It wasn’t long ago that President Obama boasted of getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons without firing a shot. “It turned out that we are actually getting all the chemical weapons,” Mr. Obama told the New Yorker last November. “And nobody reports that anymore.”
But it turned out there was a good reason to hold the applause. On Monday the White House released a statement in the President’s name celebrating the destruction of Bashar Assad’s declared stocks of chemical weapons aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. ship fitted with specialized hydrolysis systems that neutralize sarin and other deadly agents.
Then came the caveat. “We will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities,” the statement read. “In addition, serious questions remain with respect to the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and about continued allegations of use.”
The OPCW is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague -based outfit that has overseen the removal of 1,300 tons of chemical agents from Syria. The organization complained for months that Damascus was slow-rolling the disarmament process as it continued to starve and bomb its enemies into submission. In April the Assad regime began dropping chlorine bombs against civilian targets. Chlorine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last year as part of the deal that Mr. Obama used to celebrate.
Then there are those “omissions and discrepancies” cited by the President. We are not privy to the intelligence, but every source we talk to says the Syrians have surely not declared everything in their possession. It’s also hard to believe the Administration would underline the defects in its own purported achievement if there weren’t serious doubts among U.S. spooks about the completeness of the Syrian declaration.
Syria maintains close ties to North Korea, which is believed to have a robust chemical weapons program capable of producing several thousand tons of deadly agents a year. In July 2007 reports surfaced of a chemical-weapons accident near Aleppo involving Syrian and North Korean technicians. That squares with Pyongyang’s known cooperation at the time in building a nuclear reactor for Assad that was destroyed that September by Israeli jets. If North Korea was prepared to supply Assad with deadly weapons then, why not again tomorrow?
Then there is China. In April videos surfaced of partially unexploded chlorine canisters marked with the name of Chinese arms-maker Norinco. The Assad regime also likely retains the network of scientists and engineers needed to reconstitute a weapons program once it feels secure enough to do so.
That day may not be far off, thanks in part to the chemical deal that spared Assad from U.S. bombing as he unleashed a new offensive against moderate rebel forces. Assad’s troops have now encircled the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, and leaders of the Free Syrian Army trapped in the city are stockpiling food in preparation of a regime effort to starve them into submission. The moderate rebels are also losing ground to the Sunni radicals of ISIS.
No matter what happens to Syria’s chemical weapons, the country’s real weapons of mass destruction — the Assad regime and ISIS — have gained in their destructive power. Such has been the result of Mr. Obama’s abdication of global leadership, now cloaked as a triumph for disarmament.