Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hollow Triumph

The elimination of the last of the known chemical weapons in Syria feels like such a small, hollow victory given the current level of calamity both in that country and in the region.

It is a particularly brutal period for the president's foreign policy. If he inherited a disastrous decision by President Bush in Iraq, recent actions by ISIS remind us how little President Obama has been able to accomplish there. And, as we prepare to put Afghanistan in our rear view mirror, this week's Taliban offensive seems likely prelude to what will transpire once we are gone.

In Syria, there is consideration of our providing funds to arm the opposition to Assad even as he meets his promise regarding turnover of chemical weapons. Even here, what has been accomplished remains murky at best, as any statement of compliance must contain an asterisk regarding potential unreported stashes of such materials.

Like many stories, this one was much larger at inception than conclusion. While we stood on the precipice of yet another invasion, our country shuddered at the thought of more years, more money and more American lives in potential jeopardy. It is difficult to remember those moments with clarity, or to comprehend that for the briefest of periods, the United States and Russia joined together to force President Assad to agree to surrender those weapons capable of inflicting the worst of atrocities on his own citizens.

As we watched Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, it is hard to imagine any set of recent circumstances in which he could have been an ally. We are reminded of that time with today's announcement. Yet,for President Obama, what should be at least a note of triumph has been drowned out by the unrelenting drumbeat of disaster that overwhelms our senses and our headlines.

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