Syrian chemical weapons issue may resolve peacefully

On Sept. 15, the U.S. and Russia agreed on a framework for the removal of chemical weapons in Syria.

Global attention surrounded Syria on Aug. 21, when a chemical weapon attack outside Damascus resulted in more than 1,400 casualties.

The U.S. accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of instigating the attack and threatened to launch military strikes early on. President Obama had advocated the use of military force in Syria and asked Congress to support his position.

With Congress undecided, Obama’s stance was mollified as the U.S. government entered negotiations with Russia to peacefully remove chemical weapons from the hands of the Syrian government.

“I’m glad (Obama) backed off,” said Director of the Friends Center and Campus Ministry Coordinator Max Carter. “The vast majority of Americans didn’t want to intervene militarily in Syria, and I’m glad he’s using nonviolent means.”

Overseeing the Syrian chemical weapon removal, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that Syria complied with the first part of the OPCW agreement by providing a declaration of chemical weapons.

While the OPCW has set the framework for the removal of chemical weapons in Syria, diplomats from the U.S., Russia, Britain, China and France are debating the terms of a U.N. resolution to enforce the agreement, according to The New York Times.

The orchestration of the U.S.-Russia deal averted U.S. military intervention, but the possibility remains if al-Assad’s regime does not comply with the U.N. sanctioned agreement.

Relieved by the decision to discontinue pursuing military action, some Americans joined Sen. John McCain in warning Obama that he would face impeachment if he put “boots on the ground,” according to CNN.

Philip Slaby, associate professor of history, commented in an email interview about the impact of the Syrian crisis on U.S. foreign policy.

“It really underscores the legacy of the Bush-era road to war in Iraq and the fatigue that the long war there has left,” said Slaby.  “Foreign powers are reluctant to rally to U.S. leadership for intervention, and the American public is also reluctant.”

The failure of past U.S. military intervention in the Middle East has made many wary of yet another intervention.

“Iraq was a disaster that no one wants to repeat,” said Carter.

Others argue that there is a genuine difference between what happened in Iraq and what is happening today in Syria.

“In Iraq, a foreign power called for regime change and then invaded,” said Mohja Kahf, associate professor of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arkansas, in an email interview. “In Syria, we have a revolution and a regime that began, from the first day, killing its own citizens for protesting nonviolently in the streets.”

Kahf, an Arab-American poet and author, highlighted that the civil war began with nonviolent protests from people who wanted freedom, human rights and the end of government corruption.

“The civil resistance is ongoing in Syria,” said Kahf. “It is utterly marginalized in the world spotlight on the armed conflict, but it is building the infrastructure of a future Syria. Civil resistance is doing all this … under the brutal repression of the regime.”

According to The New York Times, the U.S. and Russia agreed that Syria has approximately 1,000 tons of precursor chemicals and chemical agents, including sulfur mustard and sarin gas.

“It still isn’t clear who used the chemical weapons,” said Carter. “But I think it is important to recognize that there is genuine human suffering. Regardless of who used them and how many people were killed, conventional weapons killed many more.

“We need to continue to seek diplomatic and nonviolent responses that minimize the suffering and bring justice and hope to the people in Syria.”