Brinkmanship

ObamaSpeechThumbnail_0As most of you well know by this point, there have been some important developments in the Syria situation.  The long and short of it is that through an offhand comment by Secretary of State John Kerry, the intervention of Russia, and the apparent willingness of the Syrian leadership, there’s been a willingness to find a way out of the crisis without war.  This last-minute effort, as I understand it, would involve Syria signing on to a chemical weapons agreement and agreeing to international oversight and monitoring of its cache.

There are a lot of “ifs” in this scenario, but what is does provide is a potential solution to certain facets of the crisis.  From where I sit, if the details can be worked out and Syria is truly making a good faith commitment to honor the agreement, there is hope.  If this new plan will a) prevent the use of Syrian chemical weapons (true “weapons of mass destruction” that can kill indiscriminately and widely) against their people and b) will continue to send the message that these weapons are unacceptable for use by anyone (as President Obama said last night, “the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared themassad off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war”), then for my part I can endorse this as a peaceful and more certainly more humanitarian solution than American military intervention.

There are some problems with this new proposal, and moreover it doesn’t bring about a solution to the civil war that rages there.  But it does hold out the potential to arrest the use of these disastrous weapons.  That for me had been a moral casus belli, a call to do “something” that very likely would have involved force.  From today’s point of view, my endorsement of the potential for military intervention may, then, have been premature or simply wrong.  In any case, war should always be a last resort and is truly never a “good” option.  A Christian approach demands admitting at least this, if not (as some have said) much more.

And yet: let us not be naive.  Assuming this is not merely deception or stalling on their part, an important reason Syria would have ever considered agreeing to such a proposal was because they were faced with possible intervention.  The threat of war, in other words, may very well have forced them to this point.

Russia-Putin-SOCHIIf we remember that most if not all of our fallen world only maintains peace at the edge of sword (and if you don’t believe me, ask why we have laws, prisons, and police in the first place), doesn’t it make sense that this is what brought Assad to the table?  That continued pressure like that encouraged by President Obama last night might be the only thing that could make him follow through?  If so, then, however distasteful war is, the threat of it for Syria has led to an action that could preserve the understanding made by most civilized nations about the use of chemical weapons and, more importantly, arrest any use of them against the Syrian population.

The messy arrangement that got us to this point does not, therefore, augur a perfect world, but rather the one we’ve got…at least at present.

Though politically the awkward development of this plan and the apparent bumbling of the administration in their run-up to this point has been rather strange, I can deal with all that if progress is being made towards humanitarian ends.  Time will tell if this is the answer (or at least a part of the answer) we have been looking for.

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