As we go to press, the United Nations Security Council is deliberating a resolution proposed by the United States, Britain and France to condemn an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Images of the victims were so horrible, so heart-rending, that even the U.N. was forced to interrupt its incessant series of condemnations of Israeli real estate policies in Yehudah and Shomron to address the Syrian catastrophe.
Indeed, this attack has generated more international outrage against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad than anything since the chemical warfare in 2013 against rebel targets that slaughtered over 1,300 people, many women and children.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines,” President Trump said on Wednesday
Only days earlier, various members of Mr. Trump’s administration had indicated that the ouster of Assad was no longer a priority for the United States. But President Trump said Tuesday’s horrific attack “had a big impact on me — big impact…. My attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much,” he said.
The Security Council has gone into emergency session. But there is no expectation that anything concrete will be accomplished, especially after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced Moscow’s opposition to the draft resolution. She called it “categorically unacceptable” because “it runs ahead of the investigation results and names the culprit, Damascus.”
Yet even if the draft, which reportedly calls for an investigation of Syrian military operations suspected in the attack along with a demand for an ongoing regime of inspections, would be adopted by the council, there is little reason to assume that it would make much of a difference.
Even a United States-led effort equipped with the best intelligence on Syrian weapons facilities cannot ascertain without reservation that Damascus has complied with any agreement to totally rid itself of the poisons. In a country the size of North Dakota, it’s easy enough to move the stockpiles under some barren expanse of sand and rock not on the inspectors’ list.
It is arguable that only a determined military response to Syria’s egregious flouting of the international ban could have ensured against a repetition of such atrocities.
At the time, President Barack Obama declared that Syria had overstepped a “red line,” the Geneva Protocol of 1925 that banned chemical weapons after nearly 100,000 deaths were inflicted by chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas during World War I. But Mr. Obama relented on threatened military action — albeit of a limited nature — when Moscow made a timely promise to arrange a peaceful disarmament.
Secretary of State John Kerry then hailed the diplomacy that averted further bloodshed. Mr. Obama later said he was “very proud” of the decision to step back from the brink, but the former president has not commented publicly on the latest violation of the agreement in Syria.
At the U.N. on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the Trump administration will take action against chemical attacks in Syria if the U.N. Security Council fails to act.
She accurately described the Assad regime as an “illegitimate Syrian government, led by a man with no conscience, has committed untold atrocities against his people for six years,” and urged that something must be done.
“There are times at the United Nations when we are compelled to take collective action,” she said. “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action…
“For the sake of the victims, I hope the rest of the council is finally willing to do the same,” she added.
From a practical perspective, the prospects of removing Assad were better in the past than they are today, now that, with the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, Assad has beaten back rebel forces and to some extent reasserted his hold on power. Russia and Iran have exploited the situation to entrench themselves in the region, a fact on the ground that does not contribute to any hopes for peace and stability.
Yet as the president pointed it, this latest attack crossed many lines, and as Ambassador Haley powerfully argued, for the sake of the victims, something must be done.