Don't forget about Syria's rebels

A disarmament deal could leave the opposition in the lurch

Syrian rebels
(Image credit: (REUTERS/Molhem Barakat))

Diplomats at the United Nations are wrangling over a resolution spelling out how to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control and destroy them.

The U.S. and its allies are demanding an enforceable timetable to make sure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn't simply use the promise to surrender his stockpile as a stalling tactic. Meanwhile, Russia says the resolution will be unacceptable if it blames Assad for an August attack that the White House says killed more than 1,400 people behind Syrian rebel lines.

The unexpected proposal has been hailed as a potential breakthrough that could allow President Obama to dial down his threat of a military strike, without facing a potentially embarrassing no vote in Congress. For his part, Assad would be spared a barrage of missiles against his already battle-weary forces.

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But how would the plan work out for the Syrian rebels?

Syrian opposition leaders had been counting on U.S.-led air strikes to shift the momentum in their favor after months of setbacks on the battlefield. Josh Rogin at The Daily Beast says they view this new diplomatic push as a step backwards, and are dead-set against it. For them, Rogin says, "the prospect that Obama is backing down from his aggressive stance on striking the Syrian regime is the latest in a string of delays they call unhelpful and unwise."

Khalid Saleh, the official spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said in an interview with Rogin,"The regime has committed so many crimes against humanity and was allowed to get away with it. A delay would embolden the regime more."

It is still far too early to know whether the international community really will be able to collect all of Assad's sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and other poisons. However,there are several reasons why the Syrian opposition should welcome any deal that gets Syria's chemical arsenal out of Assad's hands.

One reason is that taking over the stockpile would "curb the Assad regime's striking power," The Times of India argues in an editorial, tilting the balance on the battlefield. It will also ensure that al Qaeda-linked rebel factions don't get their hands on these weapons, The Times says. With these possibilities off the table, a negotiated peace could become a real possibility.

Those arguments hold only if Assad readily hands over everything. Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy says that "the history of Saddam Hussein's 12-year cat-and-mouse game with inspectors after Desert Storm" should have taught the U.S. that it's folly to expect compliance from a regime with such bloody hands.

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