The U.S. will not attack Syria. Syria will agree to turn over its chemical warfare weapons to international control. No one has announced this and I am not privy to any inside information. This is a prediction, educated guesswork from an old poker player.
I’m writing this late Monday night, September 9th, and it will be posted in the early hours of Tuesday, September 10th. If I’m right, remember that you heard it here first. If I’m wrong, if an attack takes place, I won’t mind if you go to some other blog because we will all have lots of other things to worry about anyway.
Here’s my thinking. The big news all day today, Monday, was the notion that the threatened U.S. attack on Syria could be averted if Syrian President Assad agreed to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” Secretary of State John Kerry said that early in the day, in what was described as a casual, off-hand answer to a press conference question in London.
But then look what happened. Almost immediately, the Russian foreign minister came up with a more formal version of the same idea. And the Syrian foreign minister, who happened to be in Moscow, quickly “welcomed” the Soviet move. Within hours the British, French and German heads of government, among others, agreed that the proposal was worth study. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General quickly joined the chorus. Later in the day Obama promised to “engage with” the Russians on the idea, even as he kept lobbying Congress to agree on a military strike. And a number of U.S. lawmakers and officials, some who have been in favor of the strike and some not, agreed before nightfall that the idea is worth exploring, as indeed it is.
Seldom if ever has a new diplomatic notion on such an important question been endorsed so quickly by responsible national leaders who disagree on the basic issue. That in itself seemed too good to be true. And then, on Monday evening, in his interview with the PBS NewsHour, President Obama let something slip: when he was in St. Petersburg Russia, last week, he did have “conversations” with President Putin about putting Syrian chemical weapons under international control. In fact, he said, “this is a continuation of conversations I’ve had with President Putin for quite some time.”
So it wasn’t just Kerry’s casual remark Monday that set off this diplomatic flurry, as we were led to believe. The idea has been under discussion for days or weeks. And that means that President Assad of Syria has been considering it for just as long. And I think that’s why, after making a serious threat, Obama puzzled everybody by putting the action on hold, asking Congress to authorize the military strike, and declining to say what he would do if Congress refused. He was pressuring the Syrians, giving them a few days to make up their minds with the threat of attack hanging over their heads.
In other words, we are witnessing the showdown moment of a high-stakes poker game. President Obama has made a huge bet by threatening to attack Syria, and we don’t know whether he is bluffing. The world is waiting for President Assad of Syria to fold his hand, by agreeing to turn over his poison gas stocks, or to call the bet by refusing to do so and hunkering down for an attack that might or might not arrive.
And it is my opinion that we are hearing about this “new” diplomatic initiative only because Assad has agreed, has decided to fold his chemical warfare hand. And I believe we are hearing about it at this particular moment because President Obama is going on television Tuesday night, ostensibly to argue for the attack on Syria, but really because he hopes to announce that thanks to his firm stance Syria has agreed to turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
A good poker player winning a bluff never shows his cards if he wants to play at the same table again. So we will never know whether Obama is bluffing with just this outcome in mind. Sometimes, depending on what’s in the pot, you want the other guy to fold even if you think you have the better hand.