Monday morning, Barack Obama, the man who won the White House on a strong anti-war platform, was reeling to gain support for his proposed attack on Syria. What a difference a day makes. By the time the president addresses the nation tonight, a military strike could be completely off the table.
It was a pointed, albeit simple, question from CBS reporter Margaret Brennan that may have saved the President of the United States from a political disaster. More importantly, Ms. Brennan’s inquiry may have saved the cities and lives of innocent Syrians caught in the middle of an already brutal civil war.
In London yesterday, Brennan asked Secretary of State John Kerry, “is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack?”
Kerry responded, “Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
Seizing an opportunity, Russia immediately responded to Kerry’s, shall we say, suggestion. The Prime Minister of Russia proposed that Russia, Syria’s strongest ally, would indeed support the confiscation and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
This potential change in course leads to many new questions, but there are a few things that appear to be near certainties now regarding the international drama.
Near Certainty 1: Obama doesn’t need to seek support (that isn’t there anyway) for military action. Public polling shows only a third of Americans support his proposed strike. It is doubtful that congress would have gone against the overwhelming sentiment of the American people in order to support the president. Obama was set to have egg on his face. Now he may end up looking like a hero for being the one who pressured Assad to give up his chemical weapons.
Near Certainty 2: Without military strikes from the U.S., there will be no retaliation from any of the various states and other groups in the Middle East. These groups may still attack the U.S., but not as a direct consequence of American military involvement in yet another Middle Eastern country.
Near Certainty 3: With an agreement from Syria to give up all chemical weapons will come some kind of enforceable agreement that those types of weapons cannot be created or used in the future. This kind of agreement would be drawn up by the UN and therefore give the United States far more international support if the agreement was ever broken.
The president was walking a fine line between orchestrating limited action meant to reprimand and something far more consequential: affecting regime change in Syria by ostensibly giving the rebel forces millions of dollars worth of powerful missile strikes. In my opinion, the White House was fully intent on the latter while simply arguing for the former. Either way, keeping American bombs and boots out of other countries is probably the best outcome for everyone outside of military contractors and the politicians who benefit from those contractors. And for that, Margaret Brennan, we thank you.