What exactly are we celebrating after vindication of Syrian “red line”?

By Julian del Prado

After several months of confusion and deliberation, Syria has agreed to give over the entirety of its chemical weapons to the international community. Through the combined efforts of the United States and Russia, the international “red line” was enforced. This victory has dominated the news as talks on Syrian chemical weapons conclude in Geneva, resulting in the promise that Syria will renounce its chemical weapons capabilities “by the middle of next year,” or face the consequences. I commend the surrendering of chemical weapons as much as anyone can, but the overwhelmingly celebratory attitude has me wondering what exactly the international community was trying to achieve through these negotiations with Syria.

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Political conflict with Russia has been frequent and public, with issues concerning Edward Snowden, LGBT rights and the civil war in Syria exacerbating its decaying relationship with the U.S. A little over a month ago on the Jay Leno Show, President Barack Obama told the world that he has “no patience” for policies like Russia’s law banning “public discussion of gay rights and relationships,” CNN reported. Within a day, Obama cancelled talks in Moscow because of a “lack of progress” across a range of diplomatic issues.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin has given asylum to Edward Snowden, a direct affront to United States’ authority on the matter. Throw in Putin’s Sept. 11 op-ed in the New York Times, where he chided the United States for “relying solely on brute force” in the Syria conflict, and all the evidence tells me that the United States and Russia are on a mission to denounce one another. Yet here we are, celebrating their common ground and ability to cooperate on the Syria issue. So what happened?

I think the answer can be found in an occurrence at the beginning of this month, when Obama began gathering support to punish Syria for crossing the “red line” of chemical warfare. After losing English support and failing to gain U.N. support before the official conclusion of their investigation, I started to think that the United States was looking a bit silly in front of the rest of the world. The silliness was confirmed when Obama turned to Congress for support, which was a coin toss at best.

This lack of consensus, this lack of ability to get other countries on our side for an issue that appears to be so fundamental to the president’s beliefs, stands in stark contrast with the idea that other countries are starting to have a better outlook on the United States since Obama’s election as president. Now, as the U.S. and Russia celebrate successful talks in Geneva, we are left with a significant question: what are we celebrating?

Is this proposal for Syria to renounce its chemical weapons a victory for the civilian population of Syria? Only time will tell, although most of the casualties thus far have been caused by conventional— as opposed to chemical— weapons. Is this a celebration of international law? There is no guarantee of force in the event of the Syrian government refusing to comply, but in my opinion nothing short of force would be effective in that scenario. Regardless, it is clear that this is a victory for the reputations of Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Most of all, this is a victory for the reputation of Vladimir Putin, who appears to have saved America from itself in the Middle East.

Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]