from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Syria Deal

September 16, 2013

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The text of the framework agreement between the United States and Russia leaves one with more questions than answers.

Until last week Syria denied having any chemical weapons, so its willingness to account for 100% of them is, to say the least, in doubt. Secretary Kerry himself said, when he first mentioned a possible deal, that it couldn’t work. And our partner in this endeavor, Russia, has itself failed to meet all its obligations with respect to chemical weapons. Worse, it remains the key conventional weapons supplier to Syria.

Thus we are left wondering if Russian planes might arrive in Syria to help remove chemical weapons--but laden with more  conventional weaponry for the regime. And wondering again why this is a good deal if it results in another 100,000 Syrian civilian deaths, more tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, and more destruction. Iranian and Hezbollah military personnel continue to aid and in some cases direct the efforts of the regime. The Wall Street Journal put it this way:

The training of thousands of fighters is an outgrowth of Iran’s decision last year to immerse itself in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its struggling ally, the Assad regime, in an effort to shift the balance of power in the Middle East. Syria’s bloodshed is shaping into more than a civil war: It is now a proxy war among regional powers jockeying for influence in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.

What is our reaction? Apparently it is a small program of assistance for the Syrian rebels, one that was announced in June but got off the ground only weeks ago--two and half years into this war.

President Obama said this on September 10th:

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

Nevertheless the deal with Russia does not punish Assad or strike a blow at the regime; it merely says "don’t do it again." So the lesson for dictators who commit atrocities is that you can use chemical weapons 10 or 15 times, and then you may be asked to give them up. Period. It’s like telling an ax murderer that his punishment is to give up his ax--or to promise to give up the ax and promise that he has no more axes hidden anywhere else.

The Syrian regime, and Iran, and Hezbollah, and Russia, seem very pleased with this diplomatic achievement. But why should we be?

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