After East Ghouta – Interlude: The Deal

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.”

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5 comments on “After East Ghouta – Interlude: The Deal

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  1. I’ve been struggling to keep up with your posts partly because the complexity of both the situation and your analysis can make a zig diffcult to distinguish from a zag. So this aside helps to frame your analsis more clearly for me. Thanks.

    Additionally, there’s is, no doubt, a lot of information we don’t and won’t know. We also can’t know how much that affects the validity of our inferences. Generally, inferential negation is more reliable than inferential affirmation. (This by the way kinda sums up the Buddhist Middle Way analysis of emptiness.)

    But living in a state of bare negation can lead to psychological projections of one’s deprived and depraved demons seeming to be real. The drive to affirm a characterization of reality can be an overpowering response to the ensuing chaos.

    If this seems off topic or a bit deranged, it’s an indication of how taxing all this is for me to process. Anyway, these posts are interesting and helpful in coming to some kind of understanding of events.

    • It’s the certainty that there is a lot known to the direct participants, especially the prime movers, but not to us, that makes me, especially as a rank amateur far removed from decisions, but instead way up here in the nosebleed seats, to focus on the more abstract or longer-view questions. As for the Buddhism-inflected observation on subjective fallacy, everyone would be subject to subjectivity, no? I’m not sure whether you’re criticizing others, or more interested in warning me or even yourself to avoid over-identification with one’s own analytical judgments.

      I’m glad anyway that, in trying to clarify my own thinking on these topics, I’ve helped you with yours. It makes for much better “sanity testing” to have you checking in, and I’m grateful to you and don miguel (and the occasional others) for taking the time to comment here.

      • I’m reading a Buddhist book now that’s challenging me on just about every level, so it’s seeping into just about everything I think about. I didn’t mean to criticize anyone as much as using my response here to be another form to try and integrate what I’m reading while hoping it would be somehow relevant to this discussion. If anything, you build awareness of subjectivity into most things you write.

        But I am finding a lot the Syria situation filled with these demons. Clearly within Syria this is true although I don’t have much understaqnding of the specifics. Then there’s the Exceptional America demon wrestling with the Mother Russia demon, each spilling out of its traditional shapes and boundaries creating I’m guessing new forms of conflict.

  2. Let’s cut to the chase, Assad has less incentive to cooperate even after the deal, the history of arms control protocols, and chemical weapons monitoring over 30-35 years in general is rather clear on the subject,

  3. That ain’t “the chase,” don miguel. Possession of CW stockpiles counts as at highest the 3rd priority for the U.S. Syria has been a “CW superpower” for a long time. Assad will likely find it impossible to use CWs, and may also have increasingly difficulty getting away with other war crimes if the IC, and Putin, are looking over his shoulder. The U.S., Russia, and others certainly have the power to force a diplomatic-political process.

    “Cooperation” in this instance means: no more use, and comply with the international community. The war has been not removed entirely from his hands, but is now implicitly “under adult supervision.” Read the Kaplan piece for a more positive take that includes interesting, historically grounded speculation on the Russian motivation:

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

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