By William Pfaff
The Washington debates about the Syrian chemical weapons, and whether there is an Obama “Plan B” by which the United States may yet bomb Syria, seem deaf to what really happened last week.
Russia delivered Syria, its ally, to international negotiations concerning those weapons and their renunciation. This has possibly opened the door to some way to resolve the Syrian civil war. Moscow is now responsible for what its client, Syria, does. All the more is President Putin required to deliver a cooperative President Bashar al-Assad if Moscow continues to insist that the U.S. renounce military action, even if Syria fails to fulfill the obligations which it has accepted.
This means Syria must produce the list of locations where its chemical weapons are stored so that the United Nations and the inspectors of the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons can locate, seize and neutralize Syria’s stocks of chemical munitions. If Mr. Assad fails to do so, Russia is responsible and must take action to ensure that Syria fulfills the responsibilities that it undertook when it signed the international convention banning chemical weapons.
Syria has subjected itself to international law in this matter. That is highly significant. Washington doesn’t seem to understand the importance of Assad’s submission to international law. The U.S. has itself become so indifferent, and even so defiant of international law, that it fails to grasp that the rest of the world wants to see the Assad government submit to it—and the U.S. (and Israel) do so as well.
The American administration, however, is acting as though Syria has surrendered to the demands of John Kerry and Barack Obama, and is accountable to Washington and not to international law or the U.N., or even to its Russian ally and guarantor.
Washington is acting as if the U.S. has the right to administer punishment if Syria fails to do what Washington wants. What right? Not a legal right without a Security Council resolution. To attack on its own, as regional hegemon? That’s the way Washington has been behaving in the Middle East. The results have not been a great success.
Washington acts as though the Russians have no important role yet to play in this affair. They actually have played the capital role, and Washington should be grateful and attempt to extend this kind of mutually supportive international cooperation into the future. Does no one in Washington grasp this? The new Geneva conference planned at the end of this month may offer the key to a solution of the Iranian as well as the Syrian problems. Or do American politicians really want eventually to go to war with Iran because of its unproven threat to Israel, despite the risk of any attack’s spilling over into something much bigger?
I think not. I think the polls of the American electorate on Syrian intervention have made it plainer than plain what American citizens think about still more wars in the Middle East, or anyplace else. I think the Congress has also made clear that it is tired of constitutionally dubious wars waged on the whim of presidents.
President Putin must see to it that Syria conforms to its promised identification of where the chemical munitions are located and hands them over to the international community. He must do this if he wishes Russia to continue to occupy the role of a responsible international peacemaker.
Washington’s official and unofficial hawks must also use their influence with the Syrian rebel groups, who need to recognize that this chemical warfare incident—whether government-inspired or a rebel false-flag operation, as the Russians and some others still think—is likely to prove fatal to their cause. Their cause has been internationalized and now belongs on a conference table in Geneva, as does the supposed Iranian nuclear threat.
As I have written before in this space, Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon has no utility whatever other than to create an apparent balance of terror between Iran and Israel. The Israelis know that. The gross exaggeration of their supposed danger is simply an effort to get the U.S. to destroy Iran as a major power in the Middle East, as it did with Saddam’s Iraq, thus sparing nuclear Israel the effort and the dishonor.
The United States has acquired the very bad habit of thinking that ultimately it (with Israel) is the strategic owner of the Middle East. This has lasted for a half century. The truth is that the Middle East (and Israel) have owned the U.S. for 50 years—to the misfortune of both.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Shutterstock photo of Syrian rebel flag.