After Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that President Bashar al-Assad avoid a war by handing over any chemical weapons his government possesses, Russia quickly seconded the motion, and Assad agreed to it. Just as quickly, aparently panicked by the possible delay or prevention of missile strikes, Kerry’s staff put out this statement:
“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. 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.”
Could Assad be lying? Could he hope to stash away a hidden weapons stockpile? Yes, and then at least a U.S. attack would have been delayed and more time gained to work on preventing it. But that’s not likely. Inspectors are very good. That’s why Prsident George W. Bush wanted them pulled out of Iraq, where they had done a stellar job and the weaponry been eliminated. That could conceivably also be why President Barack Obama wanted them kept away from the site of the August 21st attack and wanted to send missiles into Syria before the inspectors reached any results.
So, to all appearances, Assad has immediately done what Kerry just declared impossible. How reliable, then, are other assertions of which Kerry professes to be certain?
Is it really an important international norm that one nation should bomb another in support of fanatical terrorists and on the stated basis that people had been killed with the wrong variety of weapon?
Is it really true that this war will be both unbelievably small and a significant blow to the Syrian government?
Kerry is trying to sell the same used car to people who want an ambulance and other people who want a tank.
It’s not entirely Kerry’s fault that he had to come on stage after Colin Powell’s performance, but it is his fault that he’s flubbed all of his lines.
If Obama withdraws his demand for Congressional authorization of war, it will not be because he and John Kerry played 12-dimensional chess and secretly hope to bring peace to the earth. It will be because they played duck-duck-goose with such incompetence that they managed to knock each other unconscious in the process.
If a war is prevented here — and it’s way too early to say that — it will be the result of public opinion in the United States and the world, the courage of Parliament in Britain, and the glimmerings of actual representation beginning to sparkle through the muck and slime on Capitol Hill.
If celebrating Obama and Kerry’s super brave and strong heroism in stumbling into a Russian barrier to their madness gives them the “credibility” to put their guns back in their pants, then by all means celebrate that fiction.
But if we get this crisis behind us, we should understand that Parliament acted against war for the first time in centuries, and the public stopped Congress for the first time ever. If President Obama doesn’t ask for an authorization, it will be because it is not going to pass. Even if he didn’t expect to use it right away, he would want it passed if possible.
Congress’ apparent willingness to say no is the result of many factors, including the perversity of partisanship. But the primary factor is public pressure. That public pressure needs to intensify now that victory is in sight, not diminish.
And if it succeeds, Syria will still be in desperate need of a cease-fire, disarmament, a peace settlement, and actual aid (as opposed to humanitarian bombs). Let’s not allow those needs to be forgotten if they depart from our television screens. Those same television screens have tried to move us into support for war and failed dramatically. We’re in charge now. We run this country. They fill fluff that no one listens to into the spaces between advertisements for crap no one buys. Fill the government in on the new arrangement.