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September 12, 2013
Column #1,672
Putin Saves Obama’s Bacon
By Mike McManus

Vladimir Putin saved Obama’s bacon. The President’s request for Congress to authorize military force to bomb Syria was going down to an horrific defeat. Members of Congress were getting 1,000 emails opposing the strike to 25 in favor.

One day before Obama was scheduled to address the nation, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, proposed that Russia and other nations secure the chemical weapons used to gas and kill more than 1,400 Syrians and remove them. Syria quickly agreed to ratify a treaty banning chemical weapons.

That gave Obama an opportunity to ask Congress “to postpone a vote,” a way to avoid a humiliating and certain defeat.

More important, as Obama asserted, “This initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.”

Obama rightly declared that his “threat of U.S. military action” plus his talks with Putin laid the groundwork for Russia’s call for a peaceful solution. He sent Secretary of State John Kerry to meet Lavrov on Thursday.

Will diplomacy work? Of course, caution is warranted. As Kerry told a House Committee before he left, the Russian plan, “has to be swift. It has to be real. It has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic.”

There is every reason for skepticism. UN Inspectors were in Syria when people were gassed to death, and close to the massacre. But when inspectors sought to visit the site, they were kept in their hotel for five days, and then given only limited access.

Russians actually operate Syria’s air defense system - one reason Russia offered to broker a peace agreement. Russian lives would be saved if there was no bombing.

However, why is bombing Syrian targets in the American interest? As Obama told the nation, Syria’s gassing of 1,400+ people, 400 of whom were children – was sickening – “men and women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons – and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits. In World War I, American GIs were killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe,” Obama asserted.

Adolph Hitler was one of the young German soldiers who survived a gas attack by the Allies. That’s why even he forbade the use of chemical weapons in World War II. (Of course, he did use chemical weapons to kill 6 million Jews.)

However, Syria has killed 100,000 of its own citizens with conventional warfare, and America did nothing. Why was it moral to take a stand on behalf of one percent who were gassed?

The President explained, “A failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.”

Iran has threatened to bomb Israel and kill millions of Jews. It would be less likely to do so, if America takes a firm stand against Syria’s use of a similar weapon of mass destruction. If Russia and America can fashion an international agreement to seize Syria chemical stockpile, Iran would be more likely to use its nuclear energy simply for peaceful goals such as producing electricity.

If Russia and the U.S. are unable to reach an agreement, Obama could return to Congress with a strengthened hand to seek authorization for a limited strike of cruise missiles from American ships in the Mediterranean. He pledged not to send in U.S. troops.

Obviously, it would be far better to seize Syria’s chemical weapons without firing a shot. Equally important, that agreement could be the first step in seeking a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war. That is such an important secondary goal, that Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to Clinton, urges America to reach out to the Chinese, who have a veto in the UN Security Council, and a deep interest in Middle East peace, from which it gets much of its oil. That’s a step we have failed to take.

Putin wrote a column published by Thursday’s New York Times in which he stated, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.”

That’s a valid criticism. It is time for much greater effort to be invested in seeking political solutions.

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