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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Editorials

A poisonous pit in Syria

Published:

President Obama must regret ever declaring that Syria’s use of chemical warfare in that nation’s civil war would constitute a “red line” that, once crossed, would require intervention by the United States.

Since it seems safe to blame the Syrian government for last week’s horrific lethal chemical weapon assault against its own innocent citizens (many small children), Obama is now has to make his “red line” declaration mean something more than an empty promise.

But what steps should be taken? The consequences of a miscalculation are potentially disastrous, at least partly because the United States and most of the western world favor doing something to help the rebels while Russia and China are on the Syrian government’s side. What the world doesn’t need is anything resembling a revival of the Cold War.

Ideally, the solution should be in the hands of the United Nations, but the UN is hobbled by its own rules, including those that allow Moscow and Beijing to block any united effort to act in Syria. They want to protect their business relationships with the Damascus government.

Also, it had taken months to gain Syria’s permission for UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit other sites around the country, and under terms of the agreement even if the inspectors did get to the scene of the latest atrocity, it would have no authority to assess blame.

Thirty seven countries have demanded that the weapons inspectors to be given full access to the site of the this week’s gas attack, but the Syrian government claims conditions at the sight are too unsafe.

And here’s the rub: If an agent such as sarin was used in the attack, the UN team would have to get to the site quickly, before its traces became so faint as to be inconclusive. The Syrian government insists it was the rebels who carried out the attack but if that’s the case then it would be to the government’s advantage to let the inspectors reach the scene sooner than later.

Unless a remedy is found, the Syrian bloodbath will continue unabated and the death toll will mount.

By itself, the United States can’t create a remedy and, besides, the American people have no appetite now for any additional foreign military intervention at this time. The best hope may be to get Russia and China to the table for a serious discussion of mutually acceptable steps that will bring peace, finally, to Syria.

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