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Professors discuss options for Syria

By TORI ROECK | Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad agreed to destroy the troubled Middle Eastern country’s chemical weapons Tuesday in a deal brokered by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. 

Professor David Cortright of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, who moderated Tuesday’s panel discussion on the United States’ role in the Syrian crisis, said this development proves the use of force against Syria would have been the wrong decision for the United States.

“I hope what we learn from this is that diplomacy can be effective, that the solution to this turns out to be a diplomatic agreement, not military strikes,” Cortright said. “Although … the threat of military strikes helped to catalyze the diplomatic action.”

Cortright said the United States should realize that Russia could be a helpful ally in dealings with the Middle East.

“We can benefit from cooperating with Russia,” he said. “Everyone was sort of bashing Russia these days, but as much as we may disagree with some of Mr. Putin’s policies, the fact of the matter is that Russia’s cooperation can be very important in solving some of these difficult challenges.” 

Another difficult challenge Russia could help solve is the nuclear problem in Iran, Cortright said.

“It’s very significant that Iran expressed support for the Russian deal right away; within four or five hours of when it was announced, the Iranian foreign ministry said, ‘We support this proposal,'” he said. “That sent a message to Assad that … his two main patrons basically said, ‘Here’s the deal.’ He really had no choice but to accept it.” 

Cortright said although the chemical weapons deal negates the possibility of immediate United States military intervention in the region, Congress may pass a resolution to discuss the use of force at a later date if Syria reneges on its promise. 

“Senator [Harry] Reid made a speech just the other day … and that’s basically the veiled message that he’s making – that we need to keep the potential threat of military action still in the background, not take it off the table entirely,” Cortright said. 

In the meantime, Cortright said he thinks it’s the United Nations’ job to make sure Syria sticks to its chemical weapons agreement.

“I’ve advocated for a long time that the U.N. should be front and center in this whole question,” he said. “The administration initially mishandled the U.N. because the first proposal they made to the U.N. was military action. There was no way Russia was going to support that, or Argentina, or China; several countries on the [Security] Council said ‘no’ right away. So that was a mistake. But now, Secretary [of State John] Kerry, apparently, and the [Obama] administration and certainly the French, have said we need to go to the U.N. now to get the U.N. to implement the Russian deal.”

Cortright said the U.N. is most qualified to ensure Syria disposes of its chemical weapons. 

“I’m sure we will insist upon on-the-ground monitoring to make sure this is really happening, and that’s a role for the U.N.,” he said. “The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – they have the experts … It’s an organization that was created through a U.N. process, although it’s an independent organization. But it reports to the U.N., so the U.N. working with the OCPW will need to play a key role in monitoring and implementing this resolution.” 

Cortright said the Catholic Church has been vocal in its opposition to military interference in Syria, and its hierarchy is most likely pleased with the diplomatic deal and the role of the U.N. in implementing it.

“The Church position is that war and military action is always a defeat for humankind. It’s always a violation of God’s desires for humans to be more loving and more godlike in our lives,” Cortright said. “They had this prayer vigil at the Vatican this weekend … that seemed almost like a peace rally, and the Pope stayed for most of it, and it went well into the night.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also released two letters urging peaceful solutions, one addressed to Congress and the Obama Administration and one addressed to the leaders of the G20 Summit, Cortright said. 

Cortright said he believes the Church is happy that military intervention in Syria is off the table, at least for now.

“I haven’t seen yet a statement from the bishops or the Vatican, but I suspect that everyone’s relieved and is perhaps believing that they’re prayers were probably answered,” he said.