Sunday, September 15, 2013

A win, win, win situation

The transition from a military strike against the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles to a diplomatic solution is a win situation for three actors. It is a win for Pres. Obama in that he avoided defeat in the Congress and did not have to change from the President who is against war to one who might have initiated another one. Only the credible threat of American military force was enough to scare Russia's Pres. Putin and Pres. Assad of Syria into agreeing to a previously unachievable diplomatic solution whereby the undeclared illegal chemical weapons held by the regime in Syria will be turrned over to international control to subsequently be destroyed. How exactly this will be implemented during the civil war in Syria is not clear, but the real cooperation of Assad under Russian pressure is a necessary component of the agreement.

Another winner is of course Pres. Putin, he gets to save his client Assad from attack, he saves his warm water port in Latakia, and he increases his credibility and influence in the Middle East at America's expense. What the consequences of this win for Putin are remain to be seen, but expect Russia to flex its muscles in the region in the future. Can the US now act in the Middle East without getting the approval of Russia?

Another winner is Israel. Certainly it is bad for Israel to have a US President who appears indecisive, for example in postponing the military strike and asking Congress for approval, thus diluting the powers of the President, who did not have to consult Congress. But, an even greater positive is that Assad's chemical weapons will hopefully be destroyed without Israel having to act at all and without a single shot being fired, thus avoiding a greater conflagration. The removal of this chemical threat from Israel was an Israeli government imperative and would have been a causus belli. If the agreement can indeed be implemented and verified, then Israelis can breath easier (!) and the run on gas masks in Israel will cease. Note however that this agreement in no way absolves Assad and his regime of the war crime of having gassed hundreds of his own people. After the agreement was announced the first foreign visit by Secty Kerry is to PM Netanyahu in Israel.

The losers in this situation are the insurgent opposition to Assad, they feel that Assad has escaped a military strike against his regime and they are prepared to lose more civilian supporters to gas attacks rather than have the chemical weapons removed from the equation. Nevertheless, the US is compensating them by supplying more weapons and materiel to the rebels, at least those who are pro-western and democratic. However, the US cannot prevent these weapons from falling into the hands of the anti-democratic al Qaeda and al Nusrah Islamist extremists. Much as in Afghanistan years ago, the US is fueling the situation that like a scorpion can turn around and sting them with its tail.

Iran is also a loser, although not on a major scale. They see their client Assad being brought down to size by the threat of American power. For them the loss of chemical weapons WMD could be equivalent to their own loss of nuclear weapons WMD if a similar situation develops eventually with Iran. Let's hope that too could be solved by a diplomatic solution after all these years of haggling that have brought nothing. Only the credible threat of military force by the US and possibly by Israel could achieve such a parallel outcome.

On Sat an agreement was concluded in Geneva between the US and Russian representatives, Secty of State Kerry and FM Sergei Lavrov, that requires Pres. Assad of Syria to present a list of all his chemical weapons holdings within a week, and the unfettered access of inspectors to find and verify said weapons, which must be accomplished before November and their destruction must be completed by mid-2014. Although there is no threat of force contained in the agreement, if there is non-compliance by Syria then there is the capability to take the issue to the Security Council, where the threat of sanctions and force could be approved. If it is not approved, the US still retains the right to strike Syria itself or with its allies. This US-Russian agreement must be approved by the Intl. Org. for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons of the UN, when it will acquire the force of law. Syria is in the process of joining the Intl. Covenant Against Chemical Weapons, thus being subject to that law.

While many see potential reasons for the failure of this agreement, it represents a diplomatic breakthrough that is significant in its implications for world peace. Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, and while there are many differences in interests between the US and Russia, Pres. Putin's agreement to force his ally Assad to accept this agreement, under threat of a US military strike, may be a major watershed in Middle Eastern history. One drawback is that the opposition to Assad has rejected the agreement, since they were hoping for a US military strike that would weaken Assad. But, Secty Kerry stated that all or almost all of the chemical weapons in Syria are held by the regime and their locations are known, so as long as Assad cooperates there should be no serious problem in implementing and verifying the agreement.


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