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from The Great Debate:

Blocking Syria’s chemical network

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, testifying recently before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was asked a crucial question: Who has been supplying Syria with its chemical weapons? “Well, the Russians supply them,” Hagel responded. “Others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.”

The uncertainty of Hagel’s answer reveals a gaping hole in U.S. understanding of how these weapons proliferate, who helps their transfer and where they may turn up next.

Syria’s deadly chemical weapons, which the United Nations report confirms were used to kill at least 1,400 people last month -- and which could still spark an American military attack if Syria refuses to turn over the weapons under a U.S.-Russian plan -- are made in part from dual-use chemicals. Some of these chemicals are also components of beneficial products, including life-saving medicines, cosmetics and fertilizer.

While Syria has possessed the technology to manufacture chemical weapons for decades, it does not make all the chemicals needed to produce weapons like the sarin nerve agent used recently outside Damascus. This means another source is selling Syria the needed precursor chemicals for its weapons production.

from The Great Debate:

What is next for Syria’s opposition?

The Syrian regime is crowing victory. The Russians are satisfied at preventing an American military intervention. President Obama is glad to have avoided a Congressional vote against it. Israel is pleased to see Syria's chemical weapons capability zeroed out, provided the framework agreement reached last week is fully implemented. Even Iran is backing it, while continuing to deny that the regime was responsible for using chemical weapons.

What about the Syrian opposition?

The agreement on chemical weapons leaves them out in the cold. Bashar al-Assad is now vital to implementation of the agreement and will procrastinate implementing it for as long as possible. While destruction of Syria's chemical weapons capability is supposed to be completed by mid-2014, the logistical challenges involved are colossal. Just accounting for and collecting the 1,000 tons of material will be an enormous task, before getting to deployment of observers and physical destruction, which will likely require shipping the material out of Syria to Russia. Wartime conditions will double the difficulties and prolong the process, even if the regime decides to cooperate fully. That's unlikely.

from David Rohde:

From Cairo to Geneva, Obama steps back from Mideast

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It started as “a new beginning” and ended as “America is not the world’s policeman.”

Between President Barack Obama’s historic 2009 address to the Islamic world in Cairo to his address to the American people on Syria last week, Obama has zigged and zagged on Mideast policy, angering supporters and detractors alike.

from The Great Debate:

A potential turning point for Syria

In the dizzying debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, one key point of consensus stands out: Both the Obama administration and Congress recognize that the resolution to Syria’s conflict must come through a negotiated settlement. Key international actors share the same conclusion.

But how do we get there? Russia’s recent proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control could open a viable path to a long-sought diplomatic solution.

from The Great Debate:

Is this why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?

In December 2009 the world was treated to the unexpected news that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Among those most surprised was Obama himself. Not many sitting American presidents have won the award. In fact, Obama was only the third.

Now, as Obama stumbles his way through a proposed military strike on the Syrian government, it seems the president has not paid nearly enough attention to the history of world leaders who have won this international honor. The list of Peace Prize winners impresses: Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross; American social reformer Jane Addams; George Marshall, the architect of peaceful post-World War Two Europe; Martin Luther King Jr.; Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mandela.

from David Rohde:

A Syria gift Obama must use wisely

In a sober, narrowly framed speech Tuesday night,  President Barack Obama argued that deterring chemical weapons use - not regime change - remained the goal of any American military strike in Syria. Ob ama said he would delay a vote in Congress on the issue, seek a UN resolution requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and explore Russia's surprising - and probably  - offer to help secure Syria's chemical weapons.

The speech's most interesting passage was its final one. On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama offered a rough outline of a new, more limited vision of America's role in the world.

from The Great Debate:

Making frenemies with Putin

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Anyone who ever worried that Barack Obama might not be Made in the USA should take comfort from his quintessentially American response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to give temporary asylum to Edward Snowden: pouting.

Democratic and Republican presidents alike tend to believe that if other countries don’t act like our “friends,” then they must be our enemies. This attitude creates unrealistic expectations that slow the healing of old injuries, and subverts the potential for a meeting of minds on critical issues -- such as Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

from The Great Debate:

The politics of Syria

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Congressional Democrats are in a bind. If they vote to authorize a military strike on Syria, they could be putting the country on a slippery slope to war. But if they vote no, they will deliver a crushing defeat to their president.

What President Barack Obama did was call their bluff. Last week, more than 50 House Democrats signed a letter urging the president to “seek an affirmative decision of Congress” before committing to any military engagement. That was the Democrats' way of going on record to express reservations about what Obama sounded like he was going to do anyway. Then, lo and behold, the president decided to do exactly what they asked. Now it's their decision.

from The Great Debate:

Obama’s flawed case for a Syria strike

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We should not bomb Syria without a vital national security interest and a precise foreign policy objective.

Right now, the Obama administration has not established either.

Under the United States’ legal and historical precedents, a president faces the highest burden for justifying military attacks that are essentially optional: actions not required for self-defense and which are not in response to an attack on the United States -- or imminent threat of such attack.  Intervening in the Syrian civil war fits that difficult category.

from The Great Debate:

Syria: What happened to diplomacy?

There is a bizarre quality to the U.S. public debate about bombing Syria. Much time and effort has been spent analyzing President Barack Obama’s decision to finally call for a vote in Congress: whether this was a wise choice; what the repercussions of an attack may be; the (il)legality of acting without a United Nations Security Council mandate; the moral case for bombing, and the strategic case for restraint.

But almost no attention has been paid to a fundamental question: Have all other options been exhausted?

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