By Fareed Zakaria
What Cuban missile crisis says about Syria
“The most useful lesson that our current president could draw from the Cuban missile crisis would be to emulate Kennedy in slowing down the seemingly inexorable rush to war. With his controversial move to include Congress and the American people in the debate, Obama laid himself open to charges of indecisiveness. But he succeeded in buying a little time. This has allowed a possible alternative to military action to emerge,” writes Michael Dobbs in the Washington Post.
“Next to popular support, time is the most valuable of all political commodities. Like Kennedy before him, Obama now has an opportunity to escape from the box that he created with his Syrian red line. But for the gambit to succeed, he will also have to maintain the credible threat of force against the Syrian regime. He cannot allow his bluff to be called. It is a delicate balancing act.”
“Many skeptics of the chemical weapons taboo note that since not all chemical weapons are the same, international responses should be calibrated to the specific context in which they are used,” write Sohail H. Hashmi and Jon Western in Foreign Affairs. “It is true that there is significant variation in how chemical agents are disseminated, how they inflict harm, the speed with which they act, and the longevity of their effects. But the chemical weapons ban does not and should not distinguish between types of chemical agents for two reasons.”
“First, a simple rule is always more enforceable and effective than a complicated and qualified one. Opening up the ban by trying to identify specific exceptions and qualifications runs the risk of dramatically weakening the global prohibition. And second, while some chemical agents do incapacitate rather than kill, historically these have not been the agents stockpiled by militaries for use in war. For insurgents and terrorists seeking to level the playing field with more powerful adversaries, the incentive is to acquire chemical agents of maximum lethality.”