Well this is a surprise. This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry said that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted to avoid a military strike on his country then he should turn over all his chemical weapons within a week although he didn’t believe Assad would do so. Now the New York Times and Russia Today are reporting that Syria has agreed that that’s a great idea and is working with Russia by proposing to make it happen. Now that’s what I call cat-quick decision making aka Memory of Saddam Hussein Syndrome.
Why does this matter?
It matters because President Obama has stated repeatedly that any military strikes on Syria would be for the purpose of degrading Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles to the point of zero effectiveness in an attempt to enforce international norms against the use of chemical weapons. If Syria volunteers to turn them over and then works towards doing so then it undercuts the President’s argument for ordering military strikes at all.
But doesn’t Congress have to vote or something?
Yeah, they do and right now the Senate is close on supporting military strikes while the House may as well be living on Saturn for all the support they want to give such a measure. If legislators see that Assad is or might be willing to turn over the weapons voluntarily to “the international community” then there’s absolutely zero pressure that the President can exert to convince those against it that they should be for it. If the point is getting rid of the weapons then many will say “it’s happening, let’s follow through.”
What happens next?
That’s a good question. Secretary Kerry (nice ring to it, that) and the State Department already seem to be backing away from Kerry’s statement just this morning regarding Assad giving over the weapons within a week.
The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. In a statement, the department added: “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”
Of course Syria hasn’t been engaged in a civil war and facing US military strikes “long ago” so the situation certain seems different. Aside from that, the rest depends on what Syria and Russia propose to the international community. If it’s forward leaning and focused towards the approval of the international community then it seems very likely that US military strikes will not occur. If the proposal is slow going and indefinite then things could drag for quite a while.
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