Robin Wright on President Obama's Address on Syria

A Glimmer of Hope on Syria

Sep 11, 2013
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There is now a glimmer of hope on Syria, with the emphasis on “glimmer” because of huge questions for which there are still no answers.

The first basic issue is how to find, contain and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons -- and ensure they are indeed all found. This is a hugely time-consuming and logistical challenge. It’s Iraq déjà vu from the 1990s, which dragged on for years -- without a war going on in the background.

Second, the latest Russian gambit to get the U.S. to renounce any future use of force in exchange for Assad turning over his chemical weapons is unlikely to fly in Washington. It may even rally Congress behind Obama a bit.

Third, we all hope for renewed diplomacy to settle the bigger crisis -- the civil war itself -- but the political realities and divisions among the opposition forces won’t change as a result of any deal on chemical weapons. The Russians might actually get Assad to send a delegation to Geneva. But even if the West can prod some artificial faces-of-the-month to attend on behalf of the divided opposition, there’s no guarantee that the opposition could actually deliver anything from folks fighting inside. The growing factionalization of Syria’s opposition has put peace further away than ever.

Fourth, 99% of deaths are due to conventional weaponry. So a deal on chemical weapons is, unfortunately, unlikely to change the realities or fatalities on the ground. The fighting may still rage, with Assad actually getting a psychological boost at home from his deal with the outside world. Tragic but true.

Finally, I’d love to be wrong about all of this.

Robin Wright, the author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World," is a distinguished scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

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