I am also quite skeptical that the U.S.-Russian framework on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons will work as promised, but this reaction from Tom Nichols and John Schindler makes no sense at all:
For nearly seven decades, American efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bipartisan consensus—one of the few to be found in U.S. foreign policy—aimed at limiting Moscow’s influence in that region. This is a core interest of American foreign policy: it reflects the strategic importance of the region to us and to our allies, as well as the historical reality Russia has continually sought clients there who would oppose both Western interests and ideals. In less than a week, an unguarded utterance by a U.S. Secretary of State has undone those efforts. Not only is Moscow now Washington’s peer in the Middle East [bold mine-DL], but the United States has effectively outsourced any further management of security problems in the region to Russian president Vladimir Putin [bold mine-DL].
To put it mildly, this overstates things quite a bit. It is at least debatable that limiting Russian influence in the region is a “core interest” of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy, but if it is the U.S. has not suffered much of a setback in any case. If the deal results in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, all that this means is that Russia seems to have succeeded in blocking or at least delaying U.S. military intervention. Russia has found a compromise that protects its client from outside attack for now, and the U.S. has found a way out of launching an attack that had no public support, no legal justification, and virtually no international backing. I doubt that Russia is interested in or capable of managing any other “security problems in the region,” and the U.S. doesn’t appear to have “outsourced” any other problem to Moscow.
More to the point, if limiting Russian influence has been the goal of U.S. foreign policy over seven decades, it seems extremely unlikely that it could be undone by a single remark from Kerry. It’s true that this is the first time in the last twenty years that Moscow has been able to avert a Western military attack on one of its clients, but that tells us nothing about Russia’s influence anywhere outside Syria. It is hard to see how Russia can be counted as a “peer” of the U.S. in a region filled almost entirely with U.S.-backed clients.
Russia has surely had a more important role in the region when it extracted concessions from the Ottomans in the late 18th century, or when it took northern Iran as part of its sphere of influence in the early 20th century, or when Moscow acted as a patron to Arab states other than Syria during the Cold War. So calling this deal “American certification of the most important role Moscow has ever played in the Middle East” is simply wrong and ignores all the times in the past when Russian influence was far greater than it is now.
This is where Nichols and Schindler get most carried away:
This is crucially important because we have risked sending a message to our allies from Seoul to Warsaw and beyond that our commitments are based on political expediency and short-term public opinion rather than principle. Who can blame uncertain governments around the world if they now conclude that Moscow, not Washington, is the reliable and trustworthy partner?
I doubt that there are many governments that would reach this conclusion, but I am reasonably sure that the governments of South Korea and Poland in particular won’t be among them. Why would any treaty ally assume that a muddled U.S. Syria policy has implications for what they can expect from Washington? Decades-long commitments to treaty allies aren’t going to be affected by any of this in the least. Nichols and Schindler could be right that the U.S.-Russian deal is unworkable, but that reasonable observation is overwhelmed by so many other spurious and bad arguments that it’s easy to lose track of it.