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With just over 500,000 followers, the comedian and actor Albert Brooks is a popular presence on Twitter. Most of his tweets are mild, 140-character jokes about events in the news. (Examples: “Neiman Marcus to be Sold for 6 billion. That is, of course, retail,” and “Diana Nyad’s going to be so pissed when she finds out there was a flight,” and “Happy New Year to my Jewish friends, or as I like to call them, my friends.”)
But Brooks, judging by Twitter at least, has taken the crisis in Syria seriously. Between jokes about Miley Cyrus and Johnny Manziel, on Aug. 29, as leaks detailed U.S. options for attacking Syria, Brooks tweeted, “I don’t know the right decision on Syria, but basically telling them Saturday between 3 and 4 seems stupid.” Two days later, when President Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for an attack on Syria, Brooks tweeted, “I like POTUS asking Congress, but I think they should be called back now, not when they casually return from vacation.”
Those were perhaps a little too serious for a Twitter account not devoted to foreign policy. So on Friday night (early Saturday in the East), Brooks sent out a Syria joke. “Russia and the U.S. could unite for one week,” he tweeted, “go into Syria, remove the chemicals, and let them continue fighting.”
It was kind of grimly funny. Except it didn’t turn out to be a joke. Forty-eight hours later, leaders in the U.S., Russia, and Syria were embracing the Brooks Plan, although no one called it that. At first it seemed the idea originated in a gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry. Then Obama told interviewers that he and Russian leader Vladimir Putin discussed it at their recent meeting. Whatever the case, several key players in the Syrian crisis, plus a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, welcomed a plan that was immediately characterized as a way to avoid U.S. intervention in Syria. For Obama especially, the idea seemed to be a lifeline out of the terrible trap he had constructed for himself.
Brooks got no credit, although his 114-character tweet predicted precisely the essence of the new proposal. As the story began to dominate the news Monday, Brooks, who had heretofore not been recognized as a major player in the Syria crisis, tweeted simply, “I believe I tweeted this idea last Friday.”
Too late. The proposal is already known as the Russian Plan, not the Brooks Plan. But now, after the initial flush of excitement over a possible way out of the Syrian dilemma, the plan’s many flaws — it could be fundamentally unworkable — will likely come to dominate the news. It might not be long before Brooks is joking about his own joke that somehow became the latest development in the long Syrian tragedy.