There’s so much “no” in Washington, that you have to wonder if, given the opportunity to get it right, Washington [politicians and pundits included] is capable of saying yes. Although we don’t yet know precisely how it happened, Russia, Syria and the U.S. appear to have found a third way out of the chemical weapons, red-line problem: Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad has indicated willingness to relinquish his trove of chemical weapons to international control.
However, in today’s knee-jerk, “no” political climate, will politicians on the right—who don’t want to do anything [including the basics of governing] to help President Obama—and those on the left—who insist on perfection from the president they elected—give peace a chance? Or will the right find a way to obstruct a development with so much up side, just because it’s associated with the president they revile so viscerally? Will the left, impatient with a president they thought was going to single-handedly change everything and give them everything they ever wanted, nitpick this to death, question President Obama’s motivations, give the Obama-haters even more cover, and doom the whole thing to an ignominious fizzle?
I hope not.
I also hope–in my cockeyed optimist, Obama-true-believer way–that if we do get to yes, we recognize that President Obama’s red-line stance, while politically risky, was the moral high ground–the position we should all hope that a president takes. I’ve noticed that, in most of the discussions about possible bombing scenarios, the phrase “American interests” has been thrown around a lot. Unfortunately, the “interests” most often referred to are geopolitical and financial. Rarely do you hear anything about moral interests–you know, the need to stand up against people in power who allow their own citizens to be massacred.
Also, I hope that, if Assad’s chemical weapons end up in United Nations safekeeping, President Obama gets to share some of the credit for averting a Middle East conflagration. Although I can’t believe I’m writing this, I’ve come to understand that the diplomatic solution we are all hoping for may well be the result of the sabre-rattling that has preceded it. Isn’t that how diplomacy has generally worked in the past? Alas, I’m afraid that no matter what happens, President Obama will get zero credit for a positive outcome, and all the blame for a negative one.
I acknowledge that it’s a very complicated situation, and that actually gaining control of Assad’s weapons–in the middle of an active civil war–will be an uphill climb. Even the negotiations to get the process started are going to be very tough and very dicey.
But my bottom line is this: Sometimes, you just have to take yes for an answer. Russia seems to be saying yes. Assad seems to be saying yes. Can we?