Deal on Syria is good news for Obama

Updated: 2013-09-17 08:19

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Deal on Syria is good news for ObamaThe agreement reached by Russia and the United States in Geneva on Saturday to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international control was good news not just for the Syrian people but also for US President Barack Obama.

Many US commentators and politicians have argued that the deal was a win for President Vladimir Putin and a loss for Obama. They cannot tolerate the fact that the deal was initiated by Russia instead of the US, which has been dominating global affairs for decades. To them, Obama was beaten by Putin in the fight for prestige.

That is why some became hysterical when The New York Times published a piece on Thursday entitled "A Plea for Caution from Russia" written by Putin, in which he called on the US to respect the United Nations system, warned of the possible disastrous consequences of US intervention and challenged American exceptionalism.

However, so far, none of the frenzied words from US Congressional leaders and columnists have made a good counterargument. In a country that touts itself as the champion of freedom of the press and speech, some even questioned how such a "propaganda" piece got into The New York Times. Some charged the Times and the public relations firm Ketchum, which facilitated it, of "abetting and aiding America's enemy".

All these only prove that Putin's words were indeed powerful and to the point.

It is true that the deal could save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For the Syrian leader, the deal means that his country and army can avoid devastating US air strikes, strikes that might tilt the balance of the civil war toward the rebels and throw Syria into further chaos.

But the deal also means that Syrian civilians are spared from becoming collateral damage.

And with polls showing that the majority of US citizens oppose military action, the deal is also a win for Obama. The timely deal has given him a face-saving way out of his pursuit of domestically unpopular military action, a path he was forced to take in order to defend his statement that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line.

Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to focus on the economy, jobs and education. Yet his intense lobbying for military action in the past weeks has left him little time for the issues that people in the US care about.

Also there is a high likelihood that if it did take military action, the US would be drawn into the Syrian civil war to secure its so-called national interests and prestige as a superpower.

And if the US became embroiled in another prolonged war like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, it could cost the US taxpayers another trillion dollars, at a time when the US national debt clock is ticking toward $17 trillion. That would be especially costly at this moment since the Obama administration may face a shutdown early next month if the Congress does not hammer out a spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Saturday's deal also means Obama can sidestep the global criticism for his disregard for international law and his bypassing the UN Security Council.

Weighing all these factors, it is clear that the Saturday deal and an ultimate political solution to the Syrian conflict is a good option for Assad, Obama, the Syrian people and all those who want peace and stability in that region and the world.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

(China Daily 09/17/2013 page8)