Slender hope in a sea of hatred
It is one of the most extraordinary diplomatic developments of our age.
You have Putin and Obama hurling abuse at each other from afar and refusing a one-on-one meeting with each other last week.
Then, as the drums of war against Syria crescendo, one of them - Russia – makes an offer to try to remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the war equation, and America jumps at it.
We now appear to know that this plan flowed from some germ the two leaders hatched at last week’s G20 summit. We can be sure too that the threat of vast attack must have played a part in Syria’s willingness to grab at the idea.
What we don’t know is whether this was some uncharacteristic gamble by Obama.
Certainly, Obama has proved time and again that he does not want to get drawn into war in Syria. But I don’t meet anyone here in Washington who thinks Obama’s eventual war threat was empty.
The effect of all this is to pause the war, and pause the US congressional process for ordaining war.
Today, we don’t even know what the Russians are proposing. Putting the chemical weapons “beyond use under international supervision” is feasible.
And what is President Obama going to say to congressmen and women and senators when he comes to Capitol Hill today? He was going to show them intelligence about chemical attacks. But maybe now he will bring NSA files under his arm that depict the vast satellite and ground intelligence collected on the whereabouts and scale of what is reputed to be the biggest stockpile of such weapons in the Middle East.
The central issue is that, having embraced a “positive development”, the US cannot strike now at all soon. Neither is this Russian plan something that can be delivered at all fast.
So to the other side of the war in Syria that, as much as chemical weapons, threatens all our national securities. That threat is the whirlwind rise of radical jihadism that is sweeping into Syria from all over the world.
Fuelled by radical Sunni preachers, these jihadis – or many of them – sincerely believe Syria’s civil war is somehow the foreplay to the end of the world, that these are the “end times”.
Hundreds and thousands are convincing themselves that in this moment they must dies for Allah.
These forces have effectively stolen the Syrian rebellion from those indigenous rebels who revolted against Assad’s repression.
The cash and weaponry that equip the jihadis, so closely entwined with al-Qaeda, is shipped daily in vast quantity from the west’s long-term allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia - who sprang so fast to support Obama’s proposed American military action against Assad.
Hence two horrifically dangerous forces are in play in Syria: the threat and alleged repeated usage of chemical weapons, possibly by both sides, and the ferocious suicidal force of large numbers of young men prepared to die for a dangerously fundamentalist belief.
We can breathe a sigh of relief that the disastrous Syrian crisis has at least brought two great powers together, great powers laden with mistrust, who are for now prepared to lay down their mistrust in the interest of finding a diplomatic opening.
It is still far too early to say that the danger of US military intervention is over, and no-one has yet dared tackle the “on the ground” behaviour of others in the vanguard of support for that intervention.
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