UPDATED SEPT 9, 2013 TO ADD:
Former President Jimmy Carter, who was instrumental in 1978 in bringing together Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for a historic Middle East Peace Summit, called for President Obama to bring together key players in the region to sit down with Syria in a new peace summit and end this internal conflict with region-wide implications.
President Obama: I know those words “I don’t support a dumb war” are haunting you now. As you look on the shelf where your Nobel Peace Prize rests, and think about your hopes for Arab Spring, the weight of your past words and your current decisions must be heavy.
But I have to say public opinion is against you on your proposal to make limited missile strikes on Syria. Proof of Assad’s use of nerve gas is still being established. We now know many allies actually sold the ingredients necessary to make Sarin to Syria even after the civil war began in earnest. Some of those people were even Americans. And there’s the question of whether chemical weapons are truly in a class among themselves demanding a consistent and exceptional response, or if we’re simply trying to instill honor among thieves when it’s our stance on warfare of any kind that we should debate.
So I’ve gathered a list of things we should explore instead of the bombings you say are needed. Have these been adequately discussed among the American people, in Congress, and in the West Wing?
1. Try Assad for crimes against humanity. Surely a ruler who uses chemical weapons on his own people qualifies? An attorney who tried cases at Nuremberg and is an expert in international criminal justice says this:
“But the fact we are not comfortable is not the test. The test is whether it’s just or not. Is it just for an individual in any country to conclude that some individual in another country is guilty of supreme crimes and therefore he should be punished, without a trial of any kind? Is that just?”
2. Reach out to the League of Arab States and Organization of Islamic Cooperation, convene a meeting of 189 signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and insist on diplomacy with Russia. The Quaker group Friends Committee on National Legislation has excellent suggestions.
3. Call for and support a ceasefire immediately in Syria, push for a “Geneva 2” meeting on Syria to bring the rebels and the Assad regime together under the neutral auspices of the U.N., and accept refugees from Syria as immigrants and provide aid to Syrian refugees in general. These suggestions from an interfaith expert on peacemaking, Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite.
4. Increase surveillance of chemical warfare to ensure that these weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands, and ask our regional allies to step up their vigilance. These, from an expert on national security and foreign relations, James P. Farwell.
5. Find and jail those Americans who sold chemical warfare ingredients to Syria, especially after the civil war escalated. Join in this effort with other international agencies, like our allies the Brits, who’ve also discovered that their nationals made key materials available to Assad.
Professor Alastair Hay, a toxicology expert at Leeds University, told the Mail on Sunday: “The Government’s approval of sodium fluoride sales to Syria during a period when it was widely suspected the regime was stockpiling dangerous substances is deeply disturbing.
“This was a serious mistake on Bis’s part, as while sodium fluoride has a multitude of benign uses, such as toothpaste, it remains a key ingredient in the manufacture of sarin.
“Quite simply, you need fluoride to make sarin.”
It comes after Bis admitted issuing licences for the export of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to the war-torn country in January last year before revoking them several months later.
If this isn’t against the law already, then urge Congress to pass a law making it a crime to sell chemical weapons ingredients to rogue states. If it is already law (I can’t imagine it’s not), then perhaps we need to devote more resources to enforcement. A NYT piece outlines how seemingly innocuous pharmaceutical and other uses were the pretexts used by Syrian government front companies as the reason for purchasing the various component ingredients of Sarin:
In a few instances, American companies became players in Syria’s efforts to add to the sophistication of its stores.
One of the best-known cases in the United States involved a Waterville, Me., company once known as Maine Biological Laboratories. The company and several top executives were found guilty of allowing a series of shipments to Syria in 2001, including restricted biological agents.
That was one of several instances that involved deals with American firms, the cables show. In another case, an unidentified American company sold potassium cyanide to a Syrian pediatric hospital in 2006, but made no effort to check whether it was used for treating patients, as the Syrians had insisted was done, or instead was diverted for making chemical weapons.
“Precursor chemicals have not gotten the same attention as the nuclear trade,” said one Congressional expert, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk about investigative findings. “It’s been a known problem for a long time, and yet it happens.”
We need to put in more effort in preventing the sale and tracking of dangerous substances to an unstable country with a power-hungry leader who amasses what he needs to harm his own people. It’s long past time we gave international attention to strict oversight of the sale of precursor chemicals. Clearly greed and the “free market” can’t be allowed to abet a dictator’s grotesque ambitions. We cannot control, ultimately, what a despotic ruler will do. But we can certainly deny him the tools he needs to accomplish his task. Our own nationals we can police and punish.