Commentary Magazine


The Ignoble Prize

When the sages of Oslo recently bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, they demonstrated yet again how their kind of “peace” is often just an excuse for turning a blind eye toward the true nature of war. The OPCW is an ineffectual arm of the United Nations dating back to 1997 with no record of success. It was chosen for one reason and one reason only: to register the Nobel committee’s approval of the arrangement between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama that led the United States to stand down rather than fire missiles and drop bombs on Syria.

The OPCW is supposed to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, should such a thing ever happen (and even if some or all of the chemical weaponry is destroyed, reconstituting it using existing Syrian machinery would require little effort or expense). Its labors have not even begun, and yet here is the Nobel. That is why one can say confidently that the award is actually a symbolic atta-boy! for Putin and Obama. Good work, gentlemen, the committee is saying. Since your actions mean there was no U.S. strike on Syria, you have labored in the vineyards of peace and brought forth sweet wine.

But of course there is nothing of peace in this—nor is there anything in what has happened over the past three months to discourage any future use of chemical weapons by a rogue regime. Quite the opposite, in fact. The monstrous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad had already killed the vast majority of the more than 100,000 dead in the Syrian civil war over the past two years before it launched chemical weaponry at a neighborhood of Syria’s capital on August 21. These killing fields ran red with blood for two years, horrifying the conscience of anyone who cared to look.

The use of chemical weapons crossed the “red line” President Obama had drawn—clearly meaning that while he would express his conviction that Assad “should go,” he would not commit American treasure and blood to reinforce that belief unless Assad opened Pandora’s box. Then Assad did.

What happened afterward is examined in fascinating detail by Aurel Braun in his article that begins on page 26. We don’t know what Assad (and Putin) will do as the months proceed; we’re told that Assad is centralizing the weapons in a few locations, which is what needs to be done if they are to be destroyed.

The most optimistic reading would be that the mere threat of American force by the president caused Assad to crumble. I do think Americans consistently underestimate just how powerful the United States appears to the rest of the world, such that the mere thought of what Secretary of State John Kerry called an “unbelievably small” strike might still terrify a tinpot monster like Assad. So we may yet learn this was the case.

We may, but we probably won’t. It’s far more likely that Assad might be giving them up because they have already served their purpose. By using chemical weapons, he showed the opposition that he will do literally anything he deems necessary to win, and that he should be no less feared than his father (who killed 25,000 with chemical weapons inside Syria in 1982) was.

Moreover, their use and the American response shifted the subject from Assad’s unconscionable conduct in the civil war to the supposedly hopeful possibility of his agreeing to destroy his chemical weapons. From one of the world’s great villains, Assad immediately was elevated into the role of a reasonable negotiating partner.

Far from representing a triumph of peace, the chemical-weapons deal with Syria is part of Assad’s path to unconditional victory. Maybe they should start calling it the Nobel War Prize.

About the Author

John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.




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