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PRUDEN: Laughter drowned in sorrow

- - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

If, as certain wise men are saying, Barack Obama's Syrian deal with Vladimir Putin will die of a thousand cuts, somebody with a knife had better get busy. Four or five slices have been taken out of the deal already, and the carcass looks like it could already use a transfusion. It won't last for a thousand cuts, or even a dozen.

The agreement worked out between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russians requires several things that the Russians and their client Bashar Assad are not likely to deliver as promised. The first is a "comprehensive listing" of Syria's chemical stockpiles "within a week." Even if the Syrians delivered such an inventory, it would be a list of fiction, and there were reports Monday in the Lebanese and Israeli newspapers that convoys of trucks, thought to be hauling chemicals, have been seen leaving Syria for Lebanon and Iraq.

Under the agreement, arms inspectors must be "on the ground" by November to supervise the inspections by mid-2014. This gives the Syrians, and the Russians, ample time to make sure there's nothing more than a Junior Chemistry Set to inspect. The real goods will be long gone, hidden away in dozens of hidey holes in the mountains or deserts, where they can be conveniently retrieved when wanted or needed.

John Bolton, the former chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is among those not impressed by the prospect of getting even an inventory from the Syrians. "It'll slip a few days," he says, "or maybe a few more. Maybe the first declaration won't be full and complete, and it will have to be amended. And then it'll have to be amended again."

Soon enough everyone will be bored by the delay, obfuscation, fibs and stretchers. "Moving on" is what we all do well, and nowhere is "moving on" done better than in Washington, where the pursuit of the new thing is much prized. The White House is obviously counting on it. Mr. Kerry concedes that the agreement he worked out with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, makes no mention of how Syria will be punished if it merely blows smoke at Washington. Mr. Kerry assures us that the United Nations Security Council can deal with it. If the Security Council does what it does best, which is nothing, the secretary can write a strong letter of protest, and if that doesn't work, there will be time to get really tough. He'll write a letter to the editor.

Vladimir Putin is thoroughly enjoying himself, grooving on the humiliation of Barack Obama and the Americans. The taunting is catching. A member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian parliament couldn't resist tweeting about the shooting Monday at the Washington Navy Yard: "A new shootout at Navy headquarters in Washington — a lone gunman and seven corpses. Nobody's even surprised any more. A clear confirmation of American exceptionalism."

Once upon a time, and not so long ago, Moscow wouldn't have dared mock even Jimmy Carter that way.

Some mocking is more serious than mere twittering. Syria is joining the Chemical Warfare Convention, as it must as part of the agreement, and it has to have a sponsor, sort of like sponsoring the sweetheart of Sigma Chi (all the words, but no music), so Moscow stepped up to do the honors. Poor Syria. The Russians are the only sponsors they could find. The Russians themselves have never made a full and final accounting of their own chemical stockpiles, which puts them in violation of the treaty. "So the notion that Russia is going to vouch for Bashar Assad is almost comical," Mr. Bolton told Fox News. "You can't make this stuff up."

The agreement is laced with such irony. The agreement assures the world that the Security Council will take measures "commensurate" with any violations of the treaty, and commensurate could mean anything from leaving the vodka out of the lemonade in the delegates' lounge to changing the lock on the door to the men's room. The agreement provides ample time to debate the punishment (if any).

President Obama has raised ineptitude and incompetence to an art never before seen at the White House. "I got elected to end wars, not start them," he told a PBS interviewer last week. "Over the last 4 years, I have done everything I could to limit our footprint around the world." He certainly has done that, but the cheers he sought sound more like laughter, with the laughter drowned in sorrow.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.