The latest reports coming from Syria about the regime’s failure to comply with a promise to relinquish its chemical weapons are worrying. Basher Al Assad’s government has made no progress in relinquishing a last batch of chemical weapons it says is inaccessible due to fighting, making it increasingly likely it will miss a final deadline to destroy its toxic stockpile. Assad had agreed last year to hand over the country’s entire chemical weapons stockpile after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack near Damascus. That agreement with Russia and the United States had averted Western military strikes threatened in response to the worst chemical weapons atrocity in decades, which has been blamed by Washington on Assad’s government.
If Assad could avert a Western military action with his promise then, the situation has changed drastically since then. His forces have been able to wrest control from rebels in most areas, the rebels have lost momentum and he is in command though the fighting is still going on. At the same time, the priorities of the West have changed. It’s more preoccupied with Ukraine where Russia is posing a huge threat to its influence and power. Also, the progress made by Assad in partly crushing the opposition has given birth to a thinking that the solution to the Syrian crisis will be achieved on the ground.
While support to the Syrian opposition is floundering, Assad’s backers are firmly behind him. Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria. Western powers and human rights group condemned the veto. But condemnation was all they could do. But even if the West succeeds in launching an ICC probe, that would not deter Assad from fulfilling his mission of eradicating any threat to his regime. The only thing that could make a difference to him gains by the rebels on the ground, or the threat of Western intervention to force him to quit. Both seem highly unlikely in the current situation. The US can make a difference but President Barack Obama is unwilling. There is no need for military intervention if that is what Obama is reluctant about. There are other ways of helping rebels. Washington can train and equip the rebels or help patrol a safe zone for them to weaken Assad. The Obama administration was worried that arming the rebels would result in weapons falling in terrorists’ hands. That fear was justified with Al Qaeda men infiltrating the rebels. But at the same time, that was a lame excuse. Steps could have been taken with the help of Arab countries to ensure that the weapons fell in the right hands. But nothing was done•