Almost All Of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Have Been Removed, Should Obama Get The Credit?
The New York Times reports on the progress of the joint U.S-Russian program to remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the country, and it’s hard to characterize the program as anything other than an unqualified success:
Nearly 90 percent of the chemicals in Syria’s weapons arsenal have now been removed from the war-torn country, with only two or three shipments left for export, the group responsible for policing the global treaty that bans chemical munitions reported on Tuesday.
The declaration by the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, came as new allegations have emerged about the Syrian military’s possible use of bombs containing chlorine, a commonly used industrial chemical that was not on the list of toxic compounds declared by Syria when it agreed to renounce the use of chemical weapons last year.
Both the United States and France have said they take seriously the still-unconfirmed reports that earlier this month Syrian forces used chlorine in an attack on a village occupied by insurgents in the three-year-old civil war. Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, told reporters in response to questions about the reports on Monday: “Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here. We’re working with our partners to determine what the facts are on the ground.”
“This latest consignment is encouraging,” the director of the Hague-based organization, Ahmet Uzumcu, said in the statement. “We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly to permit destruction operations to get underway in time to meet the midyear deadline for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.”
Regardless of how one feels about President Obama’s threats of military force against Syria in July, and his efforts in August to get a very reluctant Congress to authorize the use of force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians during the country’s still ongoing civil war, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria would seem to be a positive development. First of all, of course, there is the fact that this class of weapons has been banned by international treaties stretching back to the end of World War One in response to the horrific effects they had in the trenches of Europe. For that reason alone, the fewer chemical weapons in the world, the better. Second, even before the civil war started the Assad government, both under Bashar Assad and his father before him, was a pariah regime that could never be trusted with weapons capable of causing such horrific death and injury. The fact that the Syrians finally used these weapons is a surprise not because it seemed so out of character for them, but because it seemed as though the fear of international retribution was the one thing preventing them from doing so. Finally, the fact that Syria remains in the middle of a civil war in which many of the rebels fighting against the government are sympathetic to terrorist organizations made the risk of those weapons falling into the hands of people even less reputable than the Assad regime quite high. Indeed, if there was one thing that might have led to Western intervention in Syria’s civil war, it it was the possibility that the sudden collapse of the regime in Damascus would have put the command and control of chemical weapons in uncertain hands. With those weapons gone, or at least nearly so, this is something we no longer need to fear.
The question, of course, is whether President Obama deserves credit for all of this.
His more ardent supporters, no doubt, will make the claim that it was the President’s threats of military action, and the possibility that he would act without getting permission from Congress despite having taken the step of asking for it, that brought the Syrians and, more importantly, the Russians, to the table and led to the agreement between Secretary of State Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that is now being implemented. The President’s critics will argue that, in the end, the President bungled his way into the agreement that was reached with the Russians and the Syrians, and that his policy actually failed to the extent that it was meant to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war. Indeed, since the agreement was reached the war has essentially disappeared from news coverage in the United States and the Assad Government has continued killing rebels and civilians by conventional means. Personally, I tend to fall in with the second group, since it always seemed apparent to me that the threats of military action against Syria were about more than just chemical weapons. The Obama Administration was looking for a way to put its thumb on the scale in favor of the rebels and the use of chemical weapons seemingly gave them an excuse to do that. By agreeing to get rid of the weapons, the Russians and Syrians called the President’s bluff.
However the political argument ends up, though, we should all be happy that the removal of chemical weapons from Syria appears to be a resounding success. At least that’s one less problem we have to worry about.