Rather than provide an instant analysis or detailed prognostications relating to today’s Kerry-Lavrov deal, I will note by reference to my Twitter timeline the sharp divisions among those attempting to assess its significance. The “pro-deal” position is laid out in the President’s statement, which will be widely echoed and re-echoed. My prior post assembled one example of a sharply critical take.
Given the real correlation of forces – especially the conjunctural weakness of U.S. and Syrian-revolutionary positions – it is hard for me to blame the President for any failure of the Deal to do more than protect U.S. prerogatives in relation to larger objectives. It seems premature to presume that Assad has permanently escaped “accountability,” or to declare him or anyone else a “winner.” For now, as spectators, we may hope that our cheers or jeers may be heard on the field and somehow affect the outcome. From analytical orbit, relieved of any such aspirations, we can see that the deal took the only shape it could take: Legalism backed by a contestably legitimated extra-legalism. On this system question, the President emphasized in his official reaction that, “If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.” He also maintained his core claim for the role of U.S. power: “In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military force, we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy.” The lack of a military enforcement provision in any emergent Security Council resolution will not and simply cannot signify a U.S. disavowal of force.
Different observers will, of course, reach different conclusions as to whether the Deal makes force more viable, by supplying new pretexts, or puts it effectively off the table, by offering the Syrian regime and its Russian sponsor a layer of protection and means of obstruction. Returning to orbit: The President retains, if perhaps less “credibly” than a couple of weeks ago, executive discretion. In system terms, the global mixed regime relies on that executive discretion in the hands of whoever holds the American presidency, as guarantor of fundamental norms that precede, exceed, and guarantee the legalism whose ideal universality is at the moment of decision revealed to be incomplete.
In my planned next post in the “After Ghouta” series, mostly completed before today’s events, I intend to examine what the Syria Crisis tells us about the legal regime. I expect to follow up with one more “After Ghouta” post, maintaining the emphasis on historical and system questions rather than on “play by play.”