Local Experts Say Obama Will Cautiously Support Russian Diplomacy For Syria, Keep Strike On Table

Sep 10, 2013

In his address to the nation this evening, President Barack Obama will cautiously support the Russian plan for Syria to place their chemical weapon stockpiles under international control, while continuing to advocate for a military option as a contingency measure.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg, and retired four-star U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan T. Howe.
Credit University of North Florida

That’s part of the analysis of two First Coast foreign policy experts who spoke with WJCT in advance of tonight's address.

Retired four-star U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan T. Howe, the immediate past chairman of the Jacksonville-based World Affairs Council, said Obama will likely take advantage of what has become known as the “Russian plan.”

“I think now he’s going to shift to this other option,” Howe said. “But make the case that they will need to approve a strike to bolster a diplomatic solution.”

“The fact that this is even on the table is an extraordinary turn of events,” said Nancy Soderberg, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and current distinguished visiting scholar at the University of North Florida.

“It’s the first positive thing Russia has done in decades in terms of getting Syria to hold up its international obligations.”

As for Congress, Howe said the proposed revised resolutions currently being discussed that would provide a timetable for Syria to comply with a UN Security Council resolution to give up their chemical weapons would make a yes vote more politically palatable for many legislators.

“This gives people on all sides an out,” he said, adding that there will likely still be those in Congress who will oppose a military option regardless of the latest development.

Soderberg expects Congress will postpone votes on any resolutions dealing with Syria until it is determined whether the regime is serious about surrendering their chemical weapons.

She also said Obama will likely qualify his support for the Russian plan by asking for assurances that the world will react if Syria withdraws cooperation

“It will help him get more support if he goes thought with the diplomatic efforts,” she said of the president.

In an interview last night with PBS’ Charlie Rose aired on WJCT, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the U.S. should “expect everything” when asked if there would be retaliation following a U.S. strike.

Soderberg watched the interview; she said Assad reminded her the spokesman for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who told state television that the regime had turned back coalition forces at the same time U.S. media showed troops marching through the gates of the presidential palace.

However, both Howe and Soderberg said Assad's threats should be taken seriously.

“We’ve got troops in region, and Israel is right there,” Soderberg said, noting Syrian’s ally, Iran, and affiliates Hamas and Hezbollah. “Hezbollah has a long history of American blood on its hands.”

“You’ve got to take him seriously, but not be deterred,” said Howe. “We’ve just got to be prepared for all contingencies.”

The president’s address will be broadcast tonight on WJCT TV, 89.9 FM, and streamed at WJCTNews.org.

You can follow Patrick Donges on Twitter @patrickhdonges.