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Rev PAB Anthony


I am writing this column on Tuesday, September 10, at a time when the situation in Syria still remains quite fluid.

Yesterday, Putin’s proposed initiative to get Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control has brought a new dimension and really a new glimmer of hope. Syria has, by accepting this, acknowledged its possession of chemical weapons and has agreed to sign the international treaty banning the possession and use of chemical weapons. Is Russia, which had previously stalled greater efforts at the Security Council to exert diplomatic pressure on Assad, now prepared to cooperate with the global community to forge a diplomatic solution or is Putin helping Assad to play for time?{{more}}

Conceivably, if weapons inspectors are sent to Syria, those who are assisting the rebels with military equipment will have to scale back their assistance, since they could not be pinning their hopes on the identification and destruction of chemical weapons, while making it difficult for the inspectors to function in Syria.

How this is going to work I am not sure, for the new initiative is still somewhat tentative and unformed. In any event, the work of inspectors is going to be extremely difficult. Furthermore, how do you deal with the aspect of verification? Is there going to be a time factor? For President Obama has asked Congress to delay a vote on his proposed military strike until, I imagine, he is able to determine if the diplomatic efforts stand the chance of bearing fruit.

The Russian initiative came following discussions between Putin and Obama and Kerry’s remark that an agreement on the chemical weapons issue could prevent the launching of a US strike or something to that effect. This must have been a “godsend” to Obama, as our people would say, for there was the likelihood that he would not have had full Congressional support. This, in itself, says a lot about the US Congress, because there were some Republicans who might have favoured a military strike, but would not vote for one because the call came from Obama, who some of them hate with a passion, to a large extent because of his colour. There can be no other explanation. Many in Congress, largely Republican members, see Putin as the enemy and resent the role that he might have to play in the new dimension. To them, the Cold War is still very much alive.

One of the more positive developments to have shown itself, however, is the unwillingness of the American people to support any military attack, limited or not. The Iraq war hangs heavily on their minds, having been duped at that time with talk of weapons of mass destruction and an easy victory. They found themselves in a mess that not only resulted in the death of thousands of soldiers, but which seriously affected the country’s economy. The American people would rather see the country’s resources and energy put towards handling the country’s many problems. Additionally, there appears to be a strong distaste for the traditionally accepted view of America as the global policeman. There are other fears that are being expressed.

What if the limited attack as defined did not achieve its objective? Could a military attack lead to a broadening of the conflict and hence to America’s greater involvement?

The new situation can possibly provide Obama with greater support, both from Congress and the American people, particularly if it garners strong support from the international community and does not project the US as the global policeman. President Obama tried to make the point about the use of chemical weapons being a threat to the country’s national security. I am not sure how well that would sell. But 9/11 is still in peoples’ minds. In all of this the question which has to be asked is if it was the threat of a military attack that paved the way for a different resolution of the conflict. In any event, to have gone ahead with the launching of a military strike with widespread national objection would have been disastrous.
Everything would have had to have worked for him with pinpoint accuracy. In fairness to him, he had rejected earlier calls for intervention, even for supplying weapons to the rebels. This is a man who had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. He did, in his acceptance speech, argue, however, for the use of military force, but mainly for humanitarian reasons and had been justifying his present position on humanitarian grounds. It would appear that the losers in all of this are the rebels who do not contemplate a resolution of the conflict without the removal of President Assad. But the rebels present their potential allies in the global community with a major problem with their divisions and the apparently strong presence among them of Al Qaeda fighters, who it is felt are much better organised than others who are part of the struggle.

But let us take a step back. What is it about political leaders that make them reluctant to surrender power when a significantly large part of the population is against them? Is it simply the sweet taste of power? The Syrian people have been suffering now for some time in what has become a bloody civil war, with many thousands killed and millions forced to flee the country. Is it better to destroy the country rather than surrender power in an arrangement with international backing? The Russia proposed initiative, if it succeeds, will prevent the use of chemical weapons and hopefully see them destroyed; but what next? After all there is still a civil war. Will the present initiative lead to greater diplomatic efforts to end the country’s crisis?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.