The latest round of Syria diaries is in full flower. Given the nature of this community, it isn't surprising that their themes range from "dang, Obama's lucky" to "Russia's the white knight here?" to "Nah, this is how it was supposed to play out" and, of course, "11th-dimensional chess."
I would suggest that, like it or not, this is precisely how diplomacy works, and how it has always worked. A quick dip into the history of diplomacy, whether one focuses on the US or on other nations, provides any number of examples.
We have a long tradition of multi-faceted diplomacy; those among us with a military bent may use the term "multiple avenues of approach." The Department of State represents only the most public of our approaches.
Unofficial emissaries abound in US history, from 1798's George Logan (who single-handedly negotiated a peaceful solution to a looming conflict between the US and France, and did so with no government imprimatur whatsoever) through FDR's use of Harry Hopkins as an unofficial emissary during WWII and JFK's employment of Norman Cousins for unofficial contacts with the USSR's Nikita Khruschev.
We also have a long history of conducting diplomacy via third-party nations and international organiations. Even today, we employ other nations to represent our interests before governments with which we do not enjoy diplomatic relations; Sweden represents our interests in North Korea, for example, while Switzerland fills that role in both Iran and Cuba.
Finally, there is the military option. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," but it should be noted that he did both during his tenure. He certainly waved the "Big Stick" on numerous occasions (some of which remain questionable to this day), but he also leveraged that power to "speak softly" in brokering the peace that ended the Russo-Japanese War (and, incidentally, earned Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize).
Diplomacy, by defintion, involves all of these approaches.
To see several of these techniques in play, consider US-China relations during the Nixon Administration. Compare the declassified documentation of US diplomatic activity to the public rhetoric and military posturing of the post-WWII era. Keep in mind that the US was extremely concerned about the then-nascent Taiwanese independence movement, and that we had actually blockaded Taiwan in previous years (Seventh Fleet, 1950-1953) in order to prevent the PRC from retaking the island. In addition, the PRC's direct involvement in the Korean War was still fresh in American minds.
China had attempted the 'unofficial emissary' route early in this diplomatic minuet, when Mao invited American Edgar Snow to attend the May Day parade atop Tienanmen Square; no American had ever received such an honor, and Mao thought that this would be a signal to the US government. That approach failed, but he later used the opportunity for "ping-pong diplomacy" to make his point known.
Even as rapproachement neared, Mao Zedong himself stated privately that he fully expected the US to continue its anti-PRC rhetoric, just as that nation would continue its anti-US propaganda efforts. He admitted as much to Nixon himself, as described in Philip Short's Mao: A Life:
At his meeting with Nixon, Mao acknowledged this himself. "People like me sound like a lot of big cannons," he said. "For example, [we say] things like 'the whole world should unite and defeat imperliasm...'" - at which point he and Zhou laughted uproariously.Nixon, in turn, used his visit to the PRC to pull that nation in as a third party (as opposed to an outright ally) with regard to the USSR; we now know that Kissinger delivered briefings to the PRC on Soviet military strength and disposition without the knowledge of the US intelligence community.
I would suggest that this period in US/China relations provides a solid example of "multiple avenues of approach" in diplomacy.
So, what does this all have to do with Syria? Well, I think it rebuts several of the arguments currently under discussion:
Was this entire affair scripted, from the outset, to develop in this fashion?No government could anticipate the actions of the parties involved to such degree, and it would be foolish to make such an attempt with military action on the table.
Did we plan, all along, for Russia to play the third-party role?I don't think we considered it a certainty, but I do believe that we explored the possibility and kept it alive.
Was the military posturing just a bluff?No. I do believe, however, that it was both the plan of last resort and an inducement to other parties to assist in a resolution.
Do I believe that the US made concurrent approaches along multiple avenues, which included direct diplomacy, working with/through third parties, unofficial discussions and military posturing? Yes; to consider the alternative defies both our history and recent practice.
Do I believe that many Americans, including both Congress and the Executive Branch, are hoping and/or praying that the Russian proposal comes to full fruition? Absolutely.
Do I care who gets the credit? No, because it's ALL diplomacy.
(Pesonally, I think that German release of intelligence showing Assad's lack of centralized control over his CW stockpiles was the turning point in this regard; no government--particularly one with its own separatist movements of concern--wants to see CW munitions left unsecured.)
We should simply remain hopeful that the one avenue that has proven most optimistic seems to be prevailing.
11:46 AM PT: While responding to comments, I found two good timelines of events in Syria: The AP's timeline:
is restricted to events since the start of the Syrian uprising, while the BBC's:
goes all the way back Syrian independence from the Ottoman Empire (whew!).
7:50 PM PT: An evening on the Rec List - wow! Thanks to all those whose comments led to such interesting discussion...