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The Boston Globe

Opinion

farah stockman

A brilliant plan or Forrest Gump diplomacy?

Assad must go, but not right now.

Assad must be punished, but not very much.

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Syria needs a political solution, but we are planning a military strike.

If you have been confused about the Obama administration’s messaging on Syria, you are not alone. They have been trying to make a narrow case for a war that isn’t really a war, and they have been failing. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy moment came Monday, when Secretary of State John Kerry declared that our strike in Syria would be “unbelievably small.” If that’s the case, why have we been talking about it for weeks? Besides, it is generally a bad idea to announce that your impending missile is really, really tiny.

But just when I was about to close my eyes and wish the Bush administration back — at least they tell us what they are going to do and do it, even when it’s dumb — something magical happened.

John Kerry answered a reporter’s question: Is there anything Assad can do to avoid a military strike? Kerry’s an off-the-cuff, rhetorical response: Syrian President Bashar Assad could “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community.”

And then, suddenly, Syria appears to be getting ready to do just that.

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Was it all part of some grand plan by the administration? Or Forrest Gump diplomacy? Whatever it is, it looks good to me.

A few hours ago: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem announced that his country does indeed have chemical weapons and that Syria aims to sign the international convention banning chemical weapons. That would allow international inspectors to come in and take an inventory of Syria’s stockpile. Under normal circumstances, a country would have at least 10 years to destroy its stockpile. But the international community could require Syria to allow its weapons to be carried away immediately.

What’s not to love about that? Now Congress is rallying around this new Syria idea. France is rallying around this idea. Iran is rallying around this idea. Anytime you get John McCain and Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on the same side of an issue, you have a winner.

Of course, Syria could be playing games, stalling and plotting to deceive us. But forcing them into the chemical weapons treaty is a WAY better path to degrading his chemical weapons capability than an “unbelievably small” missile strike. It is worth remembering that weapon inspectors – not the US invasion – stopped Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs.

This effort could fizzle out, once we get into the details of exactly what Syria has to do for the deal to look serious. But if it doesn’t, if it turns out against all odds to work, then it will surely be one of the strangest chapters in US diplomacy. Then we will all be asking how an off-the-cuff, ill-advised remark could have created a diplomatic possibility that wasn’t there before.

Kerry, who initially dismissed the whole idea of Assad giving up his chemical weapons quickly enough to avert a US strike — “it can’t be done,” he said — now seems to feel otherwise.

“Hopefully we can make this work,” he told an audience of thousands today on Google + video chat. “With good faith, it could be brought to fruition.”

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