The conduct of war has been governed, or at least prescribed, by treaties born there.
Now the U.S. and Russia are headed there in a questionable attempt to avert a military conflict which the Obama administration insists is something short of war — rather, a necessary U.S. rejection of the deployment of chemical weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry plans meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow in Geneva to examine the Russian proposal for Syria surrendering its chemical weapons to international authorities. This prospect has enabled President Barack Obama to stand down U.S. missiles, asking Congress to delay votes on the authorization of military force — approval that appeared doomed in the House and possibly the Senate as well — while seeking a diplomatic solution. Still, the president devoted 90 percent of his appeal to the nation in a 9 pm televised address last night to the justification for U.S. military action absent a negotiated settlement.
Sen. John McCain, who has long called for a more assertive U.S. involvement in Syria and supported resolution for use of military force, says the president gave an impassioned speech about the human suffering wrought by chemical weapons there that should strike a “resonant chord” with the American public.
Yet Obama made no mention of the Syrian Free Army, the rebels whom McCain and others are attempting to bolster in their fight with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Arizona Republican said after the speech last night and again this morning on television.
At the same time, he said, the diplomatic solution that the Obama administration is seeking with Syria places the U.S. in negotiations with one of the conventional arms suppliers of Assad’s military, Russia. And he questions why Kerry, whose off-handed comment about the U.S. relenting from military action if Syria forfeits its chemical weapons gave rise to these talks, is bound for Geneva for talks with the Russians — when the U.S., he says, should be pressing for a resolution in the United Nations with the British, French and other allies.
McCain said so this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” McCain and fellow hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said so in a joint statement last night.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol banned the use of chemical weapons, though not the possession, while lacking any enforcement provisions. Nazi Germany and later Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein went on to deploy them. Syria was a signatory of that protocol in effect since 1928, and now Syria has deployed chemical weapons.
A 1989 conference in Paris closed with a call for a pact to outlaw production and storage of such weapons and a declaration of support for United Nations investigations of chemical weapons use.
After Iraq killed more than 3,000 Kurds around the town of Halabja and injured thousands more, mostly civilians, in 1988, the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 was adopted. In force since 1997, it bans not only the use, but also possession, manufacture and transfer of chemical weapons. Obama notes that nations accounting for 98 percent of the world’s population — 189 states — have signed it.
So it’s back to Geneva with an international attempt to confiscate the chemical weapons that have given rise to a threat of U.S. military intervention in Syria.
Kerry-Lavrov talks in Geneva could last several days, and they're strictly bilateral, so no direct UN involvement – or Brahimi meetup – yet.
— John Heilprin (@JohnHeilprin) September 11, 2013
Yet Geneva is hardly the only place this will be negotiated.
In addition to sending Kerry to Geneva to negotiate with Lavrov, Obama stressed he's going to be conducting telephone diplomacy with Putin.
— Strobe Talbott (@strobetalbott) September 11, 2013