15 Questions About the Increasingly Crazy Syria Debate
This has been a particularly manic day on the Syrian front. Secretary of State John Kerry sent the debate into overdrive first by promising that any American attack on Syria would be "unbelievably small," and then with his suggestion -- quickly and surprisingly accepted in broad strokes by Russia -- that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad could avert an attack by giving up his chemical weapons. Here are some questions now worth asking:
1. Is Kerry a national-security genius, or a guy who says whatever half-baked idea comes to mind, or both?
2. Why are the Russians seemingly so ready to aid Kerry and President Barack Obama by helping relieve Syria of its chemical weapons? Since when is Russia interested in helping the U.S. out of a jam, even if it burnishes its own reputation in the process?
3. Do these early signs that Russia might be interested in making a deal to avert an attack prove that threatening to attack was the right thing to do?
4. Who is making American policy on Syria? Kerry or Obama?
5. Why would Assad give up his chemical weapons? He saw what happened when Libya's late dictator Muammar Qaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction program, which is to say, he lost some of his deterrent power.
6. How do you possibly verify that Assad has given up all of his chemical weapons? The Syrian regime possesses hundreds of tons of these munitions.
7. Does Syria get to keep its biological weapons under this still nonexistent deal?
8. If the U.S. gives up the idea of an attack, would the remaining moderate rebels, so dispirited, start moving toward the al-Qaeda column?
9. How do you secure and transport all of these chemical-weapons components in the midst of a horrifically violent civil war?
10. Even if the theoretical strike was intended to be "unbelievably small," why would the U.S. tell Syria this?
11. A related question: Who goes to war not to win?
12. Let's just say that Assad gives up his chemical weapons. Does that mean he gets to kill civilians in more prosaic ways indefinitely? Is that it?
13. If Assad's behavior is even somewhat analogous to Hitler's, as administration officials (and surrogates like Senator Harry Reid) are suggesting, then how is it possible to argue for anything other than Assad's total defeat?
14. At a certain point in this drama, will any of the various Arab countries that want the U.S. to bomb Syria then go do it themselves?
15. How did the U.S. get so bollixed-up by the tin-pot dictator of a second-tier Middle East country?
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)