In the whole debate on whether to deploy a missile strike against Syria for the use of sarin gas, my mind has been (appropriately?) like the many-handed Hindu goddess of darkness and death, Kali.
— On the one hand, what exactly would a US missile strike achieve, especially since President Obama has so carefully described it as limited in scope and intent?
— But then am I really so callous as to say we should not move when chemical weapons are deployed, especially against sleeping civilians?
— Then again, the level of the debate has sickened me (all the talk about maintaining America’s credibility, for example, as though that were more important that what’s actually happening in Syria — or the talk about how we can’t let Assad “get away with it,” as though he were merely a schoolboy who’d broken the rules).
— But does that really mean we just sit back and do nothing?
— Though that’s exactly what we’ve been doing as an average of 5,000 Syrians have been killed each month.
— But is military action really the only option?
— And isn’t the idea of a surgical strike another of those military oxymorons created for armchair warriors thrilling to missile-mounted cameras as though war were a video game?
— And shouldn’t the US have intervened to prevent chemical weapons being used, instead of as a gesture of disapproval after their use?
All this, and I haven’t even gotten to the question of who would actually gain from such a strike. And without even mentioning Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and…
Kali needs more than eight hands.
But today’s diplomatic developments seem to me immensely hopeful.
All I know at this moment is what you do: Russia has publicly proposed that Syria give up its stockpiles of chemical weapons. And since Russia has so openly supported the Assad regime (and been a major supplier of the ingredients for those weapons), and since Assad has so publicly claimed his regime did not use chemical weapons (all evidence to the contrary), the demand that he give them up to avoid a US-led missile strike may be an excellent example of his bluff being expertly called.
So I have a modest proposal that might sweeten the deal — for all of the Middle East. It’s as follows:
Seven countries have held out on the international treaty against the use and manufacture of chemical weapons, aka the Chemical Weapons Convention. Those countries are Syria, Israel, Egypt, Angola, Myanmar, South Sudan, and North Korea. (Two of these — Israel and Myanmar — have signed, but so far, have not yet ratified it.)
So if we’re really serious about banning chemical weapons, and if we’re really serious about the search for some nascent form of Middle East peace (two big ‘ifs,’ but bear with me), we should demand not only that Syria give up its chemical weapons and sign and ratify the treaty, but that at least Israel and Egypt both step up to the plate too.
We should seize the moment and say “Sign here, Mssrs Assad, Netanyahu, and Sisi.”
And we should do it right now. Before we forget about chemical weapons until the next time they’re used. Before we leave Assad to keep killing Syrians with conventional weapons. And before the American public again retreats into its normal state of apathy about anything that happens in countries where the majority are not apple-pie white and Christian.
At least let something good come out of all this horror.