Yesterday the New York Times reported With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas. The article documents how, despite international efforts to prevent it, Syria built up its supply of chemical weapons.

Proliferation experts said President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his father before him, former President Hafez al-Assad, were greatly helped in their chemical weapons ambitions by a basic underlying fact: often innocuous, legally exportable materials are also the precursors to manufacturing deadly chemical weapons. …

The growth of Syria’s ability was the subject of a sharply worded secret cable transmitted by the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name in the fall of 2009. It instructed diplomats to “emphasize that failure to halt the flow” of chemicals and equipment into Syria, Iran and North Korea could render irrelevant a group of antiproliferation countries that organized to stop that flow. …

Another leaked State Department cable on the Syrians asserted that “part of their modus operandi is to hide procurement under the guise of legitimate pharmaceutical or other transactions.”

The article describes how hard it was to stop a determined villain from improving his lethal capabilities. An evil person, or regime, intent on killing people will find a way to do it. Also, there are people, corporations and nations who will rationalize giving these evil people the means they need to reach their goals.

The article is frustrating. Clearly, a serious, sustained effort to prevent the Assads from acquiring chemical weapons was needed. But it wasn’t to be. Among other things the fall of the Soviet Union made it impossible to control the import of the necessary ingredients to create the gas. Executives at an American company were prosecuted for sending materials that Syria could use to manufacture chemical weapons. Of course, once those components were shipped, it was too late. But if there any lessons for preventing other villains from obtaining deadly weapons in the future to be drawn from this article, they are absent.

Let’s say that the Russian diplomatic initiative to rid Syria of its chemical weapons is sincere. Let’s say, even more improbably, it is effective. What would stop Assad from reconstituting his chemical weapon program all over again, the same way he and his father built it in the first place? Do both the will and capability exist to prevent him?

Consider two parallel stories.

Right now the Iranian regime is attempting to develop a nuclear weapons capability. There is no determined effort to stop it.

The New York Times just published a review of a book by Kenneth Pollack called “Unthinkable,” about efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. According the reviewer, Leslie Gelb, Pollack doesn’t believe that it is possible to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability, so allowing it to happen is eminently “thinkable.” Pollack sees the costs of military action as being too high and not effective, so he recommends accepting a nuclear Iran and pursuing a policy of containment.

Or consider how the New York Times has been promoting the new president, Rouhani as a moderate. In a recent article the reporters wrote:

The new Iranian president has not specified how he might alter Iran’s stance on its nuclear energy program, which Western nations and Israel consider a cover for developing the ability to make atomic bombs despite Iran’s repeated denials. But Mr. Rouhani’s choice of Mr. Zarif to oversee the negotiations, which had been handled by the Supreme National Security Council, suggested more diplomatic flexibility by Iran.

Never mind that Zarif is a Holocaust denier. Never mind that Rouhani, prior to his inauguration, attended a Qods day celebration regardless of what he said there. Rouhani, too, boasted of deceiving the West in nuclear negotiations. Despite there being no evidence that either Rouhani or Zarif are moderate, other than that neither is Ahmadinejad, the New York Times presents a false picture of both as flexible. There is no “suggestion” of “diplomatic flexibility” except by those who are seeking such a suggestion. If Rouhani’s Iran were deceiving the West about its nuclear ambitions a large portion of the West’s foreign policy elite wouldn’t care.

As with Syria, the will to do anything about Iran’s nuclear program likely wouldn’t be there.

The other case to consider is this story in the Washington Post, Egypt shutting economic lifeline for Gaza Strip, in move to isolate Hamas.

But restrictions on imports, exports and the flow of people continue to hinder Gaza’s reconstruction, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. For example, Israeli officials restrict the shipment of building materials — cement, rebar, gravel, plumbing pipes and certain chemicals — because they say such items can be used to make bunkers and rockets.

Note the way this is presented. Who says that dual use technology could be used to build military needs? “Israeli officials.” No qualification was necessary. In the quoted sentences, the onus is on Israel for having the temerity to blockade Gaza in self-defense, rather than Hamas for violating civilized norms and putting its military needs ahead of civilian needs.

The problem is that no one did anything about Syria except recoil in horror when Assad unleashed his weapons on civilians. In the United States, there is no will to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Too many wish to believe fairy tales about moderation and trust diplomatic efforts to prevent that outcome. Except for Israel, the world prefers to lament the hardship imposed on Gaza’s civilians, rather than condemn the terrorists who threaten Israel hiding among those civilians. (And there is no will either to pre-empt whatever Al Qaeda might be planning now.)

We live in a world where bad guys can hide their weapons in plain sight and few care to take action. If and when they strike there will be plenty of hand wringing and attempt to place blame. But, in the end, the fault will be inaction and an unwillingness to believe that bad guys really do bad things.


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