So it concludes, with little fanfare and days behind schedule. Workers are loading the lion’s share of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile (or rather, those weapons he’s told us about) onto an American ship, the Cape Ray. The ship will take the dangerous materials out to international waters and destroy them by hydrolysis over the next few months. This important operation is not without its risks, reports the New York Times:
Italian officials said the operation to transfer the chemical containers from one ship to the other began on Wednesday and could take most of a day. It was “an operation that ensures the security of the world and peace,” said Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti, who went to Gioia Tauro to follow the operation. “It’s the affirmation of a value.” […]“This is not a routine operation, it’s a military operation and we are very worried,” Domenico Macri, a labor union official told Agence France-Presse television. “We have never carried out this type of operation in Gioia Tauro before. If there’s an accident, a container breaks or falls, the substances which would come out could do serious damage.”
There were many small gas attacks that people claimed crossed the “red line” Obama drew in the summer of 2012, promising U.S. intervention in Syria if Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. But the facts became inarguable after Assad’s forces gassed a sleeping suburb outside of Damascus last summer, killing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Instead of choosing to exercise executive leadership, the President kicked the can to Congress, which predictably took the politically safe option of blocking any strong action. So, the Administration accepted a Russia-brokered deal in which Assad promised to hand over his chemical stockpile by June 30 of this year.The President tried to spin this outcome as a diplomatic victory. Credit where credit is due: It has been in some ways. But it has failed to reckon with the larger problem of Syria, and of America’s incoherent strategy there. Obama’s credibility hasn’t recovered from the “red line” kerfuffle, Assad has continued to use chemical weapons on civilians (in the form of chlorine gas), and ISIS has been able to increase its strength during the chaos. One safe prediction about the whole mess: Future historians will not look upon our response to the Syrian civil war as our finest hour.