Writing on the New York Times op-ed page Sept. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioned the world about jumping to conclusions about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reporting in advance of Monday’s release of the U.N. inspectors preliminary report on the Aug. 21 use of poison gas in East Damascus, U.N. Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-moon confirmed what President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed was 1,400 deaths—over 400 children—from asphyxiation from Sarin nerve gas. Putin parroted al-Assad’s predictable excuse that rebel forces loaded artillery shells with Sarin and fired on innocent Syrian civilians. When the official U.N. report comes out Monday, it should identify the artillery shells used, linking the attack to the Syrian government. Putin readily gives al-Assad a convenient pass.
When Putin advanced his peace plan to put al-Assad’s chemical weapons under U.N. control, skeptics questioned its viability. With al-Assad hiding his arsenal distant locations, the 47-year-old former opthamologist showed his sneaky ways, despite all the promises to his Russian patrons. Putin’s move upended already shaky U.S. public opinion and torpedoed Obama’s attempt to gain consensus in Congress for air strikes. Despite public and Congressional opposition to intervention, there’s scant evidence that Putin’s plan can ever gain control of al-Assad’s weapons of mass destruction. Speaking Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said that al-Assad’s request for a 30-day waiting period to begin submitting data on his chemical weapons was unacceptable. “There’s nothing standard about this process at this moment,” said Kerry, rejecting al-Assad’s delays.
Confirmation by U.N. inspectors about the use of Sarin nerve gas changes U.S. expectations of a rapid handoff of al-Assad’s WMD. Reports of al-Assad hiding chemical weapons doesn’t sit well with the White House or Congress or, for that matter, affirm al-Assad’s goodwill. Calling the evidence against al-Assad “overwhelming,” Ban confirmed that al-Assad “committed many crimes against humanity,” opening the door to criminal prosecution in the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Putin’s veiled excuse about rebels using the gas gets less credible with each new day. While Ban and other U.N. officials touted Putin’s attempt to avert air strikes, they’ve struck a more draconic tone since confirming the use of Sarin. “What happened is that he has committed many crimes against humanity. Therefore, I’m sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over,” said Ban.
Before U.N. confirmation of Sarin nerve gas, the international community chalked U.S. evidence up to the same faulty intel that started the Iraq War. Whether or not the public supports Syrian intervention, the Congress must stop playing politics and reconsider the threat posed by al-Assad’s chemical weapons. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has pointed out, failing to intervene sends a dangerous message to Iran and North Korea that the U.S. lacks the resolve to intervene. Ban’s request urgent humanitarian efforts to stop the slaughter of over 100,000 Syrian civilians since the uprising began March 11, 2011, points to the bigger problems of a Saudi-funded sectarian war that pits Sunnis against al-Assad’s small Alawite Shiite minority. Whatever al-Assad did with chemical weapons, it’s paled in comparison to his massacre of civilians with conventional weapons.
Obama found out the hard way what happens when you defer presidential authority under the 1973 War Power Act to Congress. When Barack pulled the plug on intervention, U.S.-backed rebels led by Free Syrian Army’s Brig. Gen. Salim Idris were tossed under the bus. While it’s true that hoards of Islamic radicals seek to topple al-Assad, it’s also true the pro-democracy moderates, like Idris, are key to Syria’s future. “I am extremely worried by reports that more that 500,000 people remained trapped in rural Damacus,” said, Valerie Amos U.N. Under Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Relief. Amos expressed concern about the thousands of Syrians trapped by the regime in the outskirts of Damascus without adequate relief to survive. With over 100,000 dead, it’s a matter of urgency to help trapped civilians currently starving to death without adequate food, water and medical supplies.
Confirmation of al-Assad’s use of Sarin nerve gas can no longer accept Putin’s excuse that rebels used poisoned gas on Syrian civilians. While al-Assad may never accept responsibility, it’s up to the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate that it’s capable of responding to a egregious human rights abuses. Putin’s Sept. 10 op-ed in the NY Times made a big deal about the legitimate role of the U.N. in preventing war and managing humanitarian crises. Vladimir claims that a U.S. attack would undermine the authority of the U.N. Security Council, turning the post-WW II body into another failure like the old League of Nations. If you really look today at the failure of the U.N. Security Council, it’s inappropriate vetoes of member-states making intervening in Syria next to impossible. Putting some teeth into a Security Council resolution is the only way to assure a positive outcome.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.