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John Kerry's Syria remarks: Mr. Magoo school of diplomacy

Secretary of State John Kerry’s accidental, possible solution to the Syrian crisis takes a page right out of the Mr. Magoo School of International Diplomacy: Just keep bumbling along and you may eventually get to your destination.

When asked in London on Monday what Syria could do to avoid a U.S. missile strike aimed at crippling its chemical weapon arsenal, Kerry replied that Syrian President Bashar Assad would have to give up his weapons within seven days. Implicit in the flippant remark: Just blowing off a little steam here, folks; it's not gonna happen.

Except Syria’s ally, Russia, took the suggestion seriously.

So did Syria’s foreign minister, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Britain’s prime minister, who had been slapped down by his own parliament when asked to support a U.S. strike. So, for that matter, did former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both of whom suggested such a move would be welcome.

The widespread, positive response makes the president’s plan for military action look even more precipitous and poorly thought out than it looked last week, when even then it was clear that most Americans, for myriad reasons, oppose military action against Syria.

(And even the president acknowledged as much when he told CNN during a blitz of network television interviews on Monday that the idea was "a potentially positive development." Though he argued that the threat of military action had given Syrians "pause.")

Of course, it would be so much easier to dispatch a few Tomahawk cruise missiles from Navy destroyers than to try to wrest control of and then destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles that the Syrians have denied possessing, let alone using, against rebel targets and civilians.

But the struggle would be well worth the effort, given that no one can predict with certainty the fallout from an American military incursion on a politically complex and war-torn Muslim nation. 

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even suggested that Syria might also sign the treaty that bans the manufacture, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

For too many Americans, the rush to bomb Syria is a bad flashback to the Bush administration lies about Iraq, Saddam Hussein and his imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

On Friday, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, a genocide expert who has been quick to advocate U.S. military intervention in lopsided conflicts around the world, told a group of foreign policy wonks at the liberal Center for American Progress that a military strike against Syria is the only option available to the United States.

Many people believe she made a more compelling argument than the president or his secretary of state have to date. And yet, even she did not anticipate the positive response to Kerry’s off-the-cuff remarks.

“Some have asked, given our collective war-weariness, why we cannot use non-military tools to achieve the same end,” said Power. “My answer to this question is: We have exhausted the alternatives.”

Apparently not.

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More from Robin Abcarian

Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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