The difficulty of deciding how to respond to Syria's apparent use of chemical weapons is starkly illustrated by the conflicting positions taken by members of Congress and by the American public. Liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress came together to oppose U.S. missile strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Here in Medford, anti-war liberals and tea party activists marched side by side to denounce the proposed American military action.
A third option has emerged. On Monday in London, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked if there were anything Assad could do to avert a U.S. strike. In an apparently offhand response, Kerry replied, "Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay. But he isn't about to."
Russia jumped on the idea, saying it would support a plan to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control and eventually destroy them. Syria quickly followed suit, saying it welcomed the Russian proposal.
The proposal is far from a done deal, of course. The Obama administration wants to enforce any deal with the threat of a military strike if Syria does not comply. Russia and Syria reject that.
Assad said Thursday there would be no deal unless the U.S. ends all threats of military action. The Syrian leader also said his country would begin releasing information about its chemical weapons stockpile 30 days after signing the international convention barring chemical weapons. The treaty governing the convention says a country becomes a member 30 days after submitting a letter stating its intention to join. The U.N. said it received a letter from Syria on Thursday.
The treaty requires member nations to declare and destroy their chemical weapons.
In Geneva for talks with Russian officials on the proposed agreement, Kerry said a month's delay is unacceptable, and the U.S. insists Syria cannot be trusted to comply without the threat of military action.
A U.S. strike against Syria without international support or U.N. sanction, as President Obama first proposed, would have been unlikely to change Syrian behavior and could well have made a bad situation worse. Chemical weapons are horrific, and using them should bring consequences, but the United States should not be the only nation to deliver those consequences. The U.S. is not and should not be the world's policeman.
But Kerry is right to insist that any agreement by Syria to turn over chemical weapons must be enforced by the threat of military action.
Assad claims Syria agreed to turn over its weapons to international control because of Russia's proposal, not because of America's threat to launch a strike. Considering that Syria had not even admitted it possessed chemical weapons until Obama called for military action, that assertion is scarcely believable.
Whether the Obama administration deserves credit for prompting a potential diplomatic solution or just got lucky is immaterial. What is important is that Kerry and his team make the most of this opportunity to resolve the situation without drawing the U.S. into a military action from which it has little to gain.
Administrative costs for a proposed Economic Improvement District in downtown Medford are projected to be $43,768. The figure of $100,000 cited in Wednesday's editorial was in error.