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Giving Assad a license to kill

Faisal J. Abbas
Al-Arabiya

When an American strike seemed imminent a fortnight ago; McCain warned that a ‘cosmetic’ assault will not do the job as he criticized President Obama for taking so long to decide to intervene in Syria’s civil war.

Without doubt, McCain was right to warn that anything short of a crippling attack would only be giving the Assad regime a license to carry on slaughtering his own people.

On Saturday, McCain issued a joint statement with Senator Lindsey Graham criticizing the recent deal struck between the US and Russia regarding the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, saying that it would give Assad time to “delay and deceive” while the country’s civil war continued.

“It requires a willful suspension of disbelief to see this agreement as anything other than the start of a diplomatic blind alley, and the Obama administration is being led into it by Bashar Al-Assad and (Russian president) Vladimir Putin,” the statement added.

Indeed, given President Assad’s history, the US administration would be quite delusional if it actually believed that he means what he says, or says what he means.

More importantly, it was wrong from the start for the United States (and other Western countries) to build the case for intervention in Syria based on the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, which last month left around 1,400 civilians choking to death.

After all, Assad’s brutal retaliation to the peaceful, pro-democracy protests which began in 2011 has already resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees.

In a previous column, I raised the question of whether or not it was the weapon of murder rather than the murder itself which mattered. I wondered whether it is acceptable for the international community to ignore the plight of the Syrian people just because the 100,000 lives we lost were taken by using conventional weapons (…you know; just your average fighter jets, tanks, missiles and machine guns!).

Today, I ask how many more lives should be taken before the world decides that it is time to put an end to this murderous regime; or is it that what the Americans, Europeans and Russians are really saying is that Assad can continue killing his own people, just as long as he doesn’t gas them to death?

President Obama knows all too well that it is always best to win a war without fighting; and for him, the fact that Assad agreed to cooperate with the International Community by signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is probably considered a victory.

However, Assad’s CWC announcement is laughable and is no more than a charm offensive designed to have the same impact as when some A-list celebrities announce they are going to rehab just as the news is out that they were caught drink-driving.

Just like some of those celebrities go back to driving under the influence of alcohol as soon as their arrest story dies down, Assad will find a million dreadful ways (possibly using chemical weapons again) to commit his crimes as long as he is still in power.

For her part, Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal staff-writer and currently a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC states that the CWC treaty is “neither verifiable nor enforceable,” and “will protect Assad, not his potential victims.”

Rosett argues in a recently published article that one just has to review the list of countries which signed the CWC to realize it really doesn’t mean much; and the US administration of all entities should know this very well, especially that it is the Russians who are offering to rid Assad of his chemical weapons.

According to the State Department’s 2013 report to Congress on compliance with the convention, “the United States assesses that Russia’s CWC declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and stockpiles.”
Iran, Syria’s closest ally, joined the treaty in 1997, but the same State Department report notes that the US can’t certify that Iran has met its treaty obligations “due to a combination of irregularities in the Iranian declaration and insufficient clarification from Iran.”

Last but not least, Rosett also recalls that despite the fact that Libya’s Qaddafi had signed the CWC treaty in 2004; the new Libyan government which succeeded him still found two undeclared chemical weapons sites following Qaddafi’s overthrow in 2011.

However, one doesn’t need to state all of this to argue the given that dictators can’t be trusted, nor that the CWC treaty will not guarantee the safety of the Syrian people.

After two and a half years of the ongoing massacre, it is about time Obama realized that McCain is right and it is also time the International Community honors the legitimate and reasonable requests of the Syrian Opposition.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has just made a new plea demanding the prohibition of chemical weapons is extended to the use of ballistic missiles and aircrafts against urban areas. Should these requests not be met, and the West’s only aim is to try to make Assad go to rehab; then we shouldn’t be surprised if he says “No, no, no!”

– Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society.He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

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