the beginning. Nor that the threat of military force, which Kerry called the “unbelievably small” attack, achieved anything.

A tragic consequence of all this is that Putin appears as the victor due to the Obama administration’s vacillation. In an opinion piece in The New York Times on 9/11, he tries to sell himself as a defender of stability and international law and as a counterbalance to an America which, he thinks, relies on its own might. However, this should not convince anyone.

One ought to remember the Georgian conflict in 2008, when Russia occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions in Georgia, only to later recognize them as sovereign states. Before this, they had passed out Russian passports in the regions, with the threat of defending Russian citizens even outside Russia’s borders — a warning signal even to the Baltic states. National sovereignty is respected when it suits Russia. Power politics and military armament is what counts to Putin. Anything else is just window dressing.

“War of words” has received a new meaning with Obama and Kerry: They have devoted weeks to publicly justifying a war that they themselves do not believe in. They have quite simply talked the war to death before it even had the chance to break out. As a result of all the wavering, Putin has succeeded in making himself indispensable to the process of Assad surrendering his chemical weapons — a process that, apparently, will drag on. However, the war of words, the new kind, is likely to continue.



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