Had the Syria vote in Congress occurred on Monday, when members had returned from recess, it would probably have narrowly passed the Senate, certainly been defeated in the House and definitely been a disaster for the worldwide credibility and deterrent capability for the U.S. and all nations opposing the criminal use of chemical weapons.
What a difference a day makes!
There are two key points regarding the Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to an international authority:
First, there must be a very short fuse for Bashar Assad to turn over the weapons. And when he does, there must be full and strong verification, including the immediate admittance into Syria of internationally respected experts on chemical weaponry.
If Russia is sincere and Syria plans to comply, the experts can arrive within hours or days, and the turnover can be completed within a week to 10 days. This position -- expeditious action and full verification -- should be non-negotiable, and it has been emphasized by President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), among others. It is not necessary to trust anyone; it is necessary to verify everything.
Second, let's be clear about what is happening. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this plan because he came to believe in the credible threat that the U.S. would spearhead a targeted and focused military strike against the Syrian capacity to use chemical weapons again. It is immaterial whether Putin believed Congress would ultimately pass the resolution or that Obama would take military action regardless of congressional votes. If Putin had concluded that Congress would refuse to act and Obama would then decline to act, he would never have made this proposal.
Had the opponents of all military options prevailed, Putin and Syria would have gladly accepted their triumphant victory over our lack of will. This is why I have so strongly praised both Republican and Democratic leaders who joined in the call to act. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McCain performed a huge service to American security, America's deterrent capability and the cause of nonproliferation of chemical weapons by their steadfast position.
Also, this is why I have praised the forcefulness and resolve of Kerry both in his strong approach to Syria and his Herculean efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together for a regional peace based on a two-state solution.
And special commendations have been earned by President François Hollande of France, whose clarity and courage on the Syria matter are the acts of a world leader making a great contribution and having a crucial impact.
Let's be clear about this as well: The Russian plan may be a clever fraud to buy time for new mass murders by Syrian tyrants. I do not offer an opinion; the facts in coming days will speak for themselves. This is not a time for celebration; it is a time for clarity and resolve.
I would again urge members of the House and Senate to support giving the president the authority to employ targeted military force if diplomacy fails. This is the best way to help diplomacy succeed and to avoid actually having to employ military force, but we would make it clear to one and all that America is prepared to act with force if necessary.
It is not yet clear whether the Russian plan is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of chemical weapons in Syria, but one way or the other, mass murder by chemical weapons, a crime against humanity, must not be tolerated.