Or is the plan to relinquish chemical weapons a geopolitical master stroke?
Is President Bashar Al-Assad being tricked into creating circumstances that will hand the Obama White House a justification for war, or is the plan for Syria’s chemical weapons to be destroyed a geopolitical master stroke that will avert a regional conflict?
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem today formally accepted a Russian proposal – first mooted by John Kerry – for Syria to hand its chemical arsenal over to international control in a bid to avoid a US military attack.
Many see the development as a stunning example of Russia once again outmaneuvering the United States, seizing on an apparent gaffe by Kerry in order to pull the rug out from underneath Washington and derail Obama’s pretext for war.
However, could the precondition of Syria destroying its chemical weapons actually be used to rescue a congressional vote that had looked doomed to fail?
As Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain – both aggressive supporters of military intervention – have indicated, Congress could now be made to vote for air strikes not on the dubious basis of last month’s alleged chemical weapons attack, a justification that has failed to convince the vast majority of representatives, but on the basis of a complex set of terms that would mandate Syria disarm or face US attack.
With lawmakers seemingly confident that Syria would agree to disarm now that they have accepted the Russian proposal, they would be far more likely to green light such a resolution.
The United States could then, as happened with Iraq, accuse Syria of being too slow or failing to disarm, before launching air strikes with congressional approval already secured.
Forcing Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons would also significantly reduce the country’s capability to fend off any potential future aggression on behalf of Israel or other hostile Gulf states.
It would be naive to think that the White House has not at least considered using Syria’s supposed “victory” against US aggression as a precondition which could be used weeks, months, or even years down the line to back Assad into a corner from which he cannot escape.
However, to believe that this had been the plan from the very beginning would mean Kerry’s apparent “gaffe” of giving Assad a week to disarm was in fact a calculated maneuver.
It also fails to explain why Israel has all but rejected the idea, in addition to people like British Foreign Secretary William Hague pouring cold water on the plan by assuming Assad will fail to go ahead with disarmament anyway.
However, history tells us that regimes who attempt to acquiesce to demands for disarmament are by no means protected from future US military aggression.
In December 2003, Colonel Gaddafi agreed to give up his weapons of mass destruction and allow unimpeded inspections. This didn’t stop the Obama administration coming to the aid of Al-Qaeda-linked rebels eight years later to destroy Libya and leave it in the hands of brutal warlords.