Perhaps casual remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry got the ball rolling. Perhaps the real impetus came from President Barack Obama’s threat of missile strikes on Syria. Whatever the cause, it suddenly seems more possible that the strikes can be averted.
That would be desirable, particularly if, as Secretary Kerry suggested, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surrenders all of his country’s chemical weapons to international control. Assad today agreed to Russian plan to do so.
If that sounds simple, it’s anything but. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for critics of Syria, starting with the United States and Israel, to be convinced that Assad would keep his part of the bargain — if indeed a bargain is reached. The United States has little reason to trust Syria or, for that matter, Russia, which has supplied Syria will all manner of weaponry, including chemical weapons — and, could replace them if Syria gives its present stockpile up.
But no sooner did Russia say it would lead Syria in the right direction than support came rushing in. U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and British Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed the idea, and France is ready to submit a proposal to the U.N. Security Council requiring Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Its proposal also would condemn Syria’s use of chemical weapons and include the threat of force if Syria reneges. China, which like Russia has blocked serious punitive actions against Syria, and Iran, an ally of Syria, support the action.
Not surprisingly, Israel is skeptical in the extreme. Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, dismissed it as a way for Assad to “buy time,” presumably to make sure Syria’s chemical weapons are well hidden or to brace for U.S. missile strikes.
President Obama responded warily to the latest development.He said, “... if we can … come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable, enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria, then I am all for it, but we are going to have to see specifics.”
This frenzy of activity comes as President Obama prepares to make his case tonight to Americans —and to the world — for missile strikes that he considers a moral imperative to punish Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
President Obama has so far been unable to persuade either a majority of Congress, which he has asked for support, or the American public, that the strikes will be an effective response. Understandably, Americans and Congress don’t want another war, and no one can promise that U.S. strikes won’t lead the United States into one.
We hope recent developments constitute a genuine step forward and are not a stalling tactic by Syria. We hope Syria does what it takes to avoid U.S. strikes, and we hope the international community will make clear that any nation that uses chemical weapons can expect a swift and severe response.