For sports fans, events in San Francisco Bay over the last few weeks have been absolutely riveting, with every tack and jibe analysed. For political junkies, the public sparring between Presidents Putin and Obama has been equally compelling. The jaunt has been especially interesting of late for a sequence of completely unpredicted moves. After a longish period of studied insults and put-downs from Putin, which were only feebly defended by Obama, we suddenly had the totally unexpected: the impossible tack!
Following more than two years of staunch support by President Putin for Syria’s President Assad (whilst the latter killed more than 100,000 of his people) Putin suddenly turned right round (can you do a 180 degree jibe?) and heavied his erstwhile ally into accepting that he must relinquish his chemical weapon arsenal and, thereby, incidentally, accepting that he had one!
Meanwhile, Captain (er, President) Obama had been furiously ‘tacking’ and ‘going about’ (another nautical term) on the matter of red lines and bombing. There was a red line concerning chemical weapon use. Well, if there was a red line, it wasn’t mine. It was somebody else’s. We are going to bomb Syria hard. We’ll only bomb them gently (it will be a ‘pinprick’). As commander-in-chief, this is not something for which I need Congressional approval. Actually, it might be nice to have Congressional approval. On the other hand, they might not give it to me. Certainly, the American people don’t seem to like the idea.
At this point came the Russian masterstroke. Syria will give up its weapons. And, from the adversary Obama, the response, there is clearly no need to bomb now; the United Nations has it in hand. The international community will show its repugnance of the use of chemical weapons on innocent women and children. The bombs are ‘still on the table’, but it is a different table: one in a distant cupboard (and I am not sure who has the key).
And then this (Thursday) morning the final devastating jibe from Captain Putin. The report of the UN weapon inspectors was a total falsehood. The chemical weapons attack of last August was carried out by Syrian opposition forces, and not by Syrian government forces, after all (notwithstanding the inspectors’ descriptions of sophisticated delivery systems and high purity agents).
So who will win the race? Will Syria give up its chemical weapons? Will they get bombed?
The first thing to note here is that, unlike the America’s Cup competition, nobody follows the rules and it doesn’t matter if you cheat. So my prediction is that Syrian chemical weapons (what chemical weapons?) will not be accounted for and President Obama will not bomb anybody. On the other hand, the race will be a long one and there will be plenty of smart ‘sail-work’ to come.