Syrians will be left to kill each other as before - only without sarin
Robert Fisk Independent/UK 15 September 2013
What on earth was going on in Washington and Geneva last week? The Obama administration is still getting weirder and weirder. Obama last year was really, terribly, awfully worried that Syria’s chemical weapons would “fall into the wrong hands”. In other words, into the hands of al-Qa’ida or the al-Nusra front. Seemingly they were still, at that moment, in the “right hands” – those of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But now Obama and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, have decided that they are in the wrong hands after all, since they are now accusing the “right hands” of firing sarin gas shells at civilians. And that crosses the infamous “red line”.
And then – wait for it – as the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, suggested an international collection of all the rusty old chemical shells in Syria, Pentagon “sources” said it would need up to 75,000 armed troops to protect the chemical inspectors. Seventy-five thousand! If that isn’t boots on the ground, I don’t know what is.
Of course, Putin and Lavrov kept clear of references to the Second World War. Russia suffered too grievously from Hitler for that. I’ve said this before, but I really do suspect that leaders who have no experience of war – I am excepting McCain and the indefatigable UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi here – actually thought they were making a Hollywood movie. Kerry’s preposterous “unbelievably small” strike is obviously a low budget film for recession-hit America. Obama promises wide-screen drama. Think Steven Spielberg. And then the Russians, who can spot a dead cat when they see one, zap the whole project.
None of the above should cheapen the tragedy of Syria. The world, I suspect, is not totally convinced that the regime was responsible for using chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August – though I bet the Russians know who did. Now we’ve got rebels chopping off prisoners’ heads, I’m not sure what scruples they’d have about using sarin. But it was interesting to see the Syrian government agreeing to put their chemical weapons in international hands – I couldn’t help noticing that they didn’t demand the same of the insurgents…
Let’s have a closer look at the Kerry-Lavrov timetable. The Syrians have to come up with a list of their nasties within a week. Inspectors are to be on the ground by mid-November. Then every chemical weapon has got to be destroyed (or “secured”) by the middle of next year. And this amid a civil war! Peace in our time.
Of course, while the inspectors are battering their way through the front lines the Syrians continue to kill each other, the Syrian government goes on trying to break the rebels and the Islamist insurgents go on attacking Christian towns and chopping off the heads of captives. Put bluntly, they can use rifles, shells, knives and swords to slaughter each other – but absolutely no sarin. There is something deeply offensive and deeply cynical about all this. Russia re-enters the Middle East, Obama is off the hook after playing World War 2 – and the Syrians go on dying.
I do hope that we will have a “Geneva 2” conference at last, and that America and Russia will no longer spat over the Syrian bloodbath. But I am not at all sure the rebels will go along with this, because Assad is clearly not leaving power. Not now, anyway. And the Saudis? And the Qataris? And any other Gulf Sunnis who’ve been funding and arming the rebels? The whole timetable seems so hopelessly optimistic.
However, there is another story going on here, and that’s Iran. For now, the leader of Iran appears to be a wise and sane man, Putin can surely resurrect his own ideas on Iranian nuclear material, and the Iranian-Syrian alliance could be hooked up together to end the whole miserable failure of politics and perhaps even the war in Syria. Then Obama can claim a world-shaking political victory (brought about only by his threat to use force, of course) and Kerry can go back to making peace between Palestinians and Israelis. [Abridged]