- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
In the wake of the yet-to-be-implemented and agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, there’s been a geyser of analyses explaining who "won" and who "lost" from these latest diplomatic exchanges. Yes, such exercises have an element of superficiality to them, and it’s possible that outcomes like Syria have no impact whatsoever on larger questions of "credibility". Still, perceptions matter in world politics, so these kind of assessments are inevitable. But to develop these perceptions, you need to figure out your reference point. When looking at the situation on the ground, what is the old status quo against which one compares the current situation?
The majority of these columns seem to start from the August 21st attacks, and conclude that Russia and Assad are big winners and the United States is the big loser. A minority of observers — oh, and the American people — would dissent from that view. Fred Kaplan astutely notes that it’s possible that a deal like this can be win-win for everyone but the Syrian people.
I’ve had considerable qualms with how the Obama administration articulated its aims over the past month. Hell, I think Miss California articulated a better Syria policy than the Obama administration, and in less than ten seconds too. Still, I can’t get quite as exercised about perceived "losses" for the United States. This might be because my status quo reference point is pre-Arab Spring. In early 2011, Bashar Assad was a stable, loyal ally to both
Syria Russia and Iran, his wife was profiled in Vogue, and Syria was seen as a linchpin of any future Middle East peace.
As a result of the past week’s worth of supposedly brilliant machinations, Russia has managed to bolster… a very wobbly ally with a government that is a shell of its former self, a pariah of the international community, under heavy United Nations Security Council sanctions, and about to be overrun with chemical weapons inspectors to destroy its WMD stockpiles. Even if this agreement improves the odds of Assad staying in power, he’s in charge of a radically depleted asset.
So, in other words, compared to where Russian influence in the Middle East was at the start of 2011 to now, I’m not terrifically impressed. And it’s not like Russia’s prospects improve when you look elsewhere, I might add.
Now, to be fair, if your reference point is, say, the middle of 2011 or the middle of 2012, when the rebels seemed poised to deal the Assad regime a mortal blow, the picture changes slightly. From that perspective, Russia has salvaged some degree of influence from a rapidly deteriorating situation. Except that: A) it was never clear if Assad was truly on the ropes; and B) it was pretty clear that the Obama administration, while wanting Assad to go, does not necessarily want the rebels to stay.
So I’m afraid that I can’t quite agree with assessments that conclude that this deal created, "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy."
But that’s me. What do you think?
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. national security advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |