Mandy covered this morning the outline of the “principles” agreed upon by the U.S. and Russia for Syria to end its possession of chemical weapons.

The deal, announced as we were waking this morning, is being spun a variety of ways.  It holds the promise of removing chemical weapons from someone who is willing to use them, but that promise is of questionable value and enforceability.

Chemical weapons were a problem, but not the only problem.

Our prior policy was that Assad must go because he was a viciously brutal thug who was all too happy to turn his country over to Iran and Hezbollah backed by Russian arms if that’s what it took to stay in power.  That thug, by the way, has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on his hands as he turned Syria into the primary conduit for fighters heading to Iraq.

What started as a civil uprising turned into a civil war because keeping Assad in power no matter what is the singular goal of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.  The radicalization of the uprising was in large part due to our own dithering, a point Nicholas Kristof makes clearly (for once, he and I agree on something):

I’ve seen that video of a rebel eating a prisoner’s heart. It’s not just Syria’s rulers who are monsters, but also the opposition.

That seems to be a false equivalency. Sure, some of the rebels are vile, but human rights monitors find far more atrocities committed by government forces.

Likewise, Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias have gained strength because they receive funding and weapons from Gulf countries, while, until recently, we provided no arms to moderate rebels.

Everything was secondary to that goal of keeping Assad in power, and that goal is advanced by the Kerry-Lavrov deal.  This is not a deal Assad wants or wanted, but it is the deal his primary arms supplier Putin knew had to happen.

Not because of the threat of U.S. bombing, but because the large-scale use of chemical weapons was too much even for the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah to stomach.  While there have been Iranian and Hezbollah threats to light up the region, they have been awfully quiet when it comes to defending Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

With the U.N. report coming out as soon as Monday, and with the Russians knowing how damaging it will be to Assad (even though technically the U.N. mandate was not to assess blame), the Russians struck a deal which renders the U.N. report all but moot.

The deal makes the Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah primary goal of keeping Assad in power so much more likely.  Transitioning Assad out of power is not one of the principles.

We now become partners with Assad in what will be a multi-month, and likely multi-year, project which may or may not actually end with the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal.  All the while, Russia continues to ship more conventional weapons, Iran ships more “advisors,” and Hezbollah ships more foot soldiers.  While we dither, because a successful uprising poses a threat to the deal working.

To make this deal work, in order to remove the threat of Bashar Assad, we have to save Bashar Assad.


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