Surprise: Syria misses first major deadline for chemical weapons surrender
posted at 7:01 pm on January 3, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham
Oh yeah, Syria. If you’ll remember, there was about a week and a half in 2013 where it was vitally important we get involved in an armed conflict with Syria because after slaughtering thousands of his citizens with conventional weapons, Bashar al-Assad (a “reformer” in the words of the likely Democratic nominee for 2016) started slaughtering them with chemical weapons. This had the unfortunate side effect (aside from the thousands of dead Syrians) of requiring President Obama to treat what he had called a “red line” as an actual “red line.” And, thus began the push in the White House and the compliant media for an “unbelievably small,” Congressionally unauthorized military action in the country.
After one Rose Garden speech on the necessity of military action, followed by a Congressional revolt, one prime time speech to walk back the Rose Garden speech designed to head off a crushing defeat in a Congressional vote Obama was forced to ask for, and 10 days of bumbling “smart power” embarrassment, the president grabbed the first gaffe raft he could find upon which to float. That was Sec. of State John Kerry’s accidental aside suggesting that Syria could spare itself strikes if it just decided to give up its weapons to the international community— a scenario Kerry himself immediately dismissed as unrealistic, the State Dept. later dismissed as mere “hypothetical,” and the Obama administration embraced as awesome policy after the Russians and Syrians signaled they thought it was a dandy idea.
Super! I’m sure this will work out great. Fast forward to 2014:
U.S. officials conceded that a Tuesday deadline for ridding Syria of hundreds of tons of liquid poisons would not be met, citing stalled progress in transporting the chemicals across war-ravaged countryside to ships that will carry them out of the region. But the officials insisted that the overall effort to destroy President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal was on track.
“We continue to make progress, which has been the important part,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. “It was always an ambitious timeline, but we are still operating on the June 30th timeline for the complete destruction.”
The group overseeing the elimination of Syria’s stockpile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, blamed bad weather and security problems for delays in removing liquid chemicals from a dozen storage depots scattered across the country.
Russia has provided Syria with trucks to carry the toxins to Danish and Norwegian ships waiting in the port of Latakia, but as recently as Sunday, Syrian officials had made no effort to load the trucks, according to U.S. officials familiar with the operation.
The Obama administration has sought to play down the missed deadline, with officials suggesting the plan to remove President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal remains on track. “As long as we see forward progress that’s what’s most important here, and we have,” Marie Harf, the US state department’s deputy spokesperson, said on Monday…
Syria’s non-compliance will raise fears that the Assad regime may intend to delay the process for as long as possible. Further delays would highlight the west’s impotence and paralyse the debate over intervention. The missed deadline comes at a time when some western leaders privately concede that Assad’s continued survival is Syria’s least worst option.
Yes, it might raise that fear— a fear that was entirely predictable in 2013 when we first had this debate.
Hey, look on the bright side. Now, Obama has a fellow Nobel Peace Prize Winner almost as deserving as he was. That team can’t help but crack this case. Peace is nigh.
Regime change — “Assad must go” — remains the official US stance vis-a-vis Syria (I think), an outcome that looks less imminent by the day. Meanwhile, sectarian fighting has spilled into Lebanon, prompting the Saudis to send billions in aid to help fortify the country’s army. According to NBC News, “one of the few institutions not overtaken by the sectarian divisions that plague the country, Lebanon’s army is ill-equipped to deal with internal militant groups…The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seeking to bolster the army as a counterbalance to Hezbollah, seen as the most effective and powerful armed group in Lebanon and funded by the regional Shi’ite power Iran.” The Obama administration appears unwilling to do or say much of anything that may ruffle Tehran’s fragile sensibilities, for fear of chasing the Iranians away from the negotiating table.