Syria War News: Are the U.S. and Russia Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop?


As Congress debates whether we should attack Syria, and Pres. Obama prepares to talk to the nation Tuesday night, the question for the past few days has been, “Should we bomb Syria?” Yesterday, in a matter of hours, an unexpected statement took the discussion in a surprise direction.

Within moments of Sec. of State John Kerry’s offhand suggestion that bombing could be avoided if Pres. Assad would turn his chemical weapons over to the United Nations, this idea received support from Russia, Syria, the United Nations, and some major figures in the U.S. as well.

And just like that, intentionally or not, the U.S. and Russia played out a classic Hollywood tactic. It's silly to say they intended to pull a "good cop, bad cop" routine, but it's easy to see that this is what has happened.

In this scenario, the U.S. is the "bad cop" whose job is to threaten. Thus Pres. Obama’s push for military action. His job as bad cop is to intimidate the guilty party, which he can do by moving aircraft carriers, proposing a resolution for military action in Congress, and speculating about attacking even if such a resolution fails.

Meanwhile, Russia is the "good cop," whose job is to comfort. Russia has done this by insisting that we wait for more information, suggesting that chemical attacks could have been from the rebels and not Pres. Assad, and warning the world against military action.

Here's how it plays out. The "good cop," Russia, positions itself as Syria’s firm ally and the only thing preventing the "bad cop," the U.S., from coming down hard on Syria. With these dynamics established, the good cop offers the solution that both cops honestly wanted in the first place. The suspect then capitulates, opting for the solution offered by the "good cop" and fearing the force promised by the "bad cop."

The tactic works elegantly here because Sec. Kerry initially offered a solution but in a dismissive, offhand, "rhetorical" way, so Russia got to formally propose it. As a result both sides get to take credit for and neither looks like it's capitulating to the other. Everyone gets to save face, and the chemical weapons are addressed without necessarily having to agree about who used them. It's too soon to say whether the all this will ultimately come to fruition, but one has to admire the theatricality of the development.