Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Assad Still Using Chemical Weapons–and the United States Does Nothing

by Elliott Abrams
June 19, 2014

Last September, 2013, after President Obama changed his mind at the last minute about attacking the Assad regime to punish it for the use of sarin gas, the United States entered into an agreement with Russia that was supposed to get all chemical weapons out of Syria and prevent a recurrence of these war crimes.

That agreement has failed. As the Washington Post noted in a story yesterday,

Syria probably used chlorine gas in attacks this year, weapons inspectors say….The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission said this week that evidence “lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used….

And those chemicals have been used, the OPCW said, in a “systematic manner.”  Moreover, the basic task of getting chemical weapons like sarin out of Syria hasn’t worked either: “The agency also said that a deadline to remove Assad’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons from Syrian soil is unlikely to be met.”

When the agreement with Russia was made last year, administration spokesmen said we realized that Assad might cheat–and if he did, he’d be punished. Here’s the New York Post report of what Secretary of State Kerry said at the time:

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” Kerry told a packed news conference at the hotel where negotiations were conducted since Thursday night. “There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime.”

Indeed the President himself said that “If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.” Here’s more of President Obama’s statement:

I welcome the progress made between the United States and Russia through our talks in Geneva, which represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria’s chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed. This framework provides the opportunity for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world. The international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments.

While we have made important progress, much more work remains to be done. The United States will continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.

Diplomacy has failed, and Assad is once again “systematically” using chemical warfare. Where are the consequences the President promised? The failure to act cheapens his pledges and accepts the use of chemical weapons as an unfortunate but unavoidable side-effect of war.

On September 7, 2013 the President said something rather different about Assad’s use of chemical warfare, after the sarin attacks:

This was not only a direct attack on human dignity; it is a serious threat to our national security. There’s a reason governments representing 98 percent of the world’s people have agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons. Not only because they cause death and destruction in the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible – but because they can also fall into the hands of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm….[W]e are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria. Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.

That is the “horrible signal” he is sending today through his inaction.

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  • Posted by Matt

    Obama got the peace prize for doing nothing, but he deserved it for this one getting the WMD out of Syria. No support other than France no support at home, standing alone. They had no one to give the prize too so they gave it to the OPWC, otherwise they would have given it to Obama, but they already did. Not a shot fired.

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