Syria puzzle: War averted.. Betrayal begins?

By Supriya Jha | Updated: Sep 12, 2013, 13:46 PM IST

The stage for war was almost set. US Navy destroyers with their gaze stuck on Syrian coasts were in place, ready to shoot cruise missiles as and when ordered.

Barack Obama’s Syria strike plan had won the approval of US Senate panel and was due for vote in Senate on Wednesday. Even if the attack proposal faced a tough chance of being okayed by the Senate, Obama had declared at White House Rose Garden, that he had the authority to launch attacks even without the Congress nod.

Russia in return was also gearing up for action, bolstering its Mediterranean presence by positioning anti-submarine ship and missile cruiser near Syrian coasts. Syria on the other hand was threatening to attack US bases if attacked.

The world waited with bated breath to see what would transpire next, imagining unpredictable disasters unfolding in Syrian ether. But in what can be called as a quirk of fate, one question and an answer that didn’t sound premeditated have softened the climate around Syria.

After a season of dense rhetoric of possible US attack and unthinkable repercussions thereafter, if you can now trace even a flicker of light at the end of the Syria tunnel, thank Margaret Brennan.

Brennan is a CBS News correspondent, who fatefully lobbed a very obvious question to US Secretary of State John Kerry while he was addressing a joint news briefing with his UK counterpart.

And in a beautiful irony, the news briefing that was meant to reinforce the case for attack on Syria, ended up with a solution that could avert a war.

Brennan’s question was: Is there anything at this point that Assad government could do or offer that would stop an attack?

To this, Kerry replied in what sounded more of an off-the-cuff remark than serious proposal, “He (Assad) could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay,” to avoid an attack.

But Kerry topped his one-off war averting comment with the mention of Assad’s dubious credibility saying, “But he (Assad) isn`t about to do it and it can`t be done".

Even the State Department chose to downplay the remark by terming Brennan’s question as hypothetical and Kerry’s response as "rhetorical” and not "a proposal."

In a statement, the department added: "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That`s why the world faces this moment."

But Russia was quick to seize the opportunity and made no delay in presenting a proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stash to the international community.

And as close partners do, Moscow and Damascus understood each other.

Russia winked and Syria nodded. And Obama called it a “breakthrough”. But not without concerns.

Obama, who was earlier struggling hard to accomplish the herculean task of winning Congressional support on his Syria strike plan, has now postponed the vote and is now focusing more on mixing diplomacy with dollops of threat.

Obama’s concerns were clear when he said, “It`s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed”.

Dubious about Assad’s commitment, Obama sought to maintain the military strike pressure by stating in clear and loud words that he had ordered his military to attack if diplomacy failed.

But since the talks about averting US strikes have surfaced, the noose around Assad’s neck has surely loosened and this fact became obvious when on the same day Assad’s forces got back to action and bombed rebel strongholds near Damascus.

This was the first military act by Assad regime since August 21 chemical attack, and so, those who earlier thought that Assad had given in to the pressure must be finding themselves wrong as this further hints at Assad’s increased audacity.

So, on one hand, if the latest development has eased the turbulent winds of war and brought in a fresh whiff of solution, on the other, if Assad’s shenanigans get the better of his commitment, the world around Syria risks getting back to square one.

And we think, how does it affect us, until and unless Obama attacks Syria, and the rupee doesn’t fall further.

But we forget that beyond the meanders of international diplomacy and the earth-shattering ups and downs of rupee, there is something else that connects Indians to Syrians and that is humanity.

If we as human beings on one corner of the globe do not care about those elsewhere, who will?

How can we not cry when a little five year old girl, who has lost her siblings and school friends in a missile attack, holds a banner that says, “Syria Children Gone Too Soon”.

How can we turn our faces away from the sickening visuals of Syria massacre?

How can our human heart not skip a beat when we read these lines from a Syrian poet:

“I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy.

They hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood.

Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration…

I bandage it with the outcry: `Death and not humiliation."

And how can we call ourselves human, if we do not spare a thought and a true silent prayer for all those innocent Syrians who breathe smoke, swallow agony and walk on a ground that has thousands buried below.