It may come to naught -- calls for peace so rarely still the drums of war -- but there was a moment Monday when the odds for sanity seemed to finally stand a chance of prevailing. It came when President Obama acknowledged the Russian proposal for Syria to avert war by agreeing to destroy its chemical weapons stock as "a potentially positive development." It was quintessentially an un-Bush moment when suddenly this presidential "decider" seemed possessed of a brain capable of reversing his disastrous course.
It helped that a majority of the public, and even many of its representatives in Congress, had expressed strong opposition to entering into a civil war without a plausibly positive outcome. According to The New York Times/CBS News poll conducted over the weekend, "nearly 9 in 10 Americans are concerned that United States military action in Syria will become a long and costly mission" and would lead to "a more widespread war in the Middle East." Imperial hubris has been soundly rejected by a properly chastened war-weary public, and nation building, particularly in that part of the world, is now most often treated as an expectation that is indelibly cursed.
The bipartisan rejection of the inevitability of a military response has been stunning in its geographical reach, and as Peggy Noonan, a leading Republican intellectual as well as a former top speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, observed in her Wall Street Journal column Saturday: "The American people do not support military action." Widespread public opposition is in itself reason not to go forward." Although underscoring the need to "rebuke those who used the weapons, condemn their use, and shun the users ... a military strike is not the way, and not the way for America," she wrote.
She is right. The use of chemical weapons cannot be ignored, even though the U.S. did just that decades ago when then-Mideast special envoy Donald Rumsfeld embraced Saddam Hussein after he deployed those heinous weapons on his own people and in his war with Iran. A strong response to the use of those weapons is in order, but instead of more violence that would inevitably kill innocent people, why not give peace a chance? At the very least, even if the Syrian government continues to deny responsibility for the chemical attacks, it must abandon its arsenal of these weapons that are inherently inhuman.