Obama’s threat of a military strike against Syria seems to have worked
Nicholas Kristof NAILS IT:
For decades, Syria has refused to confirm that it has chemical weapons. Now, facing a limited strike, its position abruptly changed to: Oh! We do have them after all! And we want to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention! We want to show them to United Nations inspectors.
In short, the mere flexing of military power worked — initially and tentatively. And while it seems that neither Congress nor the public has any appetite for cruise missile strikes on Syria, it will be critical to keep the military option alive in the coming weeks or Russia and Syria will play us like a yo-yo.
Frankly, I’m skeptical that a deal can be worked out in which Syria hands over its chemical weaponry, and President Obama may have exchanged a losing struggle with Congress with a Sisyphean struggle with Russia. But it’s not impossible. And even if Syria cheated and stalled and eventually handed over only half of its chemical arsenal and none of its biological arsenal, that would still be a huge win for global security.
We think of warfare in binary terms, as if our options are invasions or nothing at all, but that’s misleading. All-out wars have a poor record, but modest interventions of the kind President Obama is talking about in Syria have a more successful (though still mixed) history.
That’s even true in Iraq, although I hate to mention the word because it sends a shudder up every reader’s spine. While the war that began in 2003 was a disaster, two limited interventions succeeded in Iraq. One was President Clinton’s 1998 bombing of Iraqi military sites for a few days (maybe the closest parallel to Obama’s plan for Syria); it may have convinced Saddam Hussein to abandon W.M.D. programs. The other is the no-fly zone over Iraq’s Kurdish areas in the 1990s to prevent a genocide there. They were limited uses of force that proceeded so smoothly that they are hardly remembered…
In Syria, for two-and-a-half years, we’ve given the regime a green light, and the killing has escalated from 5,000 a year to 5,000 a month — and, last month, to a poison gas attack that was perhaps the biggest massacre in the war. Now Obama’s threat of military strikes has turned the light yellow, Syria is scrambling to adjust, and there is some hope of a diplomatic solution.