Belmont Club

This Weekend

Barack Obama’s depiction of his Syrian chemical weapons “Red Line” policy as a triumph looked less than glowing in the light of Bashar al-Assad’s recent demands to comply. “WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday it would cost about $1 billion to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons under a plan agreed to by Russia and the United States last week.” Who would pay the $1 billion? Assad offered some suggestions.

“As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about 1 billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”

Assad sounds like he’s got Obama over a barrel and not the other way around. A billion isn’t much money these days. The only question is what it buys. In this case, maybe nothing. Assad says it will take a year to deliver the goods, as the BBC explains.

Under the terms of the CWC, Syria has been given nine months to complete the destruction of its chemical weapons.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is committed to a plan to destroy his country’s chemical weapons but warned it could take about a year.

Professor Hay said he hoped the Syrians should be given a bit of “latitude” – if the destruction programme falls behind: “If the work is going well, and for some technical reason there is a hiccup, or if the sheer volume of material cannot be processed in time, I am reasonably hopeful that if it is clear that Syria is not just stalling for time, then there will have to be some give in the deadline.”

What? Not a next day money-back guarantee? A billion ain’t what it used to be.

And if Syria is just stalling for time, what does America do if they don’t comply? Why go to the United Nations, which will doubtless recommend giving them another billion and another year. The world is witnessing a geographic miracle; the transformation of Syria into North Korea, another country which is always on the point of giving up its WMDs but never quite does. In the meantime the international community will focus on another transgressor. That’s right and you guessed it: Israel. Vladimir Putin argues the only reason that Syria has chemical weapons in the first place is because Israel has nukes. All the US has to do in order to demilitarize the Middle East is to get Israel to throw away them old shootin’ irons.

“Syrian chemical weapons were built in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” Putin said, responding to a question about the chances of persuading Syria to give up its arsenal, as agreed under a deal proposed by the Kremlin last week. …

Putin told one of the conference participants that Israel will have to agree to get rid of its nuclear weapons, as Syria was giving up its chemical weapons.

That’s a preview into the next big meme that will hit US left wing academic circles. Demilitarize the Middle East and start with Israel.

Of course, none of this should detract from the administration’s achievements in Syria, which have been momentarily overshadowed by dire news from Kenya, where attacks reportedly from al-Shabab attacked a shopping mall and killed over 30 people after first ascertaining they were not of the right religion.

It’s a tragedy, but coming on a day which reports many dead in Iraq, and many more dead in Libya and many more dead in Africa and the Middle East, what is truly interesting about the Kenya attacks is that they have received prominent play at all. Only last week, rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front attacked and burned parts of Zamboanga City, which has a million inhabitants and it received almost no media play.

The contrast between the triumphs that are portrayed inside a narrow power circle and the actual reality of the wider world is the most striking feature of the media age. As Pauline Kael famously said when Nixon won by a landslide, “I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” She was probably telling the truth.

The Narrative is all about votes. The Syrian “triumph”, the War in the Congo, the attacks in Nairobi, the Siege of Zamboanga are all weighed in the balance of how many states they will swing or how many dollars in campaign funds they will generate. Then the right kind of story is written.

And as for Syria, well how long does it take to print a billion dollars?

Fire set to parts of city to cover rebel operations

Fire set to parts of city to cover rebel operations

Shopping with al-Shabab

Shopping with al-Shabab

Local Hero, Global Zero

Local Hero, Global Zero

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