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Editorial: Explore diplomacy in Syria

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Conflict over a proposed U.S. intervention in Syria accelerated this week, with warfare still being waged on Syrian streets and political battle continuing in Congress. But a flurry of developments in the past few days has shed light on new options for the U.S. in handling the crisis.

Tuesday night, President Obama said a plan offered by the Russians to the Syrian government could be a potential breakthrough in a diplomatic solution to the civil war, though he expressed some skepticism that the Syrian government would hold up its end of the bargain, which would require it to surrender its chemical weapons to international monitors.

Yet it seems Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to do just that. On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem acknowledged that the country possesses chemical weapons and announced it would halt production and disclose the location of the weapons in accordance with Russia’s proposal. The Obama administration seems to be taking the offer seriously. Signaling his willingness to approach the negotiating table, the president called for a “pause” on military action Tuesday night.

Last week, our editorial on the civil war in Syria demanded an end to the use of chemical weapons and other atrocities committed against the Syrian people. However, this can be accomplished without a military strike against an already broken nation.

While more action may be required, the DI Editorial Board believes that Russia’s plan does hold merit, and all diplomatic options should be exhausted before using force.

Some believe that the Obama administration would be seen as weak or inconsistent if it does not follow up on Assad’s crossing of the “red line”: the use of chemical weapons. But this sudden offer by the Syrian government shows that the threat of force, such as cruise missile strikes on military targets could be enough.

However, now that the prospects of even a cruise-missile strike are looking less and less likely, the time has come to look at other proposals. Considering the fact that the Obama’s goal in Syria is deterring the use of chemical weapons, removing these arms from the country may be the best way to go about preventing their use altogether.

A diplomatic solution wouldn’t just prevent more violence in a war-torn country. It would improve the United States’ reputation in the region, where many believe we have done more harm than good in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In the war against terrorism, the best weapon may be smart diplomacy.

By showing the world that America is willing and capable to engage in conversations with countries that oppose us, we take away one of the largest rationales for terrorism: that the U.S. is a war-mongering giant whose first response to a problem is deploying its military.

Russia’s plan still needs more clarification, and whether the world community can trust the word of Assad is another matter. Considering that the two are allies, more international corroboration is required to ensure that the devil (in this case, chemical weapons) doesn’t get lost in the details.

But the answer to violence should not be more violence, if it can be avoided. And through some shrewd diplomacy and a little luck, an international standoff could be an opportunity for peace.


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