U.S. President Barack Obama may have backed himself into a corner on Syria with his “red line” on chemical weapons but there may be hope yet. A Russian proposal, which was actually sparked by a throwaway line from Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaking in London, about Syria giving up its chemical weapons, seems to have gained some traction.
The Russians say they have proposed to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that he turn over his entire chemical weapons stockpile and that Assad is interested.
That is important. Russia is Syria’s staunchest ally and, arguably, the reason Assad doesn’t seem to care what the rest of the world thinks about the more than 100,000 people he has already killed including those reported to have been the victims of chemical warfare.
Obama has been having a time of it trying to get support for an attack to punish Syria for its use of what has been suspected to be sarin gas on his people.
Some 60 per cent of Americans are against the U.S. getting involved and Congress is deeply divided. And, while Obama has received moral support from many allies of the U.S., including Britain and Canada, no one is stepping up to help militarily. France, which initially seemed ready to join the U.S., has now signaled that it will wait on a final report from the United Nations weapons inspectors. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been handed a resounding no from members of his Parliament and Canada, well, we are supportive if the U.S. wants to go bomb Syria but we won’t be participating. Wonder if Obama’s delay to approve the Keystone oil pipeline has anything to do with Canada’s fence-sitting.
The problem is that, in spite of what the U.S. has shown as evidence, the bodies of men, women and children allegedly killed as a result of chemical warfare, there are doubts. Most of those who believe that gas was used believe it was used by Assad. However, there are those who wonder if, as Assad has been saying, the gas might have been used by the rebels themselves to draw the West into the conflict. It is an interesting concept and one that can’t be easily dismissed. Such things are not unknown. But the U.S. and its major allies have completely ruled that out.
One of the reasons the American public and, indeed, many in the West, balk at military intervention in Syria – or even providing arms to the so-called rebels – is that we have seen the results of our intervention in Libya and Egypt which has not garnered the kind of results that were expected. It is also believed that many of the weapons provided by the West to the rebels ended up in the hands of terrorists.
Assad took to the U.S. airways recently to make his case against a military attack. In an interview with CBS’s Charlie Rose, he not only denied that his government has used chemical weapons, but he threatened strong repercussions if his country is attacked.
He said that the U.S. “should expect everything” and that it will “pay the price” if it attacked his country.
While we have heard such bravado before – remember Saddam Hussein promising the “mother of all wars?” – no one is taking Assad’s threats lightly.
In his speech to the nation on Tuesday night, the U.S. President spoke directly to Americans about the possible future danger to American interests if Assad or anyone else is allowed to use chemical weapons with no repercussions. If the images he evoked of children convulsing in the grip of death on a cold concrete floor wasn’t enough to move the needle on support for his proposed attack on Syria, maybe the thought that chemical warfare can be used against American forces and/or American interests might have an impact.
The needle did move a bit, but not enough to give him the kind of support he needed from both the country and Congress.
The Russian proposal has given Obama some wiggle room and has bought him some time. Should Assad not follow through on getting rid of his chemical weapons stockpile, tons of which is said to be top grade, the President might be in a stronger position to bomb specific targets to weaken Assad.
It is interesting that although over 100,000 people have already been killed in that country’s civil war, it is the some 1,400 killed by chemical weapons that have been causing concern.
As one wag tweeted, “you can kill your people but just don’t use gas”.